The Skin Job: Taking the plunge

I will admit, this is one of those introspective posts, where I deep dive into my thoughts about big life decisions and changes.

On Friday, I had my consultation with my Surgeon and we discussed the ideal plan for me and the surgery. We spoke about the procedure, it will be a modified Circumferential Lipectomy (Also knows as:  Body lift , Belt Lipectomy, and more) , the modified aspect of it is that I will not have the 360 incision, it will be closer to 310 degrees.

The surgery will take 4.5-5 hours and I will be in the Hospital for 2 days. Afterwards, I will be taken care of at home for a few days, and then have a few weeks off to recuperate. With my job changes and such, this makes for a perfect time to have this done, and the timeline works well for me.

The surgeon said that my skin was in good shape despite losing all the weight. He said the immortal words “What areas of your body are you concerned about.” and we talked about the areas of my concern. For me, they were the my belly, and the FUPA. The discussion was good, and frank, and from everything he said, it sounds like this will be a relatively routine surgery.

The surgeon was not of the “Nip/Tuck” world, and he was very good and professional. I was worried about any comments about shape and size or “the ideal” and pushing that… but there wasn’t any of it. he looked at me and offered what he felt was needed, and it always felt more like what I wanted rather what he thought I needed. It was good.

At the end of the Consultation, I felt really strong and excited about the procedure, and was pretty confident.

Then the thinking began.

Over the weekend, I have vacillated between excitement, dread, being terrified, and questioning if this is right for me.

The excitement comes from the Journey. The work I have put in over the last 15 months has culminated to this. By being diligent, working hard, being mindful, this procedure is the capstone of a lot of work and dedication to a new lifestyle and a new body.

My dread comes in the form of the procedure itself. It feels invasive, it feels major, and the recovery is not in days or a week like before, but weeks, and over a month. I dread the recovery time and the pain and the feeling incompetent.

Terrified. This is a big one. I worry about how I will look. The scars, the way I will feel. Will my skin feel the same? Will I feel odd? will the scars be so blatantly obvious? What if there is complications? The new shape of me… will I get used to it? Is is something I will start slavishly push?

And is this for me? Yes… deep down I know this is the last step in what I have worked for. I question because of my fear, I question because it is not “vital surgery.” It is something that swirls in my mind over and over.

This morning, I was speaking to my Husband about this. The way he framed it was in terms of this not being a separate procedure to the Bariatric surgery I had 15 months ago. He sees this as the Surgery at the other side of things. With that perspective, it feels a bit better. It is something that I have worked towards, but is still incomplete. I have changed, and my skin is apart of that change. And while the old stereotypes towards “plastic surgery” bang on in my mind, I have begun to learn to retrain myself and remind myself that This is a part of bariatric life, and to embrace it.

And so I am.

Still freaks me out a bit though.

Tomorrow, we will hopefully set a date for the surgery, and from there I will gear up for the next step!

 

The Skin Job: An Introduction

Last week, I got an email from my Doctor overseeing my Bariatric Surgery informing me that I have been referred to a plastic surgeon for my loose skin.

*blink blink*

In my last meeting with the doctor, we talked about having surgery to get rid of the excess skin, and while I have always thought about the process, there was a disconnect between talking, planning, and then it actually happening. So when I got the letter last week, I was surprised.

Yesterday, I got the call from the Plastic Surgeon, and I am scheduled for my consultation next week with a view to having the surgery in late June.

The technical term for what I am likely having is an Abdominoplasty. With that, I will also have some remedial liposuction to help “even things out.” Next week I will go for an examination, and then map out what are my options. From there, they will give me an estimate (like for a car) on how much it will cost. Then, of course, is the actual surgery and recovery.

I will admit that I am not completely ready for the surgery. For 15 months I have talked about having it done, but there was not real “emotion” behind it. It was something theoretical, something for the future. When the future is now 4-6 weeks away, it puts a whole new spin on things.

So what do I do? I search the internet of course!

Now searching for Plastic Surgery pictures and videos online is a rather harrowing experience. First, if you have any body issues, you will be confronted with it immediately. You see tons of shapes and bodies that do not fit the norm that you see online. You also see the ravages of surgery directly afterward, and later, the recovery one or two years on.

Further, when it comes to male plastic surgery, you get a lot of interesting things being fed to you. For example, one Plastic Surgery website in Arizona described the Male Tummy Tuck as such (Emphasis Mine):

“The goal of a male tummy tuck is to create a masculine and athletic abdomen and waist area. The incisions for a male tummy tuck are comparable to that of a regular abdominoplasty. The other components of the procedure are designed, however, to create a more square and athletic waist as opposed to a more hour-glass shape that many women desire.”

Some word choices aside, I found the path of appealing to the opposite sex doing nothing for me… surprising. But the language and the imagery is pretty typical. “You are doing this to become desirable again.”

However, the website does make me ask why I want this skin surgery, why this change? Why now? Is it just vanity that I want a firmer body? Is it a “good job” for the work I have done? Is it frivolous and childish to want this? Do I want this?

All of these thoughts rush through my mind as I prepare for the possible surgery.

So, let’s unpack the why a bit.

For years I have not been happy with my body. From the weight, to how I look, and how I perceive myself, I have struggled. For much of it, it was primarily my weight. I didn’t like how clothes fit on me, I did not like how they felt. I focus so much on the number, and if that number was good, then I would be happy.

Each time I would lose weight, I would see the loose skin, like my oversized clothes, it felt like a progression, but also a safety net. And each time, as I regained the weight, my skin would fit me. During 2016 and leading up to the surgery, my body was starting to tell me that it was no longer healthy, and while I wanted to be thinner, I wanted to be healthy a bit more, so that is when surgery came into play.

Now, 15 months later, I have kept the weight off…the longest I have kept the weight off, and the skin is as loose as ever. Each time I see it, it reminds me of my journey, but I feel it is also that security blanket. “You are going to get big again WanderingExPat, so make sure you keep me around” it seems to say to me as I look in the mirror. For all my progress, and all my gains, I worry that I am that eternal fat kid who will ultimately fail.

I still don’t feel “me” in some respects. While I “recognise” myself after the weight loss, and I am happy with my weight, my face, and most of my body, it is my tummy (and the FUPA) that I still struggle with. There are still clothes that should fit me but don’t because of the skin. There are areas of my body that are unflattering because it is just a lot of loose stuff there, and… yes… I want to change my shape a bit.

Is it vain? Self-centered? Egotistical? I look at some of the videos with men talking about Tummy Tucks, The first video was from a guy who… in my opinion was absolutely fine with his midsection, and while I won’t knock him at all for having the surgery, what I saw in him was absolutely nothing in me. The second video was a bit better, and it made me a bit more comfortable about the surgery. I look at pictures and I see the results, and I just worry that mine won’t be as good, or I should lose more weight before I do this… I have a lot of thoughts running through my mind.

I also worry about post-surgery life. How bad will the scars be? how much will actually change? If I gain weight, will I ruin it all?

I will admit, watching these videos ramp up my emotions on every level. From the worry of pain, the emotion of losing the skin. The final portion of this journey… I am nervous and scared. But it is not going to stop me. This is just a new mountain to climb.

I will be the first person I know that has had a male tummy tuck. And while I am sure there are men I know who had had it and have said nothing, it does feel a bit of uncharted territory. I just hope that my story will resonate with others who are struggling to take the plunge.

And don’t worry, I suspect that this will be an ongoing series as I work through this.

Thanks for reading.

The Tongariro Adventure: Part 4

This is a multi-part story of my Tongariro Adventure: Here is Part 1,  Part 2,  and Part 3

 

The sun rises at 6:19am. The Hut warden advised us that the weather would be clear and that the sun rises across the valley. With people going the counter-clock direction of the Circuit (I was going clockwise), people started stirring at 5:15am. I bolted awake at the sounds. It is a surreal experience. Normally, I am the only one awake in the morning, and seeing *everyone* awake at 5:30 was pretty interesting. Today is supposed to be a short day, only three hours of walking, so I do not have to be awake so early. However, with the promise of a great sunrise, and being a morning person, I got out of bed, and started my day.

With the skies clear overnight, the weather was cold during this late January summer (… which is still weird to say honestly). I walked out to the ridge, dotted with tents, and in the valley below, some low clouds hung beneath. In the distance, a line of mountains with clouds seeping in between them, like caulk in a brick wall. The other trampers were beginning to come out and gather to see the sunrise, and impatiently, I actually moved away, further along, the ridge to sit on some rocks.

The morning was still, and the conversations of the trampers wafted over to me. For the first time on the entire trip, I decided to take out my headphones. Normally, I listen to music while I walk, but over the last two days, I wanted to conserve battery and focus on the walk itself. But now… I had a particularly appropriate song for this moment.  I search for my Spotify tramping list, and quickly find the song. Time was approaching, and I flipped on the song and took out my camera.

And… Here comes the Sun.

 

19 - Sunrise at Oturere Hut2

Sunrise at Oturere Hut

This moment was honestly an emotional one. So many thoughts washed over me. I have seen many sunrises in my life, but the location, reflecting on the last year of my life. Thinking about family who are gone… tears welled up inside of me and spilled out. Frantically taking photos while the rapidly rising sun… I felt both sheepish and proud of the moment.

Finally, I put the camera down and just watch the morning unfold before me, and soon, the other trampers were moving out, beginning to start their day.

I went back to the hut and had some breakfast. Yogurt and muesli was on the menu and once again, it was surprisingly good. Perhaps it was because it was the third day of eating freeze dried food, but I contend it was good anyway.

I ended up heading out right at 8am. The sky still clear and the weather warming quickly. I set out for the next hut.

The path was rolling. I thought to myself “Today’s word is Undulating” as I walked over the lava fields. There were few shrubs as I headed to a far ridge full of trees. The path was quiet, with a few people walking the other direction. A couple more Germans and behind me, a woman who was training for an Ironman, running with a full pack. Eventually, I got close to the ridge when two trampers, The German and the Russian couple caught up. We traveled along a bit and headed into the sudden forest at the base of the ridge.

 

21 - Forest before the Waihohonu Hut

The sudden woods near the Wai

 

By 11am, I made it to the campground and quickly set up my tent. I found a nice place near the river.

 

Camp

Settling into my tent

 

 

Now it is 11 o’clock and I am done for the day… so what to do? The Waihohonu Hut is at the crossroads of the Tongariro Northern Circuit and the Ruapehu “Round the Mountain” walk.  People on the trail refer to it as “the Palace” and it was the nicest hut I saw on the trip. I walked into the hut and met up with the people who were slowing coming in from around the park. Soon, I fell into a group of trampers. The German and Russian couple and a solo Italian tramper from another trail and we decided to head off to find a Natural spring a couple of Kilometers away.

Soon, we were out and chatting, and getting to know each other. Being a solitary walker, I found this quite a change to my normal mode, and surprisingly, I really enjoyed it. The Italian man was in New Zealand for a year working at a Cheese factory and soon we were talking about the right way to make mozzarella. The German and Russian were fashion photographers and soon we were talking about cameras and the crazy world of photography. I talked about my life as a trainer, and how I came to live in New Zealand. Soon, we made it the spring, and filled our water and went in for a swim.

I have to tell you. The water was honestly, the coldest water I have ever tasted. It was amazing. Fritz, the German, was crazy enough to go and take a swim, and we laughed as he roared like a bear at the sheer magnitude of the freezing water. We moved a little down the water source, and laid out to enjoy the water where possible, and enjoy the day. Soon, a larger group of Germans we had met yesterday had arrived, and more people descended on our spring. It was a really relaxed and fun time, and again, I felt that I belonged. While I was walking solo, I wasn’t alone.

 

Friends

With some friends at the Spring

 

Eventually, the skies started to darken and we headed back to the camp. We talked and met more people who were coming in, and soon, the place was filled. The Hut warden, nicknamed “Horse” came in, and once again, we were given a great history lesson of the area, and in between rain showers, I retired to my tent. Despite the short day, I felt that this was my favorite part of the trip. The walk, the friends, and the walking without a huge pack was great. I nodded to sleep with the insects buzzing in the night and the waxing moon peaking out from the clouds. Tomorrow, I head home, I am excited, but also a little sad that this journey is about to end.

 

The Tongariro Adventure: Part 3

This is a multi-part story of my Tongariro Adventure: Here is Part 1 and Part 2

Descending Tongariro

Climbing down the Tongariro Crossing

The decent off Tongariro was again difficult, but after the scoria section, it felt like a breeze. The ground was hard and rocky as the trail wound its way down the mountain.

Soon, I was let out on a lava plain/desert are with giant boulders strewn around from previous eruptions. The broken landscape felt chaotic as if a large child haphazardly left their toys after losing interests. The flies here were almost overwhelming, with the constant buzzing in your ears, and flashes of them around your periphery. Here, away from the crowds, I was given a bit more space to think and contemplate. I came upon a couple of the Kiwi Family, an older couple. The man walking with a walking cane/stick, and the woman walking with a knee wrap. They were having a little bit of a time with the decent. We ended up walking for a bit, talking about our backgrounds and our lives. She was quite quiet, focusing on her walk, but he spoke about his travels around New Zealand, and his aversion to large cities. He felt that Hamilton was still a bit too big for him, but he is mostly used to it. These trips helped him get away from the crowds.

Descending into Mordor

It felt like Mother Nature couldn’t decide what to do with this place. 

They decided to rest a bit, and I continued into the broken landscape. Crossing dry river bed, and climbing over rocky rifts. The sun beat down and while clouds were building, they seem to dodge the actual sun, making sure it beat down on me harshly.

 

22 - Oturere Hut
Oturere Hut

I began to start seeking out the Hut. Hoping to see the hut like last time in the distance. I would see each rise and hope that once I reach the top, I would see the hut in the distance, giving me that extra motivation with each step. The trail seemed to mock me however with only showing my the next signpost. Again and again, I had my hopes dashed. I turned a corner in between two rises, and suddenly, I saw it. Well… I saw something.

 

 

Along the trail, there are trail markers that lead your way. In many areas of the Circuit, there is no discernible trail, every 50 to 100 meters there is a marker sticking out of the ground pointing you to the next marker. Normally, they have a simple orange triangle pointing you along. This time, however, in addition to the pointer, there was a 1KM sign. That’s it. But it was enough. Despite not seeing the hut, and having no other sign than this vague hope that in 1 km, I will be done. I picked up my pace. Up and down over the rocky plain, and suddenly, as I turned a corner, there it was. The hut was small, and in front of it, a wide area leading up to the edge of a ridge where the tents were staying, the view swept out east into a valley. Behind the Hut was a low ridge to partially protect the hut, but also a wide expanse where you could see Mt. Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu in the distance.

A good part of the Kiwi Family was there having their lunch. I checked the time and saw that made it to the hut in just under 6 hours. While the day wasn’t my most strenuous looking back (My Birthday walk was longer and had greater elevation), I felt the most accomplished by far in my tramping in the last year. I walked inside and saw that the hut was smaller than the last one. The place felt homey with one large area for cooking, eating, and about a dozen or so beds, and two side rooms: one for people who snore, and another room for 6-7 people. The Kiwi Family wasn’t staying at this hut tonight, so I was one of the first people to get to the hut for the day. I quickly took a bed in the private non-snoring room.

 

Waterfall

Waterfalls near Oturere Hut

After dropping off my things. I started to explore the area. About 300 meters away was a waterfall bringing water to the valley below. The water’s roar was inticing after two days of sweaty walking, so I grabbed my towel and jandals and wandered down to the falls. When I arrived, I found out I wasn’t alone, as two other trampers, the German and Russian couple Fritz and Anastasia, decided to take a dip in the water as well. The water was frigid as I waded into one of the collecting pools above the falls. The water was just a little too cold for me, and as I was leaving the pool, I felt the first splatter of rain. The clouds have finally made it to the area. In the distance, thunder rumbled, and we hurried back to the hut. A child-like smile crept across my face; the second day of storms in a row! I thought to myself.

 

Over the next few hours, thunder and lightning rolled its way around the mountains. Since I was safely in the hut, I was able to relax and listen to the rain and thunder as it fell. The Auckland Siblings came in a short time later, and the last of the family left for their last three hours hike.

The Hut filled up throughout the afternoon, as the people from all areas of the park descended on this little patch of earth. There seemed to be even more Germans than before, now we had people from Poland, Quebec, the UK, Tonga, Japan, and more. Despite the rain, everyone seemed to be in good spirits, and when the Hut warden came to talk, the weather had begun to lift, and that heat had receded.

After the talk, there was a very chill atmosphere around the hut. The clouds from Ruapehu and Ngaruhoe were clearing, and an amazing Sunset was starting to unfold in front of us.

 

17 - Mt. Ngaurohoe 5

Mt. Ngaruhoe as the clouds begin to clear

Soon, people were perched on the various boulders around the hut to watch the changing light and clouds around the mountains. The Auckland Siblings were taking photos and joking around. The Quebecois were laying on top of the largest boulder soaking in the last of the sunlight of the day. The Hut Warden was simply drinking some coffee and enjoying the sights.

As the light faded, the Mountain gave us one last show.

Special - Amazing Sunset of Mt. Nguruhoe

Sunset and the dying of the light

Looking back, I saw “the hells of Mount Doom” as the sun drenched the area in red light. The imagination ran wild as I saw the wisps of cloud stream into the darkness. As a traveler, I also try to see sunsets and sunrises as I often feel that these are some of the best times of day to see a place. At sunset, you have the world going into sleep, where the busy day is winding down and preparing for rest. The moon was out for a good part of the night, but despite the added light, the night was gorgeous and calm. I woke up again late and looked out at the stars. It was becoming my nightly ritual.

I took stock of where I was. I was halfway finished with the walk, I was feeling good, and good weather was with me. I figured I had done the toughest part of the trek. But I definitely had more in store for me in the next two days.

 

 

The Hillary Trail: impasse, decision, and reflection

Journey before Destination

Brandon Sanderson – Stormlight Archive Series

Right now, I am reading a book by Brandon Sanderson named Oathbringer. It is a fantastic book in a fantastic series that I adore (future post alert!) In the book, there is the above refrain repeated often in the series,  and it is one that I find myself saying as I write this post. My goal is the destination, but the journey… the training, the discovery, the trials… that is what is important.

Last week, I received a pretty big piece of news in relation to my upcoming Hillary Trail walk.

It was announced that the Te Kawerau ā Maki iwi has placed a Rāhui on the Waitakere Ranges. This… made me need to learn a few things in my new home of New Zealand. An Iwi is the largest social group of Maori in an area. Often translated to a Nation, a confederation, or a tribe, Iwis make up the largest political system in Maoridom. For Americans, think of the Navaho Nation. Iwis work with the government on matters pertaining tot he Maori, but also matters of conservation, the environment, and other areas stipulated in the Treaty of Waitangi.

rāhui is an edict by the iwi that forbids entrance and passage into an area. In this case… the Waitakere Ranges… where the Hillary Trail runs right through.

Why are they doing this you ask? It is because of the Kauri Trees. The Kauri trees are facing a large dieback and possible extinction due to microbes that are killing the root system of the trees. The infection is carried through the soil, and can easily hitch rides on muddy shoes, animals, and water.  Kauri Trees are very old and grow very slowly. They were once logged heavily in the early days of European colonization of the North Island but was stopped starting in the 1920’s. Kauri Dieback started showing up in the mid-2000’s, and despite attempts to slow the spread of the disease, it has exploded in the last few years infecting upwards of 20% of the remaining Kauri Tree population in the Waitakeres… home of the largest remaining stand of Kauri Trees.

A big issue is that people who walk the park are not doing what is necessary to protect the trees. I routinely see people take dogs into the Waitakeres, which is not allowed, and people do not use the cleaning stations, nor the sprays designed to kill the microbes.

The relationship between iwi and the government is a tumultuous one. The Treaty was not honored for a very long time and starting in the 1980’s, there have been attempts to change that. Despite that, the iwis move is not binding in any way. People can come and go through the park regardless of what the iwi does or decide.

Today, however, the Auckland Council is going to vote on what to do about the situation. They are considering 5 options, one of which is the closure of the entire park as per the iwis wishes. The other 4 options will be considered, but it is likely parts of the park will be closed indefinitely. However, while  Waitakere councillor Penny Hulse has stated that a complete park closure is impossible to uphold (the park is 160 square kilometers), people should respect the rāhui.

When I heard the news last week, I was despondent. after missing out on going on the Milford Track earlier in the year, I chose the Hillary because it was something that I could do in my backyard so to speak. It was a challenge I made for myself, and for the last few months, I have strived hard to achieve it. I have pushed myself, I have hyped myself, and I learned to love and enjoy the Waitakere ranges in their beauty of awesomeness. Now, with a month to go before the big walk, I am told that I shouldn’t and that my walking it could further harm the region.

Upset, Angry, shamed that I was angry, crushed at the loss of a goal, all went through my head. On one hand, there is nothing stopping me from walking the Hillary. It is highly doubtful that the Council will close the park, and the iwi has little bearing on laws. I can’t get arrested, they can’t bar the forest from me, or anyone (they even admit this). But… isn’t that what people have done for the last 150 years here in New Zealand? Ignore the Maori and their wishes when it didn’t suit them? English colonials ignored the Treaty, followed then by the NZ Government. The US had done similarly to Native Americans, making treaties and promises only to ignore them when it suited the US prerogative.

No, I can’t do that. Whenever I think about walking the Hillary in defiance of the iwis wishes, I get an empty pit in my stomach and I feel like I am ignoring one of the biggest reasons I am doing the Hillary in the first place: embracing this nation as my new home. And in the end, if I ignore the rules because they don’t suit me, I am not embracing my new home or those around me.

With the vote today, I will look to both the Council and the Iwi on what they want to do. It is likely that a two-pronged approach will happen. I suspect that the high-risk areas: Kauri Cascade, the Montana Heritage Trail, and other areas will be closed off from the public. I also suspect that they will also step up funding to combat the microbe, having found some success in areas, and being able to identify Kauri trees resistant to the microbe. If the iwi is satisfied with the decision and drops the rāhui, then I will go on my walk. If they keep the rāhui in place, then I will cancel my walk… which is a bit devastating. I love the Waitakeres, I want to walk them as much as I can. There is still so much of it I haven’t seen, but I can’t enjoy it if I am also going to help destroy it.

This also makes me worried about the Hunua Ranges, the next closest area of walks for me, which also have Kauri trees, and may be the next to close.

With this development, I tried to look at other great walks to go on during the Christmas/New Year break, and I have found that everything is either too far away, fully booked, or what is available is luxury tramping that is way too expensive. This made me very upset. Again, I have been hiking and training for months for this, and now… so close to the event, the rug gets pulled out from under me.

So… next steps.

If I cannot do the Hillary, I am going to look for a 2-day walk somewhere in the Hunuas or the Coromandel Ranges for me to go walking. I am considering the Pinnacles walk which is either a 1 or 2-day walk or I may do something in the East Hunua Ranges. Both are relatively close to me, so I should be able to find something. I just hope I can find a campground or hut to stay at.

The other thing I have done… is that I have decided to do the Tongariro Northern Circuit at the end of January. This is a great walk that also includes the Tongariro Crossing, something I was planning to do this summer anyhow. This 4-day walk will be just as challenging as the Hillary, so I am glad I was able to find campsites and a hut to stay at. The area is already protected, and it does not have any Kauri trees. So no danger there. It *is* considered sacred, but I will follow the rules of the local iwi there and that is perfectly fine for me.

If the Hillary does pull through, I will be thrilled, but only if the Iwi and the Council agree. Otherwise, I will go further afield.

“If the Journey itself is indeed the most important piece, rather than the destination itself, then I traveled not to avoid duty – but to seek it.”

Brandon Sanderson – Oathbringer Chapter 120

It is a reminder that sometimes the goal is not what you should focus on, and this situation is making me recognise that a bit more. I hope I can do the Hillary, but I am prepared to change the destination, for, in the end, it is not as important as the journey.

Breaking down the Election

So today was the first major election since President Donald Trump became President. In the states of Virginia and New Jersey, they held races for Governor. Virginia also held their races for the House of Delegates, the lower house in Virginia. Other places in the country had a variety of local races. From New York City to New Hampshire, Georgia, Utah, and Washington.

In short, the Democrats had a great night. Winning the Governorships in Virginia and New Jersey, and winning every major election coast to coast with the exception of UT-3 where they had a special election to replace Republican Jason Chaffetz, which was an expected GOP hold anyhow.  The Democrats also have flipped seats in Georgia, Washington, Virginia (more on that in a moment), New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania. this is a pretty big election for the Democrats… even if it wasn’t nationwide.

This election is always interesting because a lot of pundits will use these results to begin predicting the 2018 midterm elections, where the US House of Representatives and 1/3 of the US Senate will be up for re-election. In many ways, they are correct to do this, as previous elections have seen these results help guide the mood going into 2018.

So in the spirit of reading the political tea leaves. I have done a little research into the Virginia House of Delegates Races to see if we can see some trends in the results.

Now I will fully admit here, I am not a statistician. I am “ok” with numbers… as long as there isn’t too much crazy stuff in it. However, I think these numbers speak well to the mood of Virginia, and potentially, the mood of the Country. So… let’s dig in.

Below is a table of the Contested Virginia Delegate Seats, and comparing the 2013 election with tonight’s election. I looked at the Margin of Victory in both races, the difference (swing) between the two, as well as the Turnout Percentage.

VA Election

I want to point out a few things in the numbers.

1) Firstly, the Republicans enjoyed a 66-34 Split in the House coming into this election. This was done in part because of the GOP Redistricting the state in 2011 embedding their advantage for the rest of the decade. IWhile several seats are uncalled at the moment, there is a real chance that the House will be split 50/50.

2) The Swing within the state is remarkable, with almost every seat seeing a swing to the Democrats. In seats where the Republican was safe, the swing seemed to be lower, but time and time again, there was a surprising swing towards the Democrats. The Average Swing was towards the Democrats by 13.1%. If this is duplicated in 2018, the House would flip to the Democrats with room to spare. Also, this is in line with the latest polls giving the Democrats an 11 point lead over Republicans in the House elections next year. Virginia proves that the gap is real, especially since Virginia is a battleground state. These should be scary numbers for any Republican running next year, regardless of where.

3) Turnout was up across the state. While looking at 2013, the turnout was up by 18.7% statewide, with some districts having over 30% increased voter turnout over 2013.

4) There is something weird in Delegate Seat 3. Not only did it buck the trend and the Republican gained in his margin of Victory, but turnout was down in this seat, which was the only seat to see turnout was lower.  I am a bit dubious about this, and I want to ask some questions as to what has happened.

What is interesting here was that the Democrats had a 13% swing, yet they still only got 50 Seats in the House of Delegates. This is the power of Gerrymandering. To overcome this, there needed to be a larger than expected Voter turnout. This is crucial to understand why it is so hard to overcome a gerrymandered district. in 2011, the GOP set up the current map so that they would have a built-in advantage to keep on winning. It looks like voter sentiment has turned against them, and now the Democrats look poised to turn the tables in 2021 (Unless the Supreme Court interferes… which another post for another time).

So what does this mean for 2018? While you cannot make a direct correlation between the results tonight and what will happen a year from now, it is important to see the state of the game moving forward: The Republicans are vulnerable. Several of these seats were won in surprising fashion. For example, in Delegate seat 13, Arch Conservative Bob Marshall lost his seat to Danica Roem, a Transgender woman who ented the race after Marshall tried, and failed to pass an Anti-Trans Bathroom bill. Roem becomes the first openly Trans lawmaker in the country, which… coming from a fairly conservative area of the state, is pretty epic. These races indicate that the Democrats are more enthusiastic about voting, are coming out more in the vote, and more importantly, winning and creating the momentum going into 2018.

Also hidden in the election results, two more GOP House Reps have announced they are retiring. This only adds to the list of other vacating GOP House members going into 2018, and generally, you don’t retire when your team is winning. I suspect that there will be more retirements between now and the end of the year.

The reaction from the Republicans has been all over the map. Donald Trump and Breitbart have both stated that the Virginia GOP candidate for Governor Ed Gillespie, a Republican moderate, did not align himself with Trump and therefore lost the race. Breitbart was quick to label Gillespie as a “Swamp Thing” and quickly blamed him and his lack of support for Trump to be the reason he lost. However, they have glossed over the massive losses in the Virginia Delegate races. Gillespie should not have depressed the GOP bote that much, and further, many Delegates lost by greater swings than Gillespie. This should be sending warning signals to the GOP in general.

In other races across the country, the same story played out: Higher turnout than 2013 and surprising victories by Democrats. In Georgia, two special elections for state seats flipped to the Democrats, both of which were fairly surprising. Pundits are wondering what this will mean for the Special election for Alabama Senate slated for December 12. While I think that Republican Roy Moore is still the Favorite for the election, it does give the Democrats some hopes of flipping Attorney General’s Jeff Sessions old seat over the Democrats during a crucial election year.

What this will do to the Tax Reform Bill currently in the House is up for debate, but as the Republican Majority heads into an election year, they may not be seeing so much of a Wave against them, but rather a Tsunami, and right now, Donald Trump looks to be an Anchor around their feet, dooming far more than they expect.

The Hillary Trail: Week 7 – Heading South

Hello again! After my last big test, I have taken the last two weeks off to recuperate as well as reassess my plans for the Hillary Trail. The good news is that I have decided to continue forward with my plans and I am super excited about the next phase of my training.

The two day test for me was a lot of fun, but it highlighted a couple of things that I have been concerned about: my general fitness. Overall, my walking and hiking is doing great, but the big unknown for me is what to do when I am carrying an extra 15kgs on my back when I am hiking. My knee acted up when I pushed myself pretty hard. That first day, I did almost 19kms, and I suspect that was the reason why I ended up with a sore knee: I decided the first time with a full pack, I was walking 30ish kms. Not a good idea.

So, for this next phase of my training, I am going to switch it up a little bit I think.

The start date for the Hillary is 8 weeks from today. (Oh god…) So, I am going to start planning this phase and make sure that by January 2nd, I am ready and able to do the entire trek.

This weekend, I plan on going South to the Hunua Ranges. This is an area south of Auckland, about the same distance for me as the Waitakere Ranges. Before I started training for the Hillary, I did the Massey Track/Cossey Gorge Track which was a lot of fun. This time, however, I will be heading slightly south of there, and I will be doing two tracks.

While not as intense as the tracks in the Waitakeres, I think this is a good start after two weeks off, and to get a fairly good feel for my knee. I suspect that I will be fine with the walk, but I don’t want to overextend myself the first time I go out after a break. There are some steep spots, which is good, and apparently, there is a slip in the road at one point, so I will need to scramble over some loose rock. That actually sounds a bit exciting. The walk should be about 10kms, but it may come out to be a bit more. It also looks like I will be crossing a stream a few times, so that sounds a bit exciting!

For this walk, I will be taking my day pack, but I may bring some stuff to give it some weight. I am doing this mostly for conditioning as I build up for the Hillary.

Beyond this weekend, I am looking at a couple of milestone events leading up to the Hillary that I want to accomplish so that I feel the most comfortable heading into the 6 day tramp.

Camping weekend number 2

The first thing I want to do is another overnight camping trip on my own. With Labour Day weekend going well, despite the knee. I want to give it another go in terms of making sure I can carry a pack for two days without hurting myself in some way. I am targeting the weekend of December 2nd to do this. And I am considering doing a camp in the Hunua Ranges. Not that I don’t love to Waitakeres, I just want to make sure I do not exhaust all the cool places before I do the Hillary. I am looking at the East Hunua Ranges, and I hope to nail down the route in the next week or two.

Tongariro Crossing

The weekend before Christmas, I am looking to do the Tongariro Crossing. A friend and his Fiance will be in the country over that time and asked me if I wanted to do it with them, and upon thinking about it, I think it would be a fantastic time. It is a 19.5km walk, and it is definitely a challenge. Doing it two days Before Christmas, and a week and a half before the Hillary is a good chance for me to give my legs and fitness a final workout. I will be carrying a day pack, given the distance, but I suspect it will be a good walk regardless. Also, seeing “Mount Doom” is kinda a bucket list item. I will not scale the mountain… this time, but I suspect that I will be making another trip there later in the summer, or maybe next summer. Hopefully, I can nail down this soon, and be able to have a great day with it.

Boxing Day Adventure

This is not set in stone, but since I will be spending the Christmas holiday in the Coromandel Penisula, I am considering doing a Boxing Day Tramp somewhere in the area. I have done some walking in the region before, but I may do something a little more challenging for Boxing Day. This is the one I am least sure about. Given that the Tongariro will only be 2-3 days before, I may be worn out. However, given that I need to do 6 straight days of walking, I need to see if I can handle big walks over a short amount of time. I need to give some thought to this before I make a decision. Luckily, it is well within my holiday period so I can decide a bit closer to the time.

And that is it. For the next 8 weeks, I look to do a lot of walking, and I am really excited about it. On Thursday, I plan to book my campsites for the Hillary and make my decision on the Hunua Ranges Camping trip. Until then, I will let you know how it goes!

 

The Hillary Trail – Week 6: Achievement Unlocked: Camping

Friday Night

I think I packed and repacked 3 times over the night. I was excited, but I was nervous. I decided to have pizza and sort of carb-load. This turned out to not work out as much as I had hoped because I didn’t eat enough pizza. I still had some chicken sushi I had yet to eat as well. My pre-eating wasn’t going well.

(note: In Australia and New Zealand, they *also* have Chicken and Beef sushi. No, the meat is not raw, but cooked. Generally, you can get Chicken.Beef Teriyaki or Crispy Chicken, its strange to me as I had never heard of non-seafood sushi before moving here, but I dislike seafood, so it is the only sushi I eat.)

I ended up going to bed at 11pm, a little later than I typically do for a walk.

Saturday

Starting off

Starting in the Garage. Gotta start somewhere. 

I woke up excited and nervous around 5:30. From there, I waited until 7:30 to leave home. From there, I headed to Huia. The ride was pretty nice, and starting right off by the ocean, I knew I would off for a big day.

 

I arrived at the car park at around 8:10 am, and the first thing I noticed was how many people were already there. Generally, when I get to a place, I am the first one here. Not today. I soon realised that a lot of people had the same idea as I had, and wanted to spend Labour Day weekend tramping.

I am actually excited to see people on the trail.

Fletcher Track  – So starting off on the Karamatura Loop walk. I see a sign for the Fletcher Track. And it is going pretty much going up. I take a look, and start off. Of course, the Track walk is well maintained. The Fletcher track. is. not. I head up the trail, and it is definitely a challenge. I am taking to it pretty voraciously, right up to where I needed to climb about 3-4 meters to continue.

I utter a phrase that I found myself saying often over the course of the next two days.

“Seriously?”

I look at it for a few moments and decide to give it a go. A few minutes, and some crafty sidestepping later, I was at the top. This is officially tramping, I feel super excited and if anything, I did some fucking climbing.

So, I immediately turn the wrong way.

The good thing was that it wasn’t the “wrong way” it just led to a lookout.

Fletcher Lookout

Lookout from Fletcher Trail

From there, I turned around and made my way to the next track.

Donald McClean track – Officially apart of the Hillary Trail, this was like night and day with the Fletcher. it was well drained, wide, and it was a nice walk. I got to point where I could climb Mt. Donald McClean Walk to the top, but in looking at my time, I figured I could save it for a future Saturday walk. I am very glad I made that decision.

Puriri Ridge Track – From Donald McClean, I took the Puriri Ridge Track. This was my first encounter with mud. Up to this point, there is a no rain, but a little wind. Having rained earlier in the week. I expected mud. But up to this point, the trail had been pretty good, or at worst, easily avoidable mud.

Also, I have decided that after this tramp, there need to be more words for “mud.” Like “snow for the Inuit, I feel that New Zealand need to have 5, 6, 45 words for mud. More on that later.

Puriri Ridge seeing the Omanawunui Track

On the Puriri Ridge Track, behind me, the next challenge. 

Anyhow, the Puriri had some majestic views, it was a good decent through the bush. It didn’t realise it until after I got home and looked at my elevation changes how much I initially climbed. I hit an open patch and I was able to see the Tasman Sea and the opening of Manakau Habour. Of course, I knew I was going to walk that ridge, hens the face.

 

Anyhow, this was a good walk, and it led back to the road a few kms. Now… I was ready for the big walk of the day.

Omanawanui Track – This is one of those tracks that people talk about on the tramping sites. It starts along the road (at least for the Hillary) and you start heading up the ridge. There are two big peaks in this walk, and they can be pretty daunting. By this point, I met another tramper, Emma. She was doing the Hillary so we were going to end up at the same campground. It was cool to know someone on the trail, but also know to look for them at the end. It was actually a bit of comfort.

The ascent was significant, but every time I stopped, I saw awesome-ness… Seriously.

Omamawanui Trail 1

Omanawanui Track – Before the First Peak

I made it to the first peak, and it was stunning to see. The only downside was that there was a large group of trampers who had stopped for lunch. And while I did not begrudge them (it was a fantastic spot), I moved on quickly. That, and the wind was picking up, so I moved on. There was a second peak a bit further on, so I decided to try and snap a pic there.

The descent from the first peak to the second peak was surprisingly hard. At one point, there was a chain bolted to the rock, and you had to use that to lift/lower yourself to the next level. When I saw that, I did my now trademark, “Seriously…”

Finally, the second peak was mine. I sat down at the seat at the top, drank some water, and took an amazing pic.

Omamawanui Trail 2

Omanawanui Trail – Second Peak

From the second peak, I descended quickly to the Whatipu car park area. That was when I encountered my first Black Sand in a while. While I only had sand on a tiny part this time, I have to remind myself that future sections of the Hillary will have more sand.

After taking a brief break, I then headed off towards my campsite.

 

Gibbons Track – The Gibbons track is one of those tracks that are amazing after the first third. The ascent was pretty challenging, but it was dry. I did a steady climb, but I started to notice my right knee was starting to give me trouble. With a tinge here and there as I was climbing, I wasn’t sure what was going on. The trail was steep, and surprising a lot of people were on it. I had to stop several times to let people pass. I actually enjoyed it. I wished everyone well, and it was great to see so many people and so many types of people enjoying rural New Zealand. Throughout this experience, I have mostly been a solo hiker, but today, I got to meet a lot of people and it was really nice to see. I also found Emma a time or two as we were travelling. I was really excited because she was an experienced tramper, and I am such a noob, so I felt that I could be in the ballpark of decent tramping speed.

 

When I got up to the top of the Gibbons trail, I was treated to a spectacular view.

Gibbons Track 2

The trail then evened out and walking was good. Finally, I hit the last track of the day.

Muir Track – At this point, I was almost to the campground. I am feeling my right knee, and it is not doing the best. I have never hurt my knee before, but generally, I know that things are not going perfectly. While I was walking on a level surface, or ascending, I was fine. It was Descending that was the issue. And my campground, Pararaha Valley campground was definitely down.

So, I descended.

Muir Track

Muir Track Descent

The good thing about the Muir Trail is that there are a lot of steps. Normally, I hate steps but today, they were the perfect thing. I could put weight on my leg, it would just hurt if I put weight as I was stepping down with my other leg. Steps made this process easier.

 

The downside of the Muir track is that it is steep, and the step down was a bit rough. At one point another Chain bolted tot he rock appeared, and I had a little harder time traversing it. But I managed. In the back of my mind, I am worried about tomorrow morning, as I am walking up this very same trail. but that is for tomorrow.

With my final steps, I make it to the campground. Emma was there, smiling, and welcomed me. She was very positive the entire trip, and I was really happy to see her.

Pararaha Campground

campground

My tent! I put it up myself!

The campground was pretty amazing. Nestled in the valley next to a stream, it was pretty epic. I set up camp and my tent, and I felt that I was very successful. Next, after setting set up. I made dinner in a small shelter (at 5pm, but I don’t care), and met the other people coming in. It was kinda crazy how many people showed up. The campsite can hold 40, and there were like 25 people there easily. I saw a family with two kids there, they were like 8-10 years old. There were duos and trios and singles as well. It was a nice group of people and talking about my

Aaron dinner.jpg

Making Dinner

training, and their experiences… it was an amazing time to get to know them. I was worried about the social aspect of camping, especially because I figured I would be kinda introverted. But it was a positive experience… and I also crashed early so there was that.

 

Now, onto the stats of the day.

Overall, I walked 18.91 Kilometers on the trail. I did the walk in 7:27:22 which means I did an average of 2.5km per hour for the day. I did four peaks during the day, though my first one was the biggest by far. I actually thought that the ridge peaks were taller, but I was surprisingly wrong. I did get down to just around sea level at Whatipu, which was expected, but the second ascent from the Gibbons Track was surprising for me.

Day 1 Map

My Day 1 Hike on the Map

 

Day 1 Walk

Day 1 Elevation Map

 

 

Sunday

Pararaha Campground – Waking up at 5:30, I felt good. The place I put the tent was really good… with the exception of it being on a slight angle, so I moved around a bit during the night. Otherwise, the wind stayed down and I got a good nights rest. Also, Emma gave me some nurophen (aka Tylenol) and some tape for my leg. Also, my leg felt almost perfect! I got changed, ate, and packed my stuff, and I was off by 7:15. This was a good move on my part because the weather began to set it. While I was packing, the rain started, so I was lucky that I was able to pack up before the rain set in. I also wanted to make sure I didn’t try my knee in wet weather.

Muir Track – Going up was much better than going down. The ascent was quick, and my knee was in good spirits. I think it had to do with being kept warm all night in the sleeping bag and not moving it too much. The Chain section was pretty easy on the way up, so I was happy with that. With lots of motivation, I met back where the Gibbons and Muir meet, and then went in the third direction.

Walker Ridge Track – Mud gets a new name on the Walker Ridge Track. While I had

Walker Ridge Track

This was the best of the mud situation on the Walker Ridge Trail

avoided mud for most of this hike, my luck ran out here. Walker Ridge was a mess. Going up, going down. It was slop from top to bottom. And worse, the rain had started coming regularly. While under the bush, the rain wasn’t too bad, it created a mist that hung over the trail. It was some serious Cursed Hallow/Blair Witch/Horror Movie vibes going on. But rather than being scared, it was crazy peaceful. I was chuffed that I did not have a better camera to capture the mist better. Next time… next time.

 

Anyhow, the ascent was decent, while windy and rainy over the exposed parts. The Descent was tough, my knee was starting to act up, and I knew this would take a while. It was this moment when my husband’s words of “pacing myself” popped into my head. So, I slowed down and took the descent conservatively. This slowed me down a lot, but overall, I think it was the right answer. The rain was making everything wet, from the ground to rocks, and one wrong slip could mean something worse. So, I took my time and came up finally to a big fork in the forest. I am nearing the end.

Karamatura Track – I thought Walker was a challenge. No. Karamatura is a bigger challenge. It was pretty much a pure descent off the mountain. That big mountain I walked yesterday? Yeah… that was the one I was now walking down from. Of course, I didn’t realise this until afterwards, so this descent just kept going… and going… and going. The mud was insane, and the decent so steep I slowed down to below 2kph. Again, I wanted to make sure I didn’t fuck anything up for the future, so I was ok with that. Slow and steady wins the race.

I didn’t get my phone out because I wanted to focus on the decent, but even in my state, I absolutely loved what was around me. The trees, the rain creating a mood (which was mostly good), and I could hear the stream getting closer and closer. Finally, I crossed the stream, and I knew I was nearing the end.

Karamatura Loop walk – This is the final leg. I only had to do half of the walk, since it is a loop, but since the ground was fairly even, I made excellent time. My knee was sore, but not hitting me with pain. I quickly made way back, and finally, with a steady rain on me… I made it back to my car.

Huia Lodge Car Park –

Overall, my second day was shorter than my first day. I basically took a more direct route from the campground to my car. Today, I did 9.84km in 4:37:10 which equates to 2.13kph, which while slower than yesterday, is considered good given my knee, the sharp descent throughout the day, and the less than great weather. Let’s look at the maps/stats:

 

Day 2 Map

Day 2 Map

 

 

 

Day 2 Walk

Day Two Elevation Map

 

 

Closing thoughts

Overall, I did 28.75km over 12:02:32. That is an average of 2.31kph, or about 1.42 miles an hour. When saying it in miles doesn’t sound so impressive though, but in saying that, the trampers I met over the two days all said I was doing really great, and gave me a lot of confidence. I think I did well, and I think if my knee didn’t act up, I would be at a solid 2.5kph, and I will be happy with that overall.

I liked this weekend. Knee and weather on the second day aside, I had a fantastic time. The people I met on the trail and campground were really awesome and so nice. At the campground, I met people tramping from all over the world, and to see so many people just enjoy the scenery was awesome. Throughout the trail, I saw Kiwis (the people) and tourist seeing the area, and again, it made my heart sing. New Zealand is an amazing place, and I am so lucky to get see it.

I consider this an achievement unlocked. I am going to take a few days to rest my knee and reassess on what I want, and then… make the final decision on the Hillary and planning the nights out. I may take next weekend off, but I am considering some other tramps in the Waitakeres, as well as the Hunua Ranges as Spring (hopefully), dries out.

I feel like I met the challenge, and I am looking forward to the next time I head out.

 

The Hillary Trail: Week 6 – The Test

This is a big week for me. After 5 weeks of walking in the bush, this weekend I will be taking my first overnight camping trip in the Waitakere Ranges.

I am really excited, and I am a little nervous.

Firstly, let’s talk about the route I am taking.

Saturday

Sunday

This should be about 16kms on the first day, and 7 km on the second day. I figured I would want to do the hardest part first, and then allow myself all day to get back on Sunday… though realistically, I want to be finished by midday because…

A Weather map of New Zealand for Sunday

Sunday Midday Weather – getting out before the weather settles in.

The weather looks to be cloudy on Saturday, possible rain overnight, and then a variable morning until the rain starts to come in during the afternoon.

From Sunday afternoon, the weather further deteriorates and I hope to find myself back home either napping or playing Shadow of War, South Park, or Desinty 2.

 

During the week, I have tested out my tent, my sleeping bag, and other equipment ahead of this weekend, so I feel that I competently can handle the trip.

The big question, of course, is food.  I have been the most nervous about my food intake, and my energy levels during my single day tramps, so I am doubly worried about an overnight trip. I have some freeze dried food that I bought this week, and today I will be buying some water, some trail mix, and (at the behest of my Husband) something for breakfast. But I worry it will not be enough, or that I am underestimating my energy. The other big thing is that this will be the first time I travel with a full pack, which will add 10-12 kilos to my weight, making things a bit harder. So, I am trying to figure out what my body needs, what I should bring, and what I should avoid.

This weekend, I am not planning on bringing my camera. With a mixture of the weather and the fact that my full body camera is bulky and heavy, I feel it is best to leave it behind. It sucks though because I really want to take pictures other than my phone. If this weekend is successful, I think the next thing I get will be a small camera to take photos. I may have my Olympus Tough somewhere… and if I can find it, I may charge it up and see what happens. But otherwise, I think I will be without a decent camera for this trip.

The other “concern” I have is what to do with myself after I get to the campground. I have a full day of hiking, then I will spend (hopefully) about a half hour setting up, and then of course dinner.

Then….

What does one do when they camp by themselves?

On on hand, there are other people scheduled to be at that campground so I won’t be “alone,” but conversely I am not likely to spend the whole night with them either. Now, typical me would be like “My iPad”, but I find it a bit hysterical to bring such a piece of tech on a hike like this. That, and the weather may cause issues. The same thought goes for books in that situation. Do I just sit there and gaze out until dark and go to sleep?  Do I explore? What do I do? I am still trying to figure that out.

I really like the idea of doing this on my own. It is a big test for me. I have set myself to do this Hillary, without any camping experience, or hiking experience. For me, this weekend is “proof of concept” that I can do this. ANd if I am successful (and I enjoy it), then on my next paycheck. I will book the Hillary.

It’s a big moment.

With that, I will let everyone know how it goes, and I hope it is a good experience for me.

Wish me luck, and see you on the other side.

 

 

What do we do? #MeToo and what men need to do

Over the last week, there has been a lot of talk about Harvey Weinstein, and from a larger perspective, sexual harassment and its pervasiveness in our society. I feel like this is a part of the cycle we in the western world live in. The power dynamic in society is always on display, and despite our attempts at change, we have only changed the methods of how we engage in that toxic power dynamic.

I feel that the voices that have come out over the last week in terms of sexual harassment, from celebrities to everyday women using the hashtag #metoo, are vitally important for us to begin talking about what we need to do as men to 1) stop this behaviour in ourselves, and 2) call out this behaviour when we see it.

To begin with, with this post, I will group people rather generally, “Men,” or “Women,” and other terms are meant to talk about the general aspects of these groups, but I also want to point out that we are not slaves to our gender, that we are not defined by our gender or group, and most importantly, not everyone in their gender or group think or act in the same way. So please do not mean to take this post as equating to everyone in a particular group. These are only my perspectives and the things I have noted and seen in my personal life.

My experience with sexual harassment personally started as a younger gay man coming out first in the rural Midwest, and then the American East Coast and onwards. From there, I have experienced the effects of sexual harassment that have been done to women. I have had friends and loved ones sexually harassed, and even then I know that my knowledge of these events are very limited, as I saw to my consternation with the #MeToo protest throughout social media. (And my consternation that I was surprised that so many friends have experienced this)

In the face of widespread experiences of this nature, one must take a step back and ask “What can I do?”  How can I help break this cycle of abuse, outrage, cosmetic change, and repeat? I don’t want my niece, or my nephew, or my friends or family to have to experience this abuse, but at the same time, I am just a single person, in an out of the way country in the world. I am a gay man whose interactions with women are decidedly non-sexual, so what I can do in the face of such an overwhelming problem that has pervaded our culture since we *had* culture.

The first thing to do is the acknowledge that this is a problem. Yes, we have a problem with how we, as the male gender, treat women and at times, each other. This is not a new issue, and on a larger level, it is an issue that we only selectively condemn when it suits the parties involved. The fact that Harvey Weinstein is being destroyed publicly while Donald Trump became President is proof enough that this type of abuse is weaponised or ignored depending on who is the perpetrator.

Second, we need to call out those who exhibit this behaviour. Just as speaking out against pejoratives towards someone’s ethnicity, or calling out other things we find not in the keeping of a good and pleasant society. We, as men, need to be strong allies for women, as well as each other, in confronting this toxic behaviour. This is something that, as a culture, we say is important, but in practice, leaves much to be desired.

So it is the time that we put up, or shut up.

In my small world, I look at how gay men treat each other. In the Bear community, there has been a lot of discussion about sexual harassment, and it generally comes from older men towards younger men (again, not always though). Today, there was an article in USA Today about our behaviour in gay bars. This behaviour is seen as pretty normal, however, it typifies the male experience: if you like it, you react to it. Over the years, the calls from younger men or men who freshly come out, are confronted with how pervasive and acceptable it is to grope someone you like and are often told to quiet down if they push back or are uncomfortable. This mentality is seemingly baked into the gay male experience, and it is one that we need to honestly examine within ourselves and change.

I know that as a gay man, I have been pressured into sex by men. I have been in situations where I have had sex to get out of a bad /dangerous situation. I have had situations where I had to be insistent on saying “No” to other men. I have had online dates turn into awkward moments where I had to decide whether to push back and cause a potential incident or let it go in order to stay “safe.” I have been shamed for pushing back and been called a prude. I have been told that I am too thinned skinned by friends and I have been told that “This is what you should expect” as living life as a gay man.

And in conversations over the past few days, I know that I am not alone in this feeling, not only from Gay men but by far from more women.

I will admit. In a gay bar, I tend to be more affectionate. I reach out, and though I almost always do it with permission or with friends whom I am comfortable with. However, I can recall moments when I have reached out to someone I do not know before I seek permission. I have also been in situations where I have been attracted to someone and be turned down, and I have always respected that, but I can identify where the impulse to react harshly or ignoring the refusal can come from. There is a sort of “code” in the gay world in certain situations where actions and advances can be made and rebuffed without blowback, but that code often is blurry and is used all the time, everywhere, rather than in specific situations.

But also, Sexual Harassment happens in different mediums. By far the worst sexual harassment I have faced has been online, while the physical barriers are removed, but the words, the actions, and sometimes, the stalking… comes into play heavily. I will fully admit that I have had a number of stalkers in my life that I have had to forcefully cut off because they would not relent. Even as a mid-30’s gay man, I often have to deal with overzealous men who will not take No for an answer, online or otherwise. This is by far a more common experience for me and one that has increased over time.  I currently have two “stalkers” who keep popping up in my online life and will not take no for an answer. This is my reality, and sadly, I know this is a reality of far more women and men than it should be, and worse, this is almost he expected action many women come to expect, which is sad and depressing.

So, what do we do?

It starts with me. Firstly, regardless of gender, I will treat every person with respect and respect their personal space and their bodies. They may be attractive, but that does not invite engagement from me, and while I am good with this, I am not perfect, so reminding myself of this is important, because I am *never* entitled to engage someone else sexually who isn’t interested.

Second, I will call out the behaviour when I see it applied to me or when I see it in general. This doesn’t mean I go into full-on warrior mode, but pointing out that that behaviour isn’t acceptable, and not shying away from that is important. Too often silence = complicity, and we shouldn’t be silent when we see it happen, to ourselves, or to others. This is why we see so many women post #metoo in social media because our silence allows this toxicity to fester.

Third, I am going to talk about this with my male friends. Right now, the conversation often boils down to women saying “You do this to us” and men going “but not *us*, other men do this.” This argument is used all the time to stop conversations from happening at a larger scale. Sure, individuals will say they are the exception, or that they do not sexually harass, but in reality, we are seeing that there is a significant group of men who *do* sexually harass, and worse, most of us silently let it happen, and we need to talk about this. This is bigger than individual responsibility, this is on everyone. And more importantly, we need to have this conversation with ourselves. We men need to start being more responsible for each other, and having these tough conversations helps that.

And finally, I will be there for those who need it. From women who have been raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, to the gay men who have been pressured into sex, or uncomfortable, we need to make sure that we don’t silence them because it makes things uncomfortable for us. Fear and silence allow this cycle to continue. Similar to abuse, or intolerance, or bigotry, being silent means that the behaviour will continue, we also need to stand with those who make these claims, especially when they are confirmed in happening. As we have seen in the media, when someone comes forward with allegations, there is an immediate push to discredit the person. Depending on the situation, this often works, and the man walks away from the incident. In so many other areas of law and justice, we take the accusers word and we seek the truth. It seems with sexual harassment, we try and destroy the accuser to see if they can withstand the scrutiny before we pay heed to their words. We need to change the culture of destroying the accuser because they spoke up. This is another reason for the silence within our culture.

In other words, I need to be an ally for women who need my support, and I need to be an advocate for gay men who have experienced this toxicity. I need to be a good example of what is appropriate, and be accountable for my actions, and speak up when I see that behaviour in others.

Look. I know this will not change overnight. I know this will not change in a year. However, it is important that we begin changing and teaching our younger generations what we have failed to learn. We need to push so that when my Niece and Nephew are old enough, they look at our rampant sexual assault culture and marvel at how backwards we were or how boorish we come off as, and how they are lucky we have begun to move from that place. It will not be easy, and this will always be a struggle, but it is one we must always strive to make.