In late January 2018, by luck (thanks to ACORNS NW Forest School's Kendra for posting on Social Media) & the grace of God, I discovered a program that is happening in June that raced my heart- The Call. The following is what transpired as I reflected on the questions asked as part of the application process to participate in a 2 week Leadership Intensive called Restoring Rites of Passage For Youth with Rites of Passage Journeys.
Spoiler Alert: I've been invited to the Intensive. I received news just days before the Parkland Florida School Shooting that happened on February 14th, 2018
And now more than ever, as I watch the youth coming forward with #NEVERAGAIN & #MarchForOurLives, I see clearly that which I desired to contemplate here in Mexico this Winter- What does devotion look like? I will serve as a Guide for our Youth, but most importantly, I have their back, I will follow their lead.
Here is what I wrote:
It’s 10:30 at night & I just walked home, in my sleepy little town in Mexico, after watching an epic game of The Eagles and Patriots. #metaphorgalore. I was contemplating finishing my intent letter this evening, a goal I set for myself this weekend and had communicated to you Cameron- keeps me honest. I was thinking about my time here in Mexico, with the intention of shedding light on what ‘devotion’ looked like, for me. I felt a sense of gratitude, knowing that regardless of invitation or what would transpire post the intensive, I was and am grateful for the opportunity to explore the questions for consideration. You see, I haven’t been writing lately. I found it important when I was solo travelling in 2016, but since joining the Caravan for 2017 & residing in Mexico for the winter, I’ve been hard pressed, to find myself in enough space to put thoughts to words on a keyboard. In reflection, I’ve become quite adept at living in liminal space and what used to be a process that included much more reflection, and even writing, stressed about the future or disappointed about the past, has become an ever presence and ability to remain relatively present – (GREAT in these times), intentional & honoring my own pace and practice of incorporating an experience, trusting how the body feels over the thoughts reflected upon. Really trusting the road maps handed down, given and created. Really excited to build those maps with others. But, I digress.
I’m beyond thrilled that I “happened upon” this intensive in the ways I did. Confirming my heart’s desire to work with in a sacred, intentional, creative, playful & on our own terms way, with those “coming of age”. Today was a great day. Celebrating a 3 year olds birthday, supporting Melissa Michaels’ Boulder, CO. book launch-dance, “Youth on Fire”, via a LIVE Facebook feed, a siesta & watching a really great game, albeit riffed with political & social issues; take a knee, “World” Champions & U.S. culture. There is also tradition-my matriarchy lineage of watching a game, Betty, Carla & me... Eagle prevailed.
The following are my answers to the questions to consider. Again, thank you & I look forward to hearing from you.
Questions to consider:
What in your heart calls you to seek out this experience?
My most recent journey, post working at Pacific Quest, came with the intention that I desired to explore, move & face some known and unknown fears & assumptions about who I am if I would truly & authentically serve youth in a deep and meaningful way. I feel a sense of completion and a readying to step out of the liminal space and direct myself towards concrete markers as I recognize the desire to devote and partner with others who resonate with me. I believe this Leadership Intensive is just that container to step into the next and dedicate myself to soulfully mentor youth through rite of passage ceremonies. In community, with the support and witnessing of my peers, I have no doubt that this experience will catalyze my personal gifts and ancestral inheritance in a deep and meaningful way. And I’m excited to begin building my niche in this work OUT loud.
How did you hear about Rite of Passage Journeys?
I believe I first heard of Rites of Passage Journeys when I met Darcy on the Big Island with Pacific Quest in 2015.
Are you interested in being a mentor on Journeys’ youth programs this summer?
Yes, I’m interested and would consider the opportunity.
How might this experience fit into any personal or professional goals or visions that you have at this time?
My vocations & how I show up in the world are intrinsically tied together. I consider myself an experiential seeker- among other things.. My identification as Queer goes beyond gender & sexuality- it is a way of life for me and at times challenging to find reflected back. But, as I have embodied this way more so over the past couple of years my resilience has strengthened, my physical pain has reduced and the lessons of trust & belonging have weaved through the fabric of my being; serving as a Guide.
I recall being invited a couple years ago by Pedro to participate in the Queer Quest as a participant, which could lead to being a Guide for School of Lost Borders. As I expressed to Pedro that it didn’t feel timely to financially invest in another program to build my credentials, I was also investigating, my “enough-ness” as I looked at my resume, my experiences, my volunteering & my certifications. This leadership intensive feels differently. Maybe it’s timing, maybe it’s because it is co-led by someone who knows me a bit more personally and can poke holes in blind spots, maybe the story about being enough has dropped, and most likely it is all of this. Since working at Pacific Quest I have intentionally not gotten back on someone’s payroll as to step into the possibility of freedom of movement, collaboration & uplifting of more than one organization and voice, and belief in providing for myself through multiple streams & ideas of currency, wealth & value.
Additionally, the events of the past year in the U.S. - the election, Standing Rock & systemic racism emboldened, have carried much weight in my thoughts. When the Electoral College confirmed the presidency, I was enraged and mourning. I was scared and I recall saying to myself, “I’m either going to get arrested or killed if I stay.”- feeling it would only be a matter of time before they come after me. I have remained off U.S soil since; skirting the Gulf Coast by boat, living in Canada last summer and wintering on the other side of the wall in Mexico. Staying off the land has also been in reflection to my unlearning what was taught to me through my Catholic School upbringing; The “Age of Discovery”. The deep wound of stolen land, slavery & genocide unacknowledged in our country. It has only been recently that I have begun to consider dipping my toes back and contemplating what a safe distance feels like carrying both the identities of oppressor & oppressed, how can I be in service and take care of myself? I found in the PNW, more than any other place, reflections of others like me and the possibility of refuge, giving in positive, life-affirming ways & capacity to be an accomplice to the resistance in creative ways.
I believe the combination of my experiences, age and identities offer a unique view to reflect to youth and bear witness and serve in these times. In these fast paced times I offer a slower (not always perfect) and intentional way that I have carved out for myself despite and because of the challenges. I desire to see what sacredness, art, creativity, movement and tapping into the natural rhythms nature provides us in these intentional spaces. The reciprocal exchange of being in youth spaces provides me with energy, possibility and humility & fills me with pride, joy and a “mama bear” sense for which I would love to show up more consistently and sustainably in my life.
Please describe any past experience you have working with youth, and how you see yourself working with youth in the future.
I would say my first experience was with the Atlanta Pride Festival in 1999 when I was asked to oversee a grant designated to creating space at the festival for youth and families. Seeing that the there was a need in the community to facilitate ‘family friendly’ events, provide resources for those with and/or seeking to create a family and raise children, as well as, provide mentoring to young queer kids, we attempted to provide art camps, meet & greets and workshops. In hindsight, this was pioneering and visionary for the Executive Director of AP, to this day, a friend and mentor. Not long after, I created an event, ‘Out of the Blue’ that raised funds for an Outward Bound Memorial Scholarship- remind me to tell you the story of Liz Chandler.. The funds raised granted 5 queer youth scholarships to participate on a 8-day NC Outward Bound. This was my introduction to OB which led to me taking my own course at the age of 30. Fast forward a few years; I was employed with Outward Bound in Moab, UT for 5 years. At the same time, I served on the Board of Youth Garden Project and participated with the Grand County Mentoring program at the Elementary School. I have also worked with Open Sky Wilderness (adolescents 14-17) & Pacific Quest (YA 18-24). You can read more about my experiences with youth on the link. I’d rather write about my hopes for my future involvement.
Roughly two years ago, I recognized it would be irresponsible to continue serving youth and inauthentic to ask those I worked with to search edges I was fearful to search myself. What that meant to me is that I answered the Call. I had to have faith that the communities I wished to serve as Mentor, Guide and eventual Elder would still be there upon my Return. Having no idea how long I would be “gone”, trusting I would know when the time arrived. I traveled from May through October 2016. 3 months on a 50 ft. sailboat, then 2 months of solo Europe travels by land. Both I have never done before. I created Queer Odyssey as a vehicle to chart the journey- consisting of tales & visuals of my exploration. And also with the vision that it would evolve beyond my own personal narrative and serve as a road-map, carrying the thread of its origins, the transparency of my own stories- the Queerest Quest (in every sense of the word); a Hero's Journey template for navigating life's challenges and eventual way for others to self-design their own ROP. Queer Odyssey tells the story of following a path with heart and finding trust in living authentically. From the beginning an .org, the website & social media identify as an Organization for networking, collaboration & offerings and is always evolving & finding its niche as I continued to travel in 2017 in the waters of the Gulf & Salish Sea & wintering in Mexico as I write this. While travelling last year I researched and cultivated relationships with organizations that aligned with my hopes for directly working in the field again. This is how I have envisioned it thus far (& I’m ready to lean more into it), believing an experience such as what you are providing will strengthen the foundation. The hope is this work will take place wherever The Call is heard. That I will have the opportunity to continue travelling//exploring and incorporate my 'living in the field" experiences. I strongly desire to support youth, again, and specifically youth populations that include: Transgender, LGBTQ2+, POC, First Nations and those within the Foster or homeless shelters. Committed to filling the need for creating Trans & non-binary specific Rites of Passage, support existing Rites of Passage organizations in becoming not only inclusive, but accessible to non-binary Trans youth and introduce ROP to Organizations already working in the field with this dynamic community. This would also look like, consulting, guest speaking & collaborating with Organizations & Individuals committed to educating about and supporting resilience in the intersectionality of our collective. Preferring to coordinate, collaborate and be led by Youth leaders in the communities of color and First Nations people feels really important in these times we are living in.
Have you participated in a guided fast in the wilderness before? When and with whom? Have you been involved in any way in any other kinds of intentional rites of passage?
Yes, I participated in a Animas Valley Institute 10 Day Backpacking Vision Quest with a 3 day solo fast in the Abajos, UT 2009. I also received training and Guided Huli Ka' at Pacific Quest 2015/16.
Looking back, what one or two experiences – intentional rites of passage or not – most initiated you into the place you are now on your journey of adulthood?
*My sister’s death, my only sibling, when I was 32 and the subsequent loss of her son for 11 years when her husband decided I couldn’t be a part of my nephew’s life till he was 18.
*The experiences between the age of 41-43 of a near death experience, sobriety & early menopause.
What do you know about your ancestors? How do you relate to them at this point, if at all?
I feel I know more than the general population- and have the information provided through my mom & Dad’s DNA testing to know our origins. AND I know I have more to learn and believe this info is valuable to healing trauma. I am reclaiming my father’s birth name, Cazeaux & considering a name change all together. My Grandfather died when my dad was only 18 months old, but I have felt a strong connection to this Cajun & Choctaw ancestry & the land where they resided near New Orleans, LA. There is colonizer and First Nation blood on the paternal side of my family which I have been exploring this past year.
I am fortunate that my mother enjoys researching genealogy and we have a lot of information & photographs from both sides. She is a proud “Daughters of the Revolution” card carrying member. When I travelled to Europe I had hoped to visit Scotland to see places from my mom’s side, but the UK decided I was a ‘threat” and had intentions of taking jobs away from UK Nationalists. I hope one day to roam the green hills and the Lighthouses my ancestors built.
Joanna Macy introduced me to walking meditations of calling upon the gifts of our ancestors when I first worked with her a few years after my sister died. I relate to them in ways that I don’t take everything so personal anymore and consider the intergenerational trauma when triggered or healed by an experience AND I call on my ancestors for support- sensing a loneliness or “going it alone’ doesn’t feel as prevalent anymore . I was very close to my mother’s mother, who died shortly after my sister.
Recently, I came across this phrase which resonated with me and take on as a mantra for guidance: “I am my Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams”. I found it through an artist collective called Studio Be in New Orleans, LA. It’s awesome.
What are some of the challenges and gifts that come from various aspects of your social identity (such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, class, etc)? What aspects of your identity feel most important to you at this time?
Wow, great question to consider.
It is my understanding, opinion and evolving belief that “race” was created and accepted as some sort of meaningful system of categorizing humans. Routinely, mere skin color is referred to as something immutable – "race". We are often required to state one's "race" in forms, for example- for which I pass on checking if I can. Different ethnic backgrounds exist, of course. But different ethnicities are not different "races". All this monitoring of "race" is predicated not on some essential and basic genetic division between humans, but on the existence of racism, which tries to promote the idea that essential and basic genetic differences between humans exist, when they don't. Data on "race" is collected in order to try to understand the effects of racism. The myth of "race" has been invented by racism, and racism keeps the myth growing. There is only one race, the human race.
My ethnicity is predominantly of European decent and I am not a person of color, but fair skinned, white for all intents and purposes here. Privileged and the topic of intentionally unpacking that privilege has been a part of my evolving humanity for over a decade now. I feel grateful to my experiences with Outward Bound and involvement with the Inclusion & Diversity Task Force in participating in a D & I intensive that was cutting edge info for its time and truly profound. It really woke me up to –isms and my privilege by virtue of my skin color, abilities & socio-economic Perceived standing.
By virtue of the color of my skin, fortunate to call on family, who remain in middle to upper class because my father believes in capitalism and still works at the age of 75, if I’m ever in “need”, as far as classism goes, it’s a messed up system.. By economic standards I live hand to mouth, but my ideas of value and wealth are quite different and for ethical reasons I am releasing myself from the enmeshments of the unsustainable ways of capitalism & oppressive nature of classism. And I know these qualities of perceived class have afforded me many open doors because of the color of my skin. Where the limits begin to show themselves is being in a female body and the perceived and actual risks of my gender & sexual orientation. As a un-coupled person working & travelling in other countries and within my own homeland. The gifts & challenges appear, at times, to be one in the same.
The aspects of my identity that feel most important to me at this time are my Queer identity. Who I am romantically or physically involved with doesn’t feel as relevant (or anyone’s business) as a “sexual orientation” topic. What I have found interesting to explore is how as I become more comfortable in my own skin, in the ways I move through the world, how uncomfortable & even inconsiderate & boundary pushing those I come in contact with can become in their need to know and their task (and not my emotional labor) of looking beyond the binary, beyond either/or and considering both/and.
As I have been unlearning this idea of partnership, significant other, completion, monogamy ++ that I was fed through romantic movies & fairy tales of ‘Happily Ever After’, thinking about your “standing” in society, based on this perception, has been something I have been inquiring about- adding another layer of queerness. I’ve recently been exploring asexual and/or aromantic spectrums ('Aces and Aros') & also acknowledge that factors such as menopause, nomadic lifestyle, attachments still to a love “lost” & impulsivity & “acting out” are in me as part of my recovery work. With that said, identifying as non-binary or Trans in gender, who I am attracted to is also on the spectrum and what fits best in words for me right now is Pansexual- where I don’t see gender when it comes to who I am drawn to and I think it’s ridiculous that people will say, “we are JUST friends”, when I believe those relationships are the most important.
I’ll finish with a story. Recently, I was hanging out with the couple I am working for here in Mexico. A bit of back-story: They are Americans, about 10 years older than me, from Texas & I can imagine there are many opposing world views- and we have opened each other up to seeing things differently. They moved permanently to Mexico over a year ago and for many reasons I enjoy their company (like a sister & brother-in-law). One night, Sandra said to me, “I want to ask you a question, but I’m afraid I will offend you.” I said, “Well, go ahead & I’ll let you know.” She asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?” I was like, “wow, this is a great question.” About that time, John swaggers in the room and in his deep southern voice says, “What are y’all talkin’ about?” Sandra repeated and then said, “You are a boy to me.” & John said, “Well Sandra, she’s clearly all woman. I like both their answers for how they, as the individual and the relationship I have with each of them independently, SEE me.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
I’ve been thinking about one more thing, before I put this letter to bed ( & myself). A big memory of myself as a youth growing up was me, in my room, walkman on, listening to music. This was my time that I enjoyed and it was also a time when I escaped- a coping skill when things got messy- for better or for worse. I don’t remember dreams much, but I do remember I used to dream in musicals sometimes. Folks expressing themselves; breaking out into song and dance to solve a problem, to declare their love. I watched old musicals with my Grandma. I was raised on MTV. I came of age on the dancefloor- a space in the 80's & 90's where my community felt safe to freely express their authentic self, to love and mix sweat with tears of those we have lost. I have evolved from making a mixtape for a friend; decorating the cassette to creating journeys through spotify for a larger listening. These impressions created in a young person, impactful after all these years, provide some information that I’m listening to intently and curious how this can be incorporated into meaningful work for social justice & my devotion to uplifting marginalized & oppressed voices, as well as, provide a tether to youth through the sounds that move them- The Movement is the rhythm in us. Seeking creative ways to keep the faith- sounds like a whole lot of fun & a life lived thru a Queer Calling
Ring Ring….Youth on Fire
Stepping Boldly Into
of Youth Initiation