Britt East tells his dark story of a deeply codependent relationship and having no family or community to rely on when his partner betrayed him by having sex with a minor. After horrific police brutality and an arrest, Britt's life was left in shambles. The saga does have a happy ending and a treasure trove of golden nuggets of wisdom in all that Britt shares. If you want to be inspired by Britt's courage and resilience, this episode is for you.
Britt's Book: A Gay Man's Guide to Life: Get Real, Stand Tall, and Take Your Place
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Coach Maddox 0:03
Britt East, welcome to The Authentic Gay Man Podcast. I'm so glad to have you here.
Britt East 0:08
Thank you, it's great to see you again.
Coach Maddox 0:10
Good to see you as well. So for the listeners, the way we know each other is the way I've introduced all my guests. It's the big virtual gay group that we were in. So I won't go into any more detail than that. Just to give a little history, Britt is an author, his book is a gay Man's Guide to Life, get real, stand tall, and take your place. I will drop a link in the show notes if you're interested in pursuing that a little bit farther? And is there anything you'd like to add? Britt?
Britt East 0:45
Um, no. I mean, I think that's great. I really appreciate that, you know, I have a website, pretty calm has everything on it. And I just keep it simple. So it makes it easy for everybody.
Coach Maddox 0:55
Awesome. We have been knowing each other for about six or seven months, I think. And it's been great. I've appreciated and really enjoyed every conversation we have had. And today we're going to go deep. So Britt, tell me, what does being an authentic gay man mean to you?
Britt East 1:19
Well, you know, I've spent two decades thinking about this. And that was really that question was the genesis for the book. Because I think like a lot of us, when I would engage with the gay community, whatever the heck that even means. I felt a little lacking. And I could never quite find a place for myself. And in certainly in the straight world, especially because I'm the kind of guy who can't pass a straight The kind of day who's pretty easily clocked. You know, I definitely felt the rancor of straight supremacy and the weight of bias and bigotry in all facets of my life. So I wanted to find a way that a method, a path where I could be more fully expressed, where I could be all of myself, maybe not in every situation, you know, I turn up the volume and some facets of my personality in a given situation and turned down the volume of other facets, maybe. But I was not, I was no longer wearing masks. And where I was no longer slapping on band aids, to treat my own. To, you know, to treat my own issues, I was getting to root causes, and working with experts. So I think all of that being said, being a fully authentic gay man is somebody who takes ownership over their life. And then like the subtitle of my book says, Stand Tall, never does not shrink from the world. Somebody who, when it's their turn, grabs the mic steps to the front of the stage sings this their song so that they can hear you in the cheap seats. Wow.
Coach Maddox 3:22
I have cold chills running up and down my entire body right now. That was amazing. I mean, I'm literally choking up I'm fighting back tears here. That was friggin amazing. I mean, I've gotten a lot of great responses from that question. But honey, that was a drop the mic.
Britt East 3:43
Thank you. Wow.
Coach Maddox 3:46
I could go back and listen to that truthfully. Wow. Okay, next question. And the big question. What is the most challenging thing that you have had to overcome in this lifetime? Or are perhaps still in the process of overcoming?
Britt East 4:07
You know, we're gonna go a little dark here. So let me start with the caveat of a little bit of a trigger warning in that. I'm just going to be really candid and honest. But I will give you advance notice that there's a happy ending, that there's light at the end of the tunnel and has been for a long time. But you know, I'm just going to be real because that's that's the only way I know how to be, you know, to be fully authentic is to to get real and that's, that's for so many years of my life what I was unwilling to do what I thought I could not afford, because I was desperately clinging to some alternative vision of my life. I I just didn't I just didn't get I just wasn't being real. And it was not until what I'm about to walk you through happened, that I finally started to get ready And finally started to be who I was always meant to be. So in the mid 90s, I was with a boyfriend in a monogamous relationship for several years, and we were both in our mid 20s, roll early 20s. Actually, now I think about it. And that's pretty rare back then, frankly, I mean, the mid 90s For gay men and long term monogamous relationships. I mean, you felt kind of like a pioneer, obviously, people, plenty of people that come before us. But in our social network, we were the unique ones I'll say. And so it felt really special and wonderful. But because of my background, because of my family conditioning, because of the child abuse that I experienced growing up, I was patently unqualified to be in that kind of a relationship. I was not yet authentic. I made him my everything. I expected him to not only be a friend and a lover, but also a mentor and a teacher. And we were the same age. And I put all of this on to him without full awareness, much less communication. And so I was completely in meshed. I had, I had an excessive need for his approval, I had an excessive need for the relationship itself. I felt like I could not stand on my own two feet of back, I was desperately afraid to be alone. And there was another dynamic at play too, and that he was somebody that I deemed in my own in homophobic way as quote unquote, normal. Meaning like me, pains me to say that it's so embarrassing, but that was a dynamic. And so I felt an amazing sense of relief when we first met that, okay, this is out there for me and I can have this kind of relationship and it's possible, I'm not doomed to die. lonely and afraid from this exotic plague in these, you know, weird illnesses that we're all contracting as part of it. So in many ways, it felt like I had found this paradise on earth. And I say all that to kind of set you up for how hard I fell. How hard I crashed. When one day we were living in Chicago at the time, when one day a couple of police officers knocked on our door looking for him to arrest him for having sex with a minor. Oh, wow. I had grown up in such a sheltered environment that was not even part of my awareness. I didn't really know things like that happened. Especially in the gay community. You know, that's a an old trope, but an old homophobic trope bought, you know, bolstered through white supremacy through the straight supremacy through the years that we're all kind of sexual predators preying on the the youth and it's so resonated with me, that's just patently false. And it is, and yet as queer people, we're all individuals working through all of our various individual issues. And some of us break the law in a variety of ways.
And so I learned some harsh lessons at that time. The police pretended to be UPS delivery people and buzz the intercom we lived in an apartment building and asking for His name. And I just pretended to be him thinking was a package and I would just sign it and go away and I wouldn't have to like go pick it up at some delivery center or something, you know, it's they knocked on the door, and I opened it and they pushed into the apartment, looking for him. One of them started ransacking the apartment. The other one started grilling me because I had said I was him. So it took me some time to prove that I was me. They didn't believe me at first of course they thought I was lying. Once they realized that I was me they started in very homophobic graphic details. Trying to disgust me trying to annihilate his reputation in my eyes and then start making threats on his life in my life, culminating with beating me. I remember clear as day, almost politely one of the police officers asked me if I had ever been hit, I mean really been hit. This was so far out of the realm of my experience, I can't tell you I grew up so sheltered. That it just cracked open my life, I didn't know what to do into my undying shame. I complied. And I told them where to find him. He was at work this, you know, it was easy for me to give him his address. And they pick him up and arrest him, I get a call from the police station, telling me what's happening. And I have to go find a lawyer. And at the time, we were poor, I was a classical musician. And we were just starting out in life just had finished grad school and you know, didn't have a ton of money by any stretch. And so I found an attorney, he, he found an attorney, he gave me the contact information, I made contact, I went down there. And then I had like the quintessential cliche, Attorney experience where you walk in, and it's like leather, everything, pictures of senators on the walls. Totally impressive and intimidating to my mean, I was like, 24 at a time or something to my eyes. And he started to ask me what the issue was. And I started to tell him that he stopped me after a few sentences and said, You know, I don't care about any of that. I don't care about what happened. But I'm not interested in any of that. I just, I need to know how much money you have. And so I told him, and he said, you know, that would be fine. That would cover it. And so he took all of that money. And, um, you know, he said, Well, I think we have a problem, because I think he may have actually done that he was accused, I think the boy he was with was, I think like 15 years old, 16 years old. He's like, right on the cusp of the legal definition of in the state of Illinois, might it this, the statute might have been written to be called statutory rape, I'm not sure I can't really remember what, what it was. But these consider age of consent laws are driven by the state, they vary widely state by state, or at least they did in and in the late 90s. When this happened, then, and this kid was right on the right on the cusp. But you know, it was still the laws, the law. I mean, and so I started to talk to this lawyer. You know, I think that, you know, that maybe this really happened, you know, there had been some cues along the way, some clues along the way that in hindsight, I had started to piece together and the lawyer again was like, I don't want to hear any of that, you know, I'm gonna make this go away for you. Don't worry about it, this happened, this kind of thing happens all the time. It's really no big deal. He said, You know, you're you're good looking kids. And this is going to be just fine. So it was made immediately clear that we had the right skin color, we had the right presentation, we were going to get in the express lane of the judicial system.
Coach Maddox 13:41
And that's what how are you feeling about all that at the time, Brett? What was going on inside of you?
Britt East 13:47
I was completely devastated. And had no because like I said, at the start of the conversation, I had not yet built a community or or had a family that I could draw on for help. And, and he was in the middle of disclosing this episode to his family. So it's not like there was, I mean, this is right at the dawn of the internet and everything. So it's not like there was all these resources at my fingertips. I was just kind of careening from one thing I had to get done to the other. So part of it was just Ultra focused. I knew I didn't want him to. It was one thing to be in lockup. It's another thing to be in the general population of the city jail. And I was just desperately this was on a Friday. So I was desperately trying to get everything taken care of before the weekend happened, they closed and he got he got put away. So you know, it was panic, it was devastation. It was confusion. It was bewilderment. It was betrayal. It was also a focus so that I could and you know, part of me was like, well, I could just disappear because You know, fuck him. And so, but I chose to stay not on anybody, not out of any magnanimity not out of any high mindedness but out of sheer desperation, because I had an excessive emotional reliance on him. I was completely codependent and enmeshed. Man, that dynamic was magnified by my lack of social network and community, I really had nothing to draw upon. So in the court, we get in the court, the lawyer talks to the to the judge about playing golf together, the upcoming weekend, the whole, you know, process takes maybe five minutes, and then it's just gone. The judges just like, oh, yeah, you're white, good looking, and just makes it all go I just everything, every cliche about the criminal justice system in the US, that you hear about, it was like, contained in this, this one experience. And so he gets, he gets out and comes home. And I expected some contrition. And he was still consumed by the self absorbed panic, you know, okay, I need to destroy the hard drive, of all the ways that communicated with this kid. And I mean, any images I might have, and all this, he was still in that kind of fight or flight mode. And I realized, like, there was never going to really be an Ansari, or any sort of gratitude. You know, that would equal what we had gone through. And so, again, I had that moment where it's like, well, what in the heck am I going to do, I think I have to leave him, this is so huge, I just don't know what to do. He decided that he was going to leave the country to go find himself. So he went on a backpacking journey through India for six months. And then what I decided I was going to do was really invest in my career as a classical musician and go to some festivals and just explore what life would be like, separate and apart. And afterwards, we came back together to kind of reconvene and say, Okay, what makes sense, and he realized in India, oh, changing the locale is not changing this thing inside of me, whatever it is, I still have these inclinations, I still have these desires that I can't seem to get rid of this is a much bigger issue than I realized, I thought a vacation from life might cure me. And I was just as lost and afraid and confused and in love and all of that in this soup with him and not ready or able, frankly, could not afford yet to stand on my own two feet and, and move on my own. So we decided to make a clean break and move clear across the country to Seattle, he had grown up in Vancouver, British Columbia. And and I had never really experienced Seattle, I grew up in Tennessee. And so this was like a fun adventure. And so we moved out here, and where I live, I still live in Seattle. This is now over 20 years ago, and he's he joined a 12 step program for sex addicts and and disclosed to me that, hey, this is a compulsion that I have that has rendered my life unmanageable.
And I didn't know what sex addiction was, I had never heard of that term. I thought addiction was really about drugs and alcohol only. And this is really, you know, at the forefront where people started realizing that any kind of compulsive mood altering behavior can be addictive. And so he joined this program and started to get better. And that was the ultimate slap in the face, he started to become healthier and happier and started to refrain from whatever behaviors that he was engaged in. And that drew me into a program of recovery myself. A companion program called codependence of Sex Addicts Anonymous, cosa, si OSA. It's like Al Anon is to a it's a companion program for the families and spouses of addicts. Where you can work on your codependency you work the same 12 steps and kind of a slightly different way. And that program saved my life, sitting in those rooms with those people. That is where I first started to get real. I started to feel the thrill of togetherness. I will never forget that sensation of being laid bare. The people that were in that program had been through all manner of things that I think the general public might find distasteful or surprising. But that put us on equal footing. And so there was no sort of outlandish story that was too much. We were just free to be together and to share information to share resources. And it was also my first time having a real community that was based on my true authentic self again, because previously, my life I had friends and stuff like that, don't get me wrong, but I was wearing masks, I was hiding for self preservation. And that dynamic over years had become ingrained in my neurology became a habitual, alized way of thinking and experiencing the world. To me, the world occurred as fear. And so of course, I hid from it, or I fought it. And this was the first time that I allowed people to see who I truly was. And where I found my voice. I had been a writer my whole life, mainly in poetry. And so I had done a lot of speaking as part of that I'd also been a teacher as part of classical music, but I was able to bring all of these strands together. And help others, I was able to use the pain that I had endured, so that others might have it a little easier, or have more knowledge or wisdom, experience, strength and hope at their fingertips. I mean, don't get me wrong. If I had my druthers, I would wave a magic wand and never had experienced this. I don't believe that everything happens for a reason. I think everything happens for lots of reasons, many of which are largely outside of our control. But we can take anything that happens to us, and use it to deepen our hearts and love more fully. And that's what I have tried to do.
Coach Maddox 22:11
I agree, you've taken a really, really painful, painful experience. And, you know, there's basically two kinds of people in the world those that take the high road and parlay that experience into a gift, if you will. And then there's those people that live in pain throughout their lives and and die with that pain, because they never could see it from a healthy perspective. They never could see the glass half fold. In other words, I guess.
Britt East 22:44
Yeah. And you know, he and I are still friends. In fact, our husbands are friends. And we get together from time to time. So the story really does have a happy ending, we did split up eventually, for other reasons. I think mainly because we were so young in ourselves had so had not yet formed, there was no template for our lives, that when we grew up and became more authentic, we realized, you know, somebody could probably love us a little bit better. And so we split amicably several years later, after moving out here and still remain really close to this day. And I would not have that relationship had I not done the work along the way to end chosen love. Now, I do want to be clear, like I said, especially at the beginning and largely through the process, it was not a high minded choice, that was one out of desperation. But I think what that shows is you can take any choice, and choose and use it to love more deeply. And that's over time what I did one foot in front of the other, right. So I don't want anybody to make any conclusion about how wise I was or how spiritual I was. None of that was true, believe me, believe me, when I tell you I was an empty vessel. But that meant I could one day fill it with what I was who I was truly meant to be. And that's what I've done over time.
Coach Maddox 24:12
It's beautiful. That's a very challenging story. I have never actually heard anything quite like that. And when you know, just, you know, the full transparency with the listeners. I had no idea what Brett was going to talk about when we came on this podcast. I knew that he had a challenging thing and that's as far as it went. So this I'm hearing this for the first time as you guys are what would you say? How has that experience contributed to the life that you live now?
Britt East 24:49
i i I've always been really judgmental. I've always I think you For some reason, my experience with the closet was, once I came out and realize the depths of denial to which I had sunk, I became almost paranoid about re experiencing something like that. So in the name of truth, I sorted people, I read them, at least in my mind, I judge them at least value judgments, if not moral judgments, almost as a defense mechanism. In here to this experience, I sank to what I would have previously deemed the lowest of the low, I mean, hugging people who have molested children, having them fall apart in my arms, hugging people who have raped others. And, again, only I was only there because my life had been obliterated. But so what that has done since that has informed us a sense of equanimity, that I'm now able to take each moment that I experienced with people, and instead of panning out, and, and connecting the dots with whatever story that I might write the fill in the gaps that I may not yet know about them. Whatever judgments I might concoct, I'm able to take each moment for what it is just purely the here and now.
Coach Maddox 26:35
Wow, that's deep. Like, can you? Can you break that down in maybe what we would refer to as more layman's terms? Because that that was such a high level? I mean, I've done personal growth work for nearly 40 years. And there was some of what you just said with my head. So if that's the case, I know it's maybe doing that with some of the listeners, can you can you break it down in a more elementary type way? Because I think what you're you're talking about is really powerful. And I want I want I want to get what you're saying and I I want the listeners to as well.
Britt East 27:19
Absolutely. So my program of recovery led me to all sorts of other modalities like Buddhism, yoga, nonviolent communication, the Hoffman process, there's all sorts of modalities out there where we can learn to meet ourselves, maybe for the very first time. And so that's where some of this language might come in, that starts to deviate from kind of 12 Step jargon is. Before this experience, I lived purely for the future, this mental projection that I would make, about how I thought life should be, and then I would attempt to orient my life in that way. But the thing about the future is it is inherently unknowable. And when we try to ascribe some outcome, and get them get attached to it, we're chasing ghosts. We are self limiting.
Coach Maddox 28:25
Oh, yes, I love that you call that out self limiting. Because if you're so fixated on this vision that you've concocted, you don't create much space for something better.
Britt East 28:36
Exactly, exactly. And often, it looks very different than we might imagine. And it's it's a shame, when we so desperately cling to something we think that should be there by saying no. All the other things that might have been. And so what I mean, what I'm in before, is that in my relationships with others, there would be aspects of their life, of course that I would not know or understand there would be choices that they would make that would not necessarily jive with me that would feel painful for me that would be curious or seem strange. And I would often try and connect those dots in my mind. So I was living from this space of almost mental projection. And then out of that came all sorts of value judgments or maybe even moral judgments. And what this recovery process has allowed me to do as a practice there are no finish line. So it's not like I do this perfectly, but as a practice, to take a step back to get still and quiet and allow each moment to be what it is, which is purely the here and now that's all that we ever have in the past is a mental projection. The future is a mental projection. All we can experience is a sequence have moments, one moment after another. And when I live in that moment, I forget all about the judgments that I might place on somebody I forget all about the fear, I forget all about the all my attempts to reason, their motives for their choices, all of that just falls away. Hmm, that's beautiful.
Coach Maddox 30:29
And in in discovering the ability to do that, and as you said, it's it's a, an ongoing practice thing. It's not something you've arrived, it's, it's a lifelong journey. But in that journey, I'm, I'm hearing that you have attained a level of mastery with that, and I'd love to know what, what has that level of mastery, and that ability brought to your life that maybe you didn't have before you started practicing what you're practicing?
Britt East 31:08
Yeah, I mean, I believe there are no enlightened people, there are only enlightened choices, and enlightened moments. It's all about the choice in the moment. People are far too complex to reduce to a series, a few choices that we have witnessed, there's all all sorts of choices and actions and history and stories that each of us have that deserve to be heard, that largely go in witness so to to try and take the measure of someone without knowing their peaks and valleys is just patently silly. So being the practice, the fruits of the practice of allowing each moment to fully reside and express its own majesty means you have the opportunity to say yes to things you otherwise would never have considered. When you're constantly making resolutions, and setting goals, and achieving, like so many of us are oriented to do in our capitalist society. In the US, we are living our lives based on a lie based on whatever story we happen to be telling ourselves. And so when we skirt when we peel back the curtain and get to the heart of the moment, that allows more love to be expressed in the here and now that allows things to grow in that space that otherwise would have not had the space to grow. So for instance, a specific example in my life is the book. People had been telling me for 20 years, I needed to write this book and I was resistant to it because I had a vision for my life that did not include a personal growth and development book, I had all sorts of reasons, had all sorts of stories. And it took someone it took a mentor to sit down with me and move all of those stories to the side to then create the space requisite for that book to blossom for that to almost like a flower it needs that space. And so the writing of the book came really fast and effortlessly almost ridiculously so I think it took six months which is unheard of. Because I just dwelled I spent time practicing the dwelling in that in the residing inside of that moment each day. Rather than trying to manufacture my own moments based on the way I thought things should have been.
Coach Maddox 34:01
Yeah, wow. Once again, deep. I love it. I love it. Well tell tell us a little bit about well, your life now. I mean, I know you have a long term partner and and tell us a little bit about you know where you are now and what that looks like and what you love about it.
Britt East 34:26
Yes, so like I said, we live in Seattle. With my husband of 12 years we have a crazy dog who thankfully has not been barking. So that's always a minor miracle. You know, we have a tiny house in the suburbs, and we live a really simple life. He's an avid gardener. He probably spends five hours a day in the garden. So our garden looks like something out of a magazine. We love traveling the world which has been tough during a pandemic but we've been so privileged I'm fortunate to go to so many places visit so many places all over the world, and it's probably our main passion and, and, and play. And we have been able to, you know, build a small simple life based on love commitment, and community, which is resulted from one choice at a time, one after another. It has not magically landed in our lap this love this community was just a series of choices one after another. And so that's that, and that's what we like, we want a nice, simple, quiet life. And so it's it's a, it's, it's an absolute pleasure and a privilege. And because I understand and have at least an inkling of awareness of just how fortunate I've been, I've just become devoted to giving what little bit I have to as many people as I can, whether through speaking or podcasts, or to writing articles, and blogs and social media posts or the book, I just, you know, I believe that we can't really keep something unless we give it away. And so I just want to give as much as I can.
Coach Maddox 36:31
Hmm, I love that beautiful. I feel that way myself. So you talk about the first relationship, the enmeshment, the codependency and no sense of community, you had a family that you couldn't rely on. And nobody around you he was the only person now all these years later. It sounds like that's very different. Can you speak to the community aspect of it and how you did bring that community on board and what that what that looks like and what it means and what it affords you.
Britt East 37:08
It's so easy to get trapped in our stories about how we think our community should look. And for years that kept me trapped as well. Especially my stories, like I said earlier about the quote unquote, gay community, I had all sorts of ideas about how the gay community should be what they should look like what they should do. And it wasn't until I relinquish those stories, that I was able to build a community from all walks of life, various races and ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender orientations, gender expressions, based on non judgement,
Coach Maddox 37:52
hmm, yeah, that would be required, wouldn't it if you were going to go with that kind of a diversity, people that are so different than you? Yes, you would have to relinquish the judgments.
Britt East 38:05
It's a political act of resistance in US society, to befriend people out of your race, to befriend people out of your sexual orientation called in and culture it's a it's a takes a lot of work. And you're we all swim in this soup of white supremacy and male supremacy and straight supremacy every day. None of us are immune from it. And so each day, it's incumbent upon us to take stock of our choices, and figure out where we've gone wrong, what we could have done a little bit better. Make amends, make apologies were required, this is straight out of the 12 steps, this is not new wisdom. And to work is tirelessly as we can to bring down these systems of supremacy. But for now, they're in place. And I just everyday try and find little ways that I can chip away at it. And there's nothing more potent at doing that. Than One to One communion. Meaning sitting down with one friend at a time and sharing our tender hearts.
Coach Maddox 39:24
I love that. Oh, please say that again.
Britt East 39:29
Yeah, I mean, look, this, you know, communities are built one friend at a time largely, and we're not going to get out of it by shirking vulnerability, it's going to take, we're gonna have to go to the places that scare us. And for most of us, that means exposing our tender hearts.
Coach Maddox 39:50
You're right and and the place that generally happens is on a one on one basis. You know, I tell this story frequently. When when I got involved in the big virtual gay group that I was part of, I'm not part of anymore. And there was, you know, a specific reason for that it was a, it was a values issue, I'll leave it at that. But in during my time there, I certainly met a lot of really wonderful quality men, you being one of those men. And I tell the story about in my first 90 days of being in that online community that I reached out and requested and executed, over 41 on one zoom calls, in a 90 day period of time, and when I tell that, if I'm if my audience is, is a gay man, he looks at me like I have three heads without fail. Like, like, they can't even fathom that. And it was, it was a total joy. I mean, some I resonated with really, really well, and I and I continue to zoom with them, because they're spread all over the world, you know, mostly all over the country, but some across the pond and in other areas. And, and then some of them, you know, I didn't resonate with as well, and those those fell away and naturally. But I continue to have one on one meetings with a quite a sizable number of those men. I was in a zoom, this has been maybe two or three weeks ago. And it was a gentleman that I had zoomed with multiple times. And I had a moment during our zoom where I got very emotional. And I made reference to I'm, I'm having, I'm having a moment, I just said, I'm having a moment, I didn't, I didn't apologize, I didn't make any excuses, I just acknowledged that I was having a moment tears were rolling down my face, I got a little choked up. And the man on the other end said, I don't think I've ever been in a conversation with you that you didn't have a moment. He said, It's just who you are. And it's beautiful. And it was so affirming. And I think that I've come to feel so at peace with that part of myself. And it's such a natural part of me that I don't really, I wasn't aware that I had had been emotional each time that he and I had had spoken. So it was really quite a beautiful thing for him to call that out, you know, and say, Well, this is the way we roll this is this is normal, this is who you are, and acknowledged me for it and complimented me and and honored me it was just a beautiful thing. But I have lived a lot of my life will like you. In unable to to be vulnerable and to be authentic. I wore lots of masks and I lived in a you know, we talked about armor from time to time I lived in a fortress there was armor No, no, it was a fortress and and it was like Fort Knox fortress. It's only been for me, you you say you you made the the jump 20 over 20 years ago. What a what a beautiful thing to come through that into the other side and, and reconnect with your authentic self because I believe we come into the world fully authentic, and then we get separated from it through our life experiences. But for you to reconnect with that part of yourself at the time you did in your life, wow. I'm in awe. You know, I'm I'm newly a senior. And it's only been in the last three years that I have really fully connected with that aspect of myself where now. I mean, I will say that my superpower is vulnerability. And I I clearly have experienced and and believe that it builds bridges, it opens doors and it clears pathways in a way that nothing else can.
Britt East 44:31
Absolutely, absolutely. It's amazing.
Coach Maddox 44:35
So I'd love to hear a little bit about this diverse community that you have built one human being at a time. What does it what does it look like and how did you do that? I mean, I know how I kind of approached it because I have a fairly diverse group of friends not quite as diverse as what you're expressing Because the opportunity has really presented itself yet, because I would go there, I love diversity, I think it adds interest to life. I don't want a whole roomful of clones that are just like me. I mean, we want to have some things in common, of course, we want to have some common ground that draws us together. But that's more of our internal working that unless of maybe what age we are, or what body type we are, or what color our skin is, or what, what country we came from. There's so much to learn and gain from being around people that are different than me. I'm fascinated, and, and I'm, and I welcome it. But I'd love to hear a little bit more about your process.
Britt East 45:52
What you describe yourself separates you from Unfortunately, many gay Sesemann, especially white men, in the US who truth be told, in many cases, for all sorts of reasons, largely beyond their, you know, initial control at least. Or still careening from crisis to crisis slapping on band aids instead of treating root causes. So many gay white sis men are real happy to just hang out with other gay white sis men because it's hot. And that's an intentionally loaded and provocative statement. So that's already separated from you. And you've cultivated that sense of willingness and openness. So that's step one. Like you said, we're born fully authentic. And then through family programming, and societal programming, and all this other stuff, things get laid on us that we have to chip away. It's like how a sculptor removes all of the pieces of the sculpture that are not the sculpture itself. In the same way, that's how we build a life, we chip away all that is not us. We also have the added challenge that when we're looking for when we seek people in the queer community, we have to reckon with the fact that we are a tiny minority. Something like 6% of the population in the US self identifies as queer. And of course, we're born randomly throughout the country, in all different life experiences and ages. So 330 million people, I mean, 6% of that, that's, that's a small number. When you think about how lives play out. I talk to people all the time who live in rural America, and wrestling with this fact. And there's, there's just no magic wand to make that go away or be different. Now, of course, as culture changes, and people who are used to primarily heterosexual relationships become more fluid, become less attached to labels, expand and broaden their tastes and become okay with that and create increased safety in all our communities. That may shift somewhat. But I suspect in the near term, people who self identify as queer will always be dwarfed by the straight world. And that's just something we have to own and understand. And what that means pragmatically is that we that if we're going to get serious about about having queer relationships, we're just shooting ourselves in the foot if we expect them to look like us, or act like us or not to mention, like you said so beautifully, although we're denying ourselves in terms of the richness of the view, diversity, and all the wealth of experiences they will bring to our lives. It's just not an effective strategy to say, Okay, I'm only going to be friends with you know, white sis, gay men of a certain age and height and weight.
Coach Maddox 49:04
With eye color and hair color. I mean, yeah, we go granular with that. Don't we live in a certain neighborhood? Oh, my gosh, you know, and it does limit us in ways that wow, you so eloquently just really called that out? I I've never thought of it in those terms. I personally have always been drawn to a variety. I always I don't know why I don't know how that I came by that. I've always been drawn to people of other races and people of the vast majority of my friends are not my age. I have a couple of friends that are a little bit older than I am. But the vast majority of my friends are younger. I mean, I told one of my friends yesterday, I mean, my friends are younger because I you know, I don't consider my myself a people, I'm a senior, but I don't consider myself a people and so many men that I meet that are my age are P pas. I mean, it's not their age that I'm have a problem with, it's I just don't want to hang out with fuddy duddy people, you know, I don't care if you're 70, if you if you're energetic, and want to have some fun, let's go. But, you know, I don't see very much of that. So most of my friends are younger, and I have such an appreciation for young people, I have a couple of friends in their 20s that bring so much to my life.
Britt East 50:42
What you're describing is an innate curiosity and empathy. That, frankly, a lot of guys don't have. You know, we as especially if we're talking about white, gay sis men, we are kind of at the top of the social pecking order, we're socialized. First is probably white people. Second is probably men, and then probably third is gay. So there's all sorts of privilege that comes with that. And so many of us are kind of printing in that privilege. And not reckoning with the, the lived experiences of people with that are, you know, maybe neurodiverse thinkers or have different experience different physical limitations or have different skin tones and hair textures and, you know, speak different languages. So we're not forced to recommend that so many of us don't, and so many of us are in curious, we're just trying to get to the day, we're just tired from work, we're just trying to have something in our savings account, maybe have a vacation once a year, maybe have a nice boyfriend to come home to. That's already a lot of work. And then we haven't yet started to reckon with all of our privileges. And so you have this innately, and not everybody does. And so I think that's step two, is cultivating that curiosity and empathy to see people as they truly are.
Coach Maddox 52:10
Well, and that only happens when you stop making all of life about you. Exactly. You know, and maybe that's something that, I mean, I can recall a time when life was all about me. Maybe that's something that comes with maturity or wisdom, I don't know, you know, well, I
Britt East 52:29
think there's a certain safety as well, like, I think that for queer people, you know, or maybe any body that's experiencing bigotry, life has to be kind of about us, just so we can survive and get to the next moment. But after, you know, like the saying goes, it gets better. And after we reach a certain station in life, many of us find that we have actually accumulated a lot of wealth. And I don't just mean finance, financial wealth, or having a fat savings cat, what I'm talking about is we've invested so much in ourselves that we can now afford to see people who they are as who they truly are, we are no longer mired in our own desperation. We don't have to be so self interested and selfish just to get through the day, we can actually afford to invest in others.
Coach Maddox 53:23
And and perhaps that also brings us to a place where we're less threatened by people that are different than we are exactly
Britt East 53:30
because we have created more of a sense of self, we have more personal authenticity, and that breeds resilience. We can take more of what life throws at us and roll with the punches. We have a we have a greater almost it's almost like a bank account for life. You know, where we can draw down that account based on our seasoning or our lived experiences, all of our wisdom, and we can afford to share it with other we don't have to hoard it any longer. Just to survive. We're already thriving.
Coach Maddox 54:03
Yes, yes. Well said, I love it. And I recently joined an association for K coaches. And we just had a two day virtual retreat the latter part of this last week. And I discovered that they have a group within them they called the d i which stands for diversity, equity and inclusion. And I my ears just perked right up. I mean, I reached out to one of them and said I want to know more. I I'm I'm depending on what the time commitment is if I've got the bandwidth, I'm interested in being on that committee, because that fascinates me. I want to be part of the movement. I mean, that's that's doing it in a in a small group. That's where it starts. You know, I want to be part part of a movement that affects the whole globe where we move towards diversity, equity and inclusion. I would say I'm a card carrying feminist. Once I really understood what that what that term really means, there are there are feminists and then there are feminists and there is. There's a lot of misunderstanding out there, I've realized,
Britt East 55:29
yeah, I mean, you know, we have had for generations, gay men and sis men and straight sis women have had a really special bond that has been celebrated throughout mass media, and almost even become a cliche. Because we were each other's safe spaces in so many beautiful ways. And yet, there's also a dark shadow to that, that often goes on acknowledged, which is the misogyny perpetuated by gay sis men, especially white sis men. And so I think it's important for us to really take stock and ask ourselves about how we are how we are addressing the systemic issues, but also in our personal lives, creating space for all people to shine, regardless of their gender orientation, or expression. For instance, if we are commenting upon women's bodies, even if we think they are in ways that are praiseful, based on the setting, that can actually erode their agency, for instance, if we're at work, talking about how great one of our our friends looks in that dress, that can have unintended consequences that we're not even aware of, in terms of her professional standing in that office. Another thing I asked gay guys to think about is when was the last time you hit the streets and marched with women for a cause that had nothing to do with you. We have a big one coming up with abortion rights that will likely be stripped in the US and in many states coming up in June with a Supreme Court decision that's pending? How many gay guys are going to be up marching with women?
Coach Maddox 57:17
Wow, what a great question to ask. And I mean, like you, you just bullseye, you kind of hit me right between the eyes? Because I haven't, I haven't done anything like that. But I could see myself doing something like that. You know, I'm a lot of my work throughout my entire life has been around women. And I haven't. I haven't been the I'm an advocate, but I haven't been a I'm drawing a blank on a word we use all the time.
Britt East 57:56
Well, you know, the term that's that's gained favor now is moving from an ally. To an accomplice. We're used to thinking of accomplice as being kind of a pejorative term. But in this case, it's actually putting attitude into action. An ally has great intentions. An ally a sees people for who they truly are an ally questions, their own participation in the various forms of systemic oppression and supremacy, but then doesn't maybe necessarily take a whole lot of action. Other than that introspection, that's kind of where it ends, whereas an accomplice leverages all that thinking, that introspection and puts attitude into action. In this case, the one I was making a few minutes ago hits the streets.
Coach Maddox 58:41
Yeah, what a beautiful distinction. I love that. And I have to say, you have certainly opened my eyes to something that I will this very thought provoking I will be spending time on on this personal reflection time and looking at what I want that to look like moving forward. And sometimes it boils down to kind of a bandwidth issue. You know, there's so many things that I want to do and, you know, and then there's just one of me if I could clone myself, Oh, my gosh, yeah, cuz the interest is definitely there.
Britt East 59:17
Yeah, I mean, these are the rough, very real choices that we all wrestle with. Daily. We cannot do it all. And we have to feed ourselves first. So that's the reason why I wrote this book. First is because I wanted people to, to learn how to create programs of personal replenishment to get the career in order to get their body in order to get their relationships in order so that they have a solid foundation that they can draw from that they can leap off of leap into life to experience even more life, thus, becoming more invested in service work. That's becoming, shifting from being just allies and becoming accomplices. But there's no end to the work that needs to be done. And so we have to be so selective about the projects that we take on, and also have practice kindness, and compassion for ourselves and all that we can't do. We have to learn to love our limits.
Coach Maddox 1:00:24
Yes, I agree. I have shiny object syndrome. And so I have to be very, you know, somebody is always offering something and showing me something, and I have those squirrel moments. And you know, somebody threw out something to me just yesterday, dear friend threat deceptive me and I and I had to say, you know, what, I, you know, I have shiny object syndrome, and I am I've got a bandwidth issue right now, and I need to stay focused on, you know, blah, blah, blah. Yeah. And I was really proud of myself for, you know, setting the boundary first with me, you know, setting the boundary saying, No, you're not taking on one more thing right now. And then setting the boundary with, with my friend that was making the offer, it felt really empowering to do it, because
Britt East 1:01:15
the universe will tempt you. As soon as you raise your hand and the universe is like, alright, okay. You know, and like you said, you got to take stock, and sometimes you make tough decisions, and sometimes your decisions really tick people off.
Coach Maddox 1:01:28
Yes. And then at the end of the day, I got to put me first you said that a minute ago, at the end of the day, I got to put me first because nobody else is going to do that for me. So it's absolutely required. Well, I love everything that you have brought to the table today, I really enjoy your story. And yes, it was dark, but it got light. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. It was a beautiful story. And there's been so many golden nuggets of wisdom in this. There certainly has for me, I hope there has been for the listener as well. Anything else you'd like to add? Before we jump into our rapid fire questions?
Britt East 1:02:08
You know, I just want to share that from the bottom bottom of my heart, I really believe that we are all in this together. I mean, I truly think if that each of us took a little less, we would all have so much more. And that there is no greater wisdom than kindness.
Coach Maddox 1:02:29
Beautiful, and I fully agree. I fully agree. And it's, it's you know, I read something today that you know, happiness, happiness is not something that you just attain, it's a choice that you make. Every day it was it was a it was a metaphor, and I can't remember it was a really great metaphor. But it is moment to moment. Choice. You know, and it's not just being kind to the people that you love. It's being kind of
Britt East 1:03:03
if that were the case,
Coach Maddox 1:03:05
everybody you know, it's it's about being blind to the woman checking your groceries out or, or or the man that is emptying your trash or what you know, it's
Britt East 1:03:19
Republican accosting you in an airport for wearing a mask? Yeah, exactly. And that's not always easy to do. That sure isn't.
Coach Maddox 1:03:31
It's not always easy to do. So. Well, thank you for those golden nuggets. So much. Rapid Fire question number one. When was the last time you cried in front of another gay man?
Britt East 1:03:50
Um, let's see. Well, I live with a gay man. So it's probably cheating. And that would be last night because I'm a big crier.
Coach Maddox 1:03:55
I didn't know that about you. Oh, yeah.
Britt East 1:03:58
I'm really tough on the outside, but I'm really proud sissy.
Coach Maddox 1:04:06
Oh, they resonate with you even more now? Yeah. Yeah, cuz I'm the same way. You know, I mean, all of my friends will say, Huh, don't fuck with Maddox, because he didn't let anybody fuck with him. Then one of my guide, somebody posted recently, Max doesn't take shit off of anyone. And I wrote she'd written a whole bunch of things about me, but one of them was he doesn't take shit off anybody. I wrote her out and said, out of all the things you said that one was the one that was the biggest compliment, because I have a history of bullying and so I've come to the other side. No, I don't take shit off of anyone. So yes, I'm a crier, so it's nice. I did not know that about you. I love that. I'm a sucker for a man that can cry strike guys care, you know,
Britt East 1:04:51
I just darn Yeah, me too. It just feels so darn good. I don't understand like I know I get cognitively why how we're socialized as many people ticular but I just like it just feels so good. Just try it. It feels good. I promise.
Coach Maddox 1:05:04
It feels amazing. And I heard a study recently, where scientists, medical, whatever have have the research has proven that our tears have cortisol in them. Yeah, exactly. So tears are a way that we when we have too much cortisol, that stress hormone that our body releases some of that. And when we hold back and we don't cry, all of that cortisol stays in our bloodstream. And dude's if you're listening to this, that shits killing you, literally, literally, literally. So question number two on a scale of one to 10 one being the worst, and 10 being the best. How would you write yourself as an authentic gay man?
Britt East 1:05:52
Oh, I'm pretty hard on myself. Let's see. And so the only caveat I'm going to give is, like I said, it's a moment by moment practice. So I'm going to give myself a seven.
Coach Maddox 1:06:02
Okay, beautiful. If you had only moments to live, what would be your greatest regret?
Britt East 1:06:14
I'm filled with regrets. I almost don't trust somebody who doesn't have regrets. Because I'm just so filled with them. So I'm somebody like I hold every slight that I've given somebody else. I cringe at all the things I say in retrospect I in for a long time. And so what I have to do is I have to alchemize those into art into so writing music, things like that. Because otherwise they would just weigh me down. But I've got so many. I've got so many regrets. I think the biggest regret though, and this will sound kind of maybe esoteric or some it is but it's the one I feel truly the most deeply the most poignantly is the that I took everything so damn seriously.
Coach Maddox 1:07:15
Hmm, man, Am I guilty of that? Wow, golly, I'm beginning to think you and I are twins separated at birth? You obviously you're there's so much and what you're telling me is is is my story. Yeah, so I'm curious in in all of that regret that you feel? Does forgiveness play a role in that? Oh, yeah.
Britt East 1:07:42
I mean, I wouldn't get out of bed if I weren't forgiving myself forgiving myself daily and, you know, forgiving others. And? Yeah, it's, it's just an ongoing practice. And I'm, you know, I'm kind of weird in that I've never held forgiveness in that much esteem. Because for me, it's been part of my life for so long. And I think something that comes somewhat effortlessly. So maybe I just take people at their word that it's really challenging for people to do, I will say that there's a lot of it that has to be done in my life by me and talking about forgiving myself forgiving others in. But it doesn't mean it feels like children forgive on the playground. You know, it's like, why is it so hard for adults to forgive? I never really kind of seems kind of curious to me, but goodness has to be at the heart of any personal practice of replenishment. I'll say that
Coach Maddox 1:08:41
children, when they're operating from that place, have that natural authenticity before it's been taken away from them they've been, are separated from themselves, that part of themselves. I think, I think it's a role of authenticity. I think that it's easy for them to forgive, you're right, man, a kid. 15 minutes after somebody has done them wrong, they've forgotten all about it. And they're, like, moved on. You know, the biggest misconception about forgiveness, I think is that people believe if I forgive somebody that's done me wrong, I'm condoning what they've did done, or I'm making it okay. And nothing could be farther from the truth. Forgiveness never has anything to do with the other person. In fact, forgiveness is always about us. It is about setting yourself free.
Britt East 1:09:35
Right? And that's probably why I'm so good at it is because I'm really interested in my own freedom. And so it's like, because it's purely a selfish act or self interested act. Maybe that's why it's come so naturally to me, but it's I completely agree it's the other person really has nothing to do with it. It's all stories anyway, that we've written about the other person. So it's really about it's really about self interest in our own personal Freedom.
Coach Maddox 1:10:01
Well, an unwillingness to forgive holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. Or it doesn't work that way our our unwillingness to forgive is poisoning us. And, and it too is literally killing us. Literally. Well, beautiful. This has been amazing. I can't thank you enough for coming on and being a guest. I want to leave you with one thing you gave your you read it yourself a seven. I just want to say that in my eyes you are indeed an authentic gay man. Oh,
Britt East 1:10:42
I meant to say 2720
Coach Maddox 1:10:44
said stand corrected. I love it. I love it. Great. This was awesome. Thank you so much. I know this is going to uplift and and enlighten a lot. A lot of listeners. I don't have any seminar. Thank you.
Britt East 1:11:02
It was it was wonderful to spend time with you. Thank you
Coach Maddox 1:11:05
was wonderful to spend time with you as well my friend
Britt East is an author and speaker who uses his experience, strength, and hope to challenge and inspire change-oriented gay men to get down to the business of improving their lives. With over two decades of personal growth and development experience in a variety of modalities, such as the 12 Steps, Nonviolent Communication, yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and the Hoffman Process, Britt is committed to building a personal practice of self-discovery that he can then share with gay men everywhere. He lives in Seattle with his husband and their crazy dog. Learn more about him at britteast.com.