Guest Post by Leland Coffey
The year was 2014. I was a Navy Veteran who had segued his Naval career into a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Hartwell Dam. It is located on the border of South Carolina and Georgia with redneckery afoot from all directions, and “Conservative Christians” as abundant as country music and rebel flags.
Including my 6 years of Navy time I had a total of 27 years of distinguished government service. I had been legally married earlier that summer to my partner of 9 years in a small but intimate ceremony in Central Park, New York City. I had become a fitness buff, a certified personal trainer, and an instructor of multiple classes at my local gym.
At 5’9”, 190 pounds, and 3% body fat I was in the best shape of my life. In the fall of that year, just as I was about to turn 46, I did some professional modeling for the very first time for a very well known photographer in Dallas, which gave me the opportunity to become a spokesmodel for several clothing companies.
I had a beautiful home, an amazing group of friends, 3 dogs, the respect of my peers, and two beautiful adult children who were successful. My life, to all who were around me peering in, seemed just perfect.
Flash forward to 2017. My marriage was over. I had stopped teaching classes at my gym, and let my personal training certification lapse. I had gained 30 pounds, and for the first time in my life I was having health problems. My blood pressure was high, my anxiety was through the roof and I began taking anti-depressants just to keep it under control.
I had to have surgery due to an umbilical hernia. The friends that I had had all but disappeared, and those that remained lived at least two states away. All of my dogs had either passed away or ran away.
My career with the federal government, which had now been a 30 year span, was about to come to an abrupt and unseemly end. I was forced out for what my superiors sited as “conduct unbecoming.” The respect I had earned turned into whispers and quiet pity. In 3 years, my life had turned into a complete shit show.
I can summarize the cause of the vast majority of my work woes with one word: SLUT. The issue with work was at least partially my fault. I do take responsibility for that. At the very least I had a hand in it. In all fairness, I was a slut. An Instagram slut to be exact.
Not that there is anything wrong with that (may the gods look down upon you with favor and a stirring in their loins, oh ye Instagram hoes!), but a government employee being a slut was not the type of behavior that is looked at with favor.
There is a larger story there. I had a fellow employee who had begun transitioning from a male to a female. In addition to making my sexual orientation public by adding my husband to all of my federal benefits, I had been very vocal about my unwavering support for Molly as she went through her journey.
While almost all of my coworkers avoided and ridiculed her, I was her confidant and her staunch advocate. Watching what she went through, it has made me acutely aware that supporting the trans community, in any way I can, is my chosen philanthropy.
In fact, in some ways her choice to follow through with embracing her truth and setting herself free inspired me to unravel the binds that I had placed upon myself. Freedom is never actually free. It can come at great cost. But the rewards can be boundless.
But I digress. Still though, I have to look at myself and recognize that at the end of the day the fault for my career to plummet lies with me in some form and fashion.
The reasons why my marriage fell apart are multi-faceted, however, again, to strip it down to the bare bones: WHORE! Our marriage had begun to degrade the moment we said “I do.” I blame myself. I had become disavowed with my spouse for a number of reasons, which are not necessarily important to this story.
I am not trying to say that this was not a two-way street or that he was completely innocent. The point of this article, though, is taking responsibility for my actions, and hopefully learning something in the process.
This, in addition to the loss of my mother after an excruciating battle with breast cancer, made me question everything. Religion, my place in the world, the boundaries to which I had submitted myself to, monogamy, sexuality… the list goes on and on.
I looked for friendship, comfort and compatibility in other people and, before I knew it, I had realized that my husband and I were not compatible. There were so many small things that led to this. For one thing, I had been in relationships since I was 20. I never had the opportunity to be single and explore that.
I am also the consummate care-giver. Maybe its the dad in me. I love to cook for people, to make them feel safe and loved and tend to their needs. To build them up and help them realize their true value and give them the things that they desire.
Oftentimes I do these things at my own expense, and to be seen as the “good guy”. And while I think these are all good qualities, you cannot do this at your own expense. Eventually the resentment for being the people pleaser will wield its ugly head.
The driving force in my life, for most of my life, was to be seen as the good guy - good…at…everything - the man who has it all. I excelled in school. I said and did the things that I thought would make others look favorably upon me when I was married to a woman (yep, that’s a WHOLE other story!). I had two children (a boy and a girl, both who I must say in my best efforts to try to not fuck them up, have become lovely human beings).
I was a perfect catholic boy who was active in my church and even taught Sunday school. I became a decorated military man (though in my mind I always imagined being out to sea in some page right out of a Tom of Finland sketch with dicks the size of my arm all around me!). And for 24 years I stayed in a career that was not my calling, all because it made me look good.
I even flashed my shit all over Instagram like I was Sharon Stone, and although my spirit animal is a naked wolf writhing around in the forest in his best fur, I must admit I liked the attention.
So, after living for 49 years where the majority of my decisions were based on being popular, or admired, or liked by other people, 2018 is my year. I have made the conscious decision to live my life by my terms. Though I am not entirely sure that I am completely self aware enough to always realize what those terms might be.
However, in the vein and song of George Micheal, for 2018 and the years that follow, FREEDOM is my mantra. George is my idol. His songs all speak to me on so many levels. He lived his life entirely on his terms. In addition to his music, he quietly donated the vast majority of his time and his money to causes he believed in, but did so without any fanfare or recognition. And when he made missteps he chose to own them.
In that spirit, I choose to be free. Free to explore my sexuality, in whatever sick, twisted and depraved form that might be. I want to be a writer, a model, a dancer, a fitness guru, and a world traveler. I want to be able to love and be loved without the confines of conventional relationships holding me back.
I want to look inward and like the person I see because he makes ME happy. Of course, my intention is never to let my new sense of direction and fulfillment encroach on the lives, liberties and libidos of others. Only to enhance them, and hopefully in the process, mine as well.
It started with a move. After 17 years in the south it was time for a change. Cleveland seemed like a good fit. New home, new furniture, new car, new attitude! I have found a job here that helps me maintain a certain amount of anonymity while still being able to be around people and be social: a grocery delivery service.
I have also begun the process of teaching classes again at my local gym and getting re-certified as a personal trainer. I am becoming social again, and making new friends. I am getting my health under control, my blood pressure is back to normal and I have lost 10 pounds in a month.
I am about to embark on some new modeling projects one of which is a campaign for positive body image for men. I am mending errors in my past, apologizing to those who deserve it, and kindly leaving those in my rear view that are not good for me.
I have two brand new, beautiful rescue pups. They need me just as much as I need them. I have one brand new relationship from someone very surprising. We are so much alike in so many ways it’s scary.
He and I have both been able to explore our sexuality together in a way we never could before. He is equal parts care giver and care taker. He’s so beautiful it hurts my feelings and he has an ass that turns bottoms into tops! And yet, he’s completely insecure, and has no idea of all of the gifts he possesses.
And, just in order to keep my inner hooker alive, 6 months before my 50th birthday, for the first time in my life, I will be a GoGo Bear. My stage name will be Daddy Lee. He is my alter ego - the one brave enough to unapologetically help me find myself, and help me dance like no-one is watching.
“Listen Without Prejudice” is my favorite George Michael album. The last song on the album is called “Waiting”. He sings “there ain’t no point in moving on until you’ve got somewhere to go” and “all those insecurities that have held me down for so long, I can’t say I’ve found a cure for these but at least I know them so they’re not so strong”.
I do have somewhere to go. I am walking towards MY life. It belongs to ME. I recognize my faults, but I also realize they are part of what makes me inherently ME. Waiting is not an option. Join me, won’t you?