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  • This summer I was back in Ohio for a family wedding,

  • and when I was there,

  • there was a meet and greet with Anna and Elsa from Frozen.

  • Not the Anna and Elsa from Frozen as this was not a Disney sanctioned event,

  • these two entrepreneurs had a business of running princess parties.

  • Your kid is turning five?

  • They'll come sing some songs, sprinkle some fairy dust, it's great.

  • And they were not about to miss out on the opportunity

  • that was the phenomenon that was Frozen,

  • so get hired by a local toy store,

  • kids come in on a Saturday morning

  • buy some Disney swag, get the picture taken with the princesses,

  • call it a day.

  • It's like Santa Claus without the seasonal restrictions.

  • (Laughter)

  • And my three-and-a-half-year-old niece Samantha was in the thick of it.

  • She could care less that these two women were signing posters and coloring books

  • as Snow Queen and Princess Ana with one 'n' to avoid copyright lawsuits

  • (Laughter)

  • according to my niece and the 200 plus kids in the parking lot that day,

  • this was the Anna and Elsa from Frozen.

  • So, let me paint the picture:

  • it is a blazing hot Saturday morning, in August, in Ohio.

  • We get there at ten o'clock, the scheduled start time,

  • and we are handed number 59.

  • By 11 o'clock they had called numbers 21 through 25;

  • this was going to be a while,

  • and there is no amount of free face painting or temporary tattoos

  • that could prevent the meltdowns that were occurring outside of the store.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, by 12.30 we get called,

  • "56 to 63, please."

  • And as we walk in, it is a scene I can only describe you

  • as saying it looked like Norway throw-up.

  • (Laughter)

  • There were cardboard cut-out-snowflakes covering the floor,

  • glitter on every flat surface, and icicles all over the walls.

  • And as we stood in line

  • in an attempt to give my niece a better vantage point

  • than the backside of the mother of number 58,

  • I put her up on my shoulders,

  • and she was instantly riveted by the sight of the princesses.

  • And as we moved forward, her excitement only grew,

  • and as we finally got to the front of the line,

  • and number 58 unfurled her poster to be signed by the princesses

  • I could literally feel the excitement running through her body.

  • And let's be honest, at that point, I was pretty excited too.

  • (Laughter)

  • I mean, the Scandinavian decadence was mesmerizing.

  • (Laughter)

  • So we get to the front of the line,

  • and the haggard clerk turns to my niece and says:

  • "Hi honey, you're next!

  • Do you want to get down, or you're going to stay

  • on your dad's shoulders for the picture?'

  • (Laughter)

  • And I was, for a lack of a better word, frozen!

  • (Laughter)

  • It's amazing that in an unexpected instant we are faced with the question,

  • Who am I?

  • Am I an aunt? Or am I an advocate?

  • Millions of people have seen my video about how to have a hard conversation,

  • and there one was, right in front of me.

  • At the same time,

  • there's nothing more important to me than the kids in my life

  • so I found myself in a situation that we so often find ourselves in,

  • torn between two things, two impossible choices:

  • Would I be an advocate?

  • Would I take my niece off my shoulders and turn to the clerk and explain to her

  • that I was in fact her aunt, not her father,

  • and that she should be more careful

  • and not jump to gender conclusions based on haircuts and shoulder rides

  • (Laughter)

  • and while doing that,

  • miss out on what was, to this point, the greatest moment of my niece's life.

  • Or would I be an aunt?

  • Would I brush off that comment, take a million pictures,

  • and not be distracted for an instant from the pure joy of that moment,

  • and by doing that,

  • walk out with the shame that comes up from not standing up for myself,

  • especially in front of my niece.

  • Who was I?

  • Which one was more important? Which role was more worth it?

  • Was I an aunt? Or was I an advocate?

  • And I had a split second to decide.

  • We are taught right now

  • that we are living in a world of constant and increasing polarity.

  • It's so black and white, so us and them, so right and wrong,

  • there is no middle, there is no gray; just polarity.

  • Polarity is a state

  • in which two ideas or opinions are completely opposite from each other;

  • a diametrical opposition.

  • Which side are you on?

  • Are you unequivocally and without question anti war, pro-choice, anti death penalty,

  • pro-gun regulation, proponent of open borders, and pro-union?

  • Or are you,

  • absolutely and uncompromisingly pro-war, pro-life, pro-death penalty,

  • a believer that the Second Amendment is absolute,

  • anti immigrant and pro-business?

  • It's all or none, you're with us or against us.

  • That is polarity.

  • The problem with polarity and absolutes

  • is that it eliminates the individuality of our human experience

  • and that makes it contradictory to our human nature.

  • But if we are pulled in these two directions,

  • but it's not really where we exist, - polarity is not our actual reality -

  • where do we go from there?

  • What's at the other end of that spectrum?

  • And I don't think it's an unattainable harmonious utopia,

  • I think the opposite of polarity is duality.

  • Duality is a state of having two parts,

  • but not in diametrical opposition:

  • in simultaneous existence.

  • Don't think it's possible?

  • Here are the people I know:

  • I know Catholics who are pro-choice, and feminists who wear hijabs,

  • and veterans who are anti-war,

  • and NRA members who think I should be able to get married.

  • Those are the people I know, those are my friends and family,

  • that is the majority of our society, that is you, that is me.

  • (Applause)

  • Duality is the ability to hold both things,

  • but the question is: Can we own our duality?

  • Can we have the courage to hold both things?

  • I work at a restaurant in town,

  • I became really good friends with the busser.

  • I was a server and we had a relationship, we had a really great time together.

  • Her Spanish was great

  • because she was from Mexico.

  • (Laughter)

  • That line actually went the other way.

  • Her English was limited, but significantly better than my Spanish.

  • But we were united by our similarities,

  • not separated by our differences.

  • And we were close, even though we came from very different worlds.

  • She was from Mexico, she left her family behind

  • so she could come here and afford them a better life back home.

  • She was a devout conservative catholic, a believer in traditional family values,

  • stereotypical roles of men and women,

  • and I was, well, me.

  • (Laughter)

  • But the things that bonded us were when she asked about my girlfriend,

  • or she shared pictures that she had from her family back home.

  • Those were the things that brought us together.

  • So one day, we were in the back,

  • scarfing down food as quick as we could, gathered around a small table,

  • during a very rare lull,

  • and a new guy from the kitchen came over - who happened to be her cousin -

  • and sat down with all the bravado and machismo

  • that his 21-year-old body could hold

  • (Laughter)

  • and said to her, (Spanish) "Does Ash have a boyfriend?"

  • And she said, (Spanish) "No, she has a girlfriend."

  • And he said, (Spanish) "A girlfriend??"

  • And she set down her fork, and locked eyes with him,

  • and said: (Spanish) "Yes, a girlfriend, and that is all."

  • And his smugged smile quickly dropped to one of maternal respect,

  • grabbed his plate, walked off, went back to work.

  • She never made eye contact with me.

  • She left, did the same thing

  • - it was a 10 second conversation, such a short interaction.

  • And on paper, she had so much more in common with him:

  • language, culture, history, family, her community was her lifeline here,

  • but her moral compass trumped all of that.

  • And a little bit later, they were joking around in the kitchen, in Spanish,

  • that had nothing to do with me,

  • and that is duality.

  • She didn't have to choose some PC stands

  • on gayness over her heritage,

  • she didn't have to choose her family over our friendship.

  • It wasn't Jesus or Ash.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Her individual morality was so strongly rooted

  • that she had the courage to hold both things.

  • Our moral integrity is our responsibility

  • and we must be prepared to defend it even when it's not convenient.

  • That's what it means to be an ally, and if you're going to be an ally,

  • you have to be an active ally:

  • ask questions, act when you hear something inappropriate;

  • actually engage.

  • I had a family friend who for years used to call my girlfriend 'my lover.'

  • Really? Lover?

  • So overly sexual,

  • so '70s gay porn.

  • (Laughter)

  • But she was trying, and she asked.

  • She could have called her my friend,

  • or my 'friend,' or my 'special friend'

  • (Laughter)

  • or even worse, just not ask at all.

  • Believe me, we would rather have you ask,

  • I would rather have her say 'lover,' than say nothing at all.

  • People often say to me: "Well, Ash I don't care,

  • I don't see race, or religion, or sexuality.

  • It doesn't matter to me. I don't see it."

  • But I think the opposite of homophobia, and racism, and xenophobia is not love,

  • it's apathy.

  • If you don't see my gayness, then you don't see me.

  • If it doesn't matter to you who I sleep with,

  • then you cannot imagine what it feels like

  • when I walk down the street, late at night, holding her hand,

  • and approach a group of people and have to make the decision

  • if I should hang on to it, or I should I drop it

  • when all I want to do is squeeze it tighter.

  • And the small victory I feel

  • when I make it by, and don't have to let go.

  • And the incredible cowardice and disappointment I feel when I drop it.

  • If you do not see that struggle

  • that is unique to my human experience because I am gay, then you don't see me.

  • If you are going to be an ally, I need you to see me.

  • As individuals, as allies, as humans, we need to be able to hold both things,

  • both the good and the bad, the easy and the hard,

  • you don't learn how to hold two things just from the fluff,

  • you learn it from the grit.

  • And what if duality is just the first step?

  • What if through compassion, and empathy, and human interaction

  • we are able to learn to hold two things?

  • And if we can hold two things, we can hold four,

  • and if we can hold four, we can hold eight,

  • and if we can hold eight, we can hold hundreds.

  • We are complex individuals, swirls of contradiction.

  • You are all holding so many things right now!

  • What can you do to hold just a few more?

  • So, back to Toledo, Ohio, I'm at the front of the line,

  • niece on my shoulders, the frazzled clerk calls me dad.

  • Have you ever been mistaken for the wrong gender?

  • Not even that.

  • Have you ever been called something you are not?

  • Here's what it feels like for me:

  • I am instantly an internal storm of contrasting emotions.

  • I break out onto a sweat that is a combination of rage and humiliation,

  • I feel like the entire store is staring at me,

  • and I simultaneously feel invisible.

  • I want to explode in a tirade of fury,

  • and I want to crawl under a rock.

  • And top all of that off with the frustration that I'm wearing

  • an out-of-characteristic, tight-fitting, purple T-shirt,

  • so this whole store can see my boobs,

  • to make sure this exact same thing doesn't happen.

  • (Laughter)

  • But, despite my best efforts to be seen as the gender I am,

  • it still happens.

  • And I hope with every ounce of my body that no one here heard:

  • not my sister, not my girlfriend, and certainly not my niece.

  • I am accustomed to this familiar hurt,

  • but I would do whatever I need to do to protect the people I love from it.

  • But then I take my niece off my shoulders,

  • and she runs to Elsa and Anna

  • - the thing she's been waiting so long for -

  • and all that stuff goes away; all that matters is the smile on her face.