Too Much Love to Give

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell 

Love has always come easily to me. I’ve never struggled to adore humanity, to put the utmost effort into my friendships, to forge meaningful romantic relationships. But what happens when you have too much love? Or at least … you think you do?

I’ve joked for many years that I’m in love with everyone I know. All kinds of love! Deep platonic connections, strong familial bonds, and of course endless crushes. In high school, I had a few long-term boyfriends. Each relationship lasted at least a year, and each meant the world to me. Through all of these relationships, I constantly found myself falling for other people. I loathed this about myself. I tried so, so hard to not catch feelings for anyone else. But it didn’t matter — boy, girl, nonbinary person, my heart was just fickle. Or was it? My dedication and love for my actual partners never faded. It just sort of … coexisted. I’d never dare so much as flirt with someone when I was in a monogamous relationship, but  … why did I want to? I respected my boyfriends. I cherished them. I valued their feelings and felt like a horrible partner. Was I just a flighty teenager or was I something else? Was I forcing myself into long-term dating too young, or was there another term for what I felt? 

When I discovered polyamory, it felt like a breath of fresh air. It felt like I wasn’t broken, or a bad person, or not in control of my emotions. I was just … me. A person whose heart was too big to love just one person. And one day, I’d find other people who thought like me. 

Polyamory is complicated and there’s no rulebook. Each person has their own boundaries and needs. Each relationship is different and interesting and a whole new adventure. Sometimes there is jealousy — it is honored, appreciated, and worked through. Sometimes there is confusion. Sometimes there is joy. In many ways, being in a polyamorous relationship is exactly like being in a monogamous relationship; you just share your love with more than one person.

It’s not for everyone, and I absolutely respect that. Polyamory is trial and error, especially as a young person making my way in the world. In many ways, the way I live is fairly unprecedented in my own family, so making finding my own way in life is something I’m familiar with. I’m the only queer, trans, and disabled person in my family. The second person in my entire family (extended and immediate) to ever go to college. Polyamory is just another facet of my life in which I make my own roadmap.

I’m proud of how much love I have, for the world and for my partners. I’m proud of the attentive and compassionate person I am to those I love. And I’m proud to love in the way I do.  

Hair-Don’t

by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

I was scrolling through my Snapchat memories today and came across a picture of myself that gave me pause. In it, I’m smiling, a finger poked into my cheek. My tongue is stuck out and my eyes are closed. A goofy filter adds devil horns and oversized glasses to my face. It’s a pretty normal selfie of a happy 20-year-old.

That said, a few words in the caption reveal it wasn’t just a picture. “So, I’m bald now! Here’s the cut!”

My head is shaved down close to the skin in the photo. It was the first picture I took of myself after that drastic haircut. I still remember the mindframe I was in at the time: straight-up panic and self-loathing.

I’d had a floppy bleach-blonde mohawk that I loved. I’d shaved it all off in a moment of what I fondly refer to as “crazy manic idiocy.” It was a snap decision. I’d wanted to do something new with my hair for a while, and it seemed like the best thing in the moment. 

Now, I’d pulled off a mohawk very well. The sides and back of my head were shaved, I thought, so it wouldn’t be that different, right? Oh, so wrong. Some people can pull off a shaved head. It looks fantastic on them! I cannot. I looked like an egg. And much more importantly, I felt crushed. 

I’ve never attached much of my self-worth to my looks, but that haircut began the most self-conscious year of my life. I never never without a hat. I had an arsenal of self-deprecating jokes at the ready. I literally stopped looking in the mirror. It shook me in a way I didn’t expect. I wish I had taken the time to truly think about my drastic haircut before going with it.

“Hair grows back, Julien,” my fiancee kept reminding me. “Just give it time.”

And eventually, my hair did grow back. It’s now a shaggy blonde mop — a little overgrown, a little wild, just how I like it. It took a few disastrous trims, a short-lived (and regrettable) mullet, and a lot of patience, but eventually, my hair grew out. And my friends didn’t stop being my friends because of a bad haircut. My fiancee wasn’t suddenly disgusted by me. My family didn’t shun me. That’s insane. In this year of regrowth, I think I’ve learned a lot about myself as a person:

— I do care about how I look. I lied to myself and said that I didn’t for years because I’m not conventionally attractive. But I do. I want to look good and love how I look. I want to feel confident when I walk down the street. And that’s okay! It didn’t make me (or anyone!) vain or shallow.

— On the other side of that coin, no one but me really cares about how I look. The haircut didn’t affect anything in my life except my own self-confidence. 

— Hair is impermanent and doesn’t define your entire look! 

— Beanies and baseball caps are a great accessory and shouldn’t be underestimated!

— And last but not least, it’s alright to have a bad haircut! And it’s alright to admit that it just doesn’t suit you! There is bravery in being honest.

An Odd Hobby

by Julien-Pierre Campbell

It’s a normal Tuesday in my honors class (as normal as you can get in the middle of a global pandemic!). I’m sitting on my floor in front of my laptop. My eyes are fixed on the little square containing my bedraggled reflection. How do people manage to look attractive over webcams? I think. I look like I just crawled out a sewer. Mid-sentence, my professor pauses. Her eyes have caught something slightly disturbing, judging by the look of disgust on her face. 

Huh.

“Julien…” she says, so slowly that it comes out in like ten syllables. “Uhh…”

Oh my God. The entire class is looking at me.

“Um, yes, Professor?”

“OK, I just have to ask — what’s with the deer head?”

Ah. This, I can handle. I collect taxidermy, and I’ve fielded so many questions about it that at this point, anyone could call me an expert in the awkward. I quickly explain away the deer head, make a joke that gets the class laughing, and eventually we move on. Even though I’m a little shocked that my professor stopped class for this, it’s nothing I can’t handle!

My love of taxidermy started when I was very young, but it may be pertinent for me to explain something. I’m a vegetarian. I’ve been vegetarian for my entire life, and was raised that way by parents who haven’t eaten meat in thirty years. I’ve never actually eaten meat before, and I don’t hunt, fish, or condone the activities unless for survival or cultural reasons. My love of taxidermy sort of exists in spite of this. 

You could find me in museums for hours as a young child, enchanted by the nature diramas. The leaping cougar, the skittish deer, the snarling wolf — I was hooked. I couldn’t kill a bug and would cry at the sight of roadkill, but taxidermy was magical to my young brain. As I grew up and began to make my own money from odd jobs (and eventually steady employment), I slowly built up a collection of my own ethically sourced taxidermy and wet specimens. My very first was a little duckling I named Cookie, and soon after I came by butterflies, a hawk, cat skulls, four more ducklings, possum teeth, and an entire motley zoo. And of course there is my prized possession: Maximus, the 100-year-old buck. He stops traffic (a true fact — when I carried him home from an antique store at seventeen, several cars screeched to a halt for rubberneckers), and apparently stops class too!   

I can’t explain why I love taxidermy. I can’t really explain how it coexists with my lifelong vegetarianism. At the end of the day, however, my odd little hobby makes me happy. It may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly for me.

Quara-Ween: A Holiday in the Pandemic

by Julien-Pierre Campbell

October has arrived. The trees are a beautiful riot of colors, a carpet of leaves lines the pavement. The air smells cool and fresh, the days are crisp. We’ve all donned sweaters and jackets once again. In my house, we strategically plan out weekends together. “Do you have next Saturday off? Let’s go to the pumpkin patch!” “Movie night on Friday? Have you ever seen The Conjuring?” “Wanna go costume shopping tonight?”

And yet the world has changed. We buy masks that coordinate with our costumes. We cancel our Halloween parties. We prepare a sign for trick-or-treaters apologizing for our lack of candy and our weak immune systems. Perhaps our biggest change is the Rocky Horror Picture Show cabaret’s devastating closure. October is usually my busiest month of the year. We have shows every weekend, travel to Lincoln City to perform at the coast, and perform around six shows in a week during the last week of October. This month, all of that is gone.

It’s no secret that Halloween is my favorite holiday. Those who know me know that I keep decorations up all year, I plan my costume six months in advance. I go to the pumpkin patch every weekend they’re open if I can help it. I can’t explain my die-hard love of the holiday — it’s just a part of me. 

It will be different this year. Instead of the wild performances and debaucheries of Halloween night, we’ll be inside watching movies. Instead of complimenting little ones on their costumes, we’ll be leaving our lights off so as not to disappoint them. My immune system is just too weak, and little kids are magnets for sickness. 

But the air still smells beautiful, Halloween cookies are still delicious, and I can still wear a costume in my home. I can still go to the pumpkin patch if I keep a safe distance from others. I still live with my darling fiancee, and even if we won’t be performing on stage, we’ll still be having fun. 

Quarantine Blessings

72220447_2652569214863055_7208176057336201216_n  by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell

 

 

Quarantine has been an unimaginably difficult time for everyone. However, I’d offer this: there have been some genuine blessings in this time, Though I’m struggling — and struggling hard — I have found a lot of beauty in this forced isolation. 

 

Quarantine blessings:

  1. Getting to spend more time with my fiancee! We are both incredibly busy people, leaving the house at 8:00 a.m. and returning at 8:00 p.m. most days. We rarely have full days off together — one every two weeks, maybe. We had the realization that until we retire, we may not get this much uninterrupted time together again. We’ve been enjoying it so much! Having deep conversations, working on improving our relationship. Explaining our passions to one another in as much detail as we’d like! I’ve talked more about Greek mythology and Romantic poetry in the last few weeks than I ever have before. I’ve learned more about baking and Animal Crossing than I ever thought I would! It’s lovely!
  2. Getting closer to my pets! As stated in previous entries, I live in a house with five cats and two dogs. Having come from a one-pet home my entire life — it’s been jarring. But I have had so much time to bond with the pets! We’ve improved their care, we’ve started taking our pit bull on more walks, we’ve invested in a new cat tree and fixed up the old one, and spent lots and lots of time cuddling with our cats. 
  3. Learning that I can build things! I struggle with motor skills. Things like buttoning shirts, tying shoes, and chopping veggies are very difficult for me. I know that with practice, I am a very capable learner — after all, I type 90 words per minute, with very few typos. I’ve often figured that if I can do something like what, I’m able to do other tasks involving fine motor skills. I’ll admit — I tend to avoid these things because it embarrasses me. I’m twenty years old! Buttoning a shirt takes me twice as long as your average person. However, my fiancee and I put together a cat tree. As simple as this was, I was so proud of myself. I read instructions and puzzled them out! I used tiny screws! It hasn’t fallen apart yet! This has been a very powerful lesson in my capability as a person. 
  4. Being there for friends in need! I have the excellent luck of being isolated with three people I love. Not all of my friends have been so fortunate. Some are quarantined with abusive family members. Some are alone. I have a large emotional bandwidth, and ample time to hear their concerns. I have been able to be more present in my friendships than I have in a long time. Being able to send little reminder texts: “I love you! Everything will be okay! I’m here for you!” has been helpful to them and me. While I know I am not responsible for the emotional states of my friends, I know I can help. I can be a listening ear, or offer advice if needed. At the very least, I can remind someone they’re not alone, and that’s a beautiful gift.

 

While the quarantine has been very difficult on all of us, I’d encourage you to look for good things within it. Finally having time to redecorate your bedroom? Deep-cleaning for the first time in ages? Baking bread? Binging shows you’ve wanted to forever? Even if all you’re doing is staying alive, that’s enough. There are small nuggets of goodness to be found in this taxing time period, and I’m lucky enough to have found some of them. 

How to Quarantine as a Newly-Engaged Couple??

72220447_2652569214863055_7208176057336201216_n by Julien-Pierre Campbell

Quarantining with roommates can be difficult. Quarantining with immediate family can drive you crazy. Quarantining when you’ve just moved in with a partner for the first time is wild! I moved in with my fiance in mid-February, and it’s been wonderful. They work full-time and perform on the weekends. I work part-time, go to school full time, and typically perform with them. We’re busy people! Now that our jobs no longer exist, however, we’re facing the dilemma of Oh, wow! This is a LOT of time together. 

 

Of course, we love one another. In some ways, it’s been wonderful to be at home all day with the love of my life. In other ways, our lives have gone full-stop at a vulnerable stage in our relationship. We agreed to give one another lots of space and independence when we moved in together. No one could have prepared us to be isolated in the same house for the foreseeable future.

 

Here’s my best advice:

 

  1. Give one another space: My fiance is an introvert, whereas I’m super gregarious and high-energy. If I’m feeling social, I’ll face-time friends for a few hours in the living room. My fiance will hang out in our room watching TV, looking over tarot cards, or Facetiming their mom. 
  2. Try to remember that the outside world exists: We have a high-energy pit bull who needs walks three times a day. Taking him out, taking a little walk through the neighborhood, or even taking the trash to the curb can be very refreshing.
  3. Compromise: I love my partner to bits! We are, however, very different people. Practicing the art of compromise is the key to making relationships work.
  4.  Communicate:I cannot stress how important communication is, especially in these difficult times. Discussing our fears, hopes, and frustrations has been wonderful. Not being afraid to be vulnerable with one another has been key. 
  5. Lastly, and most importantly, BE PATIENT: A home still needs to function, even in the apocalypse, and so do its inhabitants. Chores, cooking, and schoolwork can pile up. Be patient! A little understanding goes a long way, and is incredibly appreciated. 

 

Times are strange and difficult. Being patient, remembering to take deep breaths, and not being scared to be vulnerable are key. So far my self-isolation with my fiance has been wonderful, and with hard work and patience, it will continue to be so. 

Coronavirus Courtesy

by Julien-Pierre Campbell

 

“You know,” my friend said, “we really don’t need to be worried about the coronavirus. Old people are really the only ones dying, and —” She paused. “Oh, well, I guess people with no immune systems too, or cancer, or something I read that online.” 

I knew, rationally, that my friend meant these as words of comfort. As an immunocompromised person, however, it felt like a nail in my coffin. Not only did it feel as if she was telling me I’d be the first to go, but it also felt as if I was supposed to celebrate this fact. 

It’s a very scary time right now. Colleges are closing and friends are abruptly returning to their home states. Concerts and plays are getting cancelled. People are buying enough cleaning supplies and toilet paper to fill a bunker. Friends refuse to hug or shake hands. Day-to-day life changes rapidly as more warnings are put in place. Even something simple as grocery shopping feels like an epic journey. It’s all the more stressful when you’re a target demographic for this pandemic. 

I’m immunocompromised. Though I deal with various physical limitations (such as chronic pain and a limp), this is what affects my lifestyle the most. I catch every cold, flu, and stomach bug that goes around. Strep throat, ear infections, chills, dizziness — these are familiar to me. I’m allergic to everything I touch, from grass and plants to dust to pet hair. I’m constantly covered in painful, itchy hives. I have a cough more often than I don’t. My nose is always stuffed up or running. I’ve had bad fevers three times this year, and it is only March. 

This makes life difficult. What makes it even more difficult is person after person repeating the narrative that only the eldery and the immunocompromised are at serious risk for death by coronavirus. It’s insulting. I hear, “Don’t worry! You might die, but everyone else will be fine! Your life is of less value to me, because I have a strong immune system!” 

As much as I try to be thick-skinned, this hurts. Your immunocompromised friends’ lives are of equal value to those who do not deal with this. Please be kind, and practice sensitivity. Silly as it may sound, put yourself in the shoes of those who are scared in the face of this threat. It’s not only a threat to our schooling and jobs, it is a threat to our lives.

The Zoo

by Julien-Pierre Campbell


“Theodore, stop! Bad dog.
Stop! Oh, my goodness — ahh! Babe, can you just grab the cat? No, the other cat. No, the other cat!”

 

I was ready to tear my hair out. See, I had just moved in with my fiance, and we were experiencing some growing pains, particularly in the pet department. The house was a zoo. I took a step, yowling cat in my arms, and tripped over the pit bull. He was whining, the cat was hissing at him, and from the living room, another cat was caterwauling for dinner. 

 

“Oh my goodness!” I released the cat I was holding. She hissed and spat, then turned tail for the closet. The dog continued to whine. Finally, somehow, we fed all the pets dinner. The hysteria settled down. I locked eyes with the person I was spending the rest of my life with. A thought crossed my mind: You’re also spending the rest of your life with all these animals!

 

I live in a two-bedroom apartment. It’s a really lovely place. My roommates, a married couple, are the sweetest ladies in the world. Our location is great! And of course I live with the love of my life! Always a positive. The only problem: in our small square footage, there are five cats and two dogs. Four of those cats are bonded pairs who hate the others. The fifth is lovingly referred to as “the bastard” for his propensity for biting. Two of the cats hate dogs. One of them — mine — had never met a dog before and doesn’t know what to think of them. Most of the pets cannot co-exist in the same room. All this to say: it’s been an adjustment period.

 

Part of being 20 is, I think, figuring out how to exist in the world with other people. What I hadn’t anticipated was learning to exist with their pets. Dinnertime at my house is never dull. Homework may feature a 55-pound pit bull sitting on your lap. Taking a shower generally includes a blind chihuahua licking your toes. There is much breaking-up of catfights and rescuing the dog when the cats gang up on him.

 

For all the chaos, though, it’s wonderful. This is what it means to be young. A little mess, a little negotiating, and some craziness are all part of life. Our pets are so, so loved. Many of them have come from abusive homes or were strays. Now they live in a house with four parents who adore them and totally spoil them. 

 

I have never lived with this many animals, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it. Of course it’s hard and chaotic, but it’s fun. We pride ourselves on how well taken care of our little monsters are! And if they’re happy, I’m happy. 

Hi, I’m the Antifa Protester You’re Afraid Of

me! by Julien-Pierre Campbell

I was on the proverbial front lines. Black bandanna pulled over my nose and mouth, sunglasses and beanie hiding my identity, I ran. The knife fixed to my belt (clear plastic with a heart-shaped buckle) bounced against my leg as I dashed across the parking lot. 

“J, you with us?” my friend Danni (an alias, of course) huffed. They looked back at me, eyes flashing behind their dark glasses. 

“Yeah,” I panted. “I’m here. I’m with ya.” 

The rest of our party was spread out — Danni’s boyfriend Ty, with his backpack full of medical supplies; our friend Asher, lithe and smiling, even with black paint around his eyes; and our other friend Joey, so tall he could hold his own. I was the youngest by far, and definitely not built for this. Nineteen, small, and physically disabled, I wasn’t exactly imposing. I was, after all, wearing a shirt with a cartoon cat on it. 

But I was an antifa protester. I was fighting for what I believed in, so it didn’t matter. 

We made it through the parking lot, skirting around the wall of riot police keeping us away from the Proud Boys. We had been separated from the larger half of our protest. We were fenced in by heavily armed men on one side, traffic to our backs. 

I was exhilarated. Running from cops will do that to you.

In the back of my mind, however, was some kind of heartbreak. People on the sidewalk were looking at us like we were the monsters, not those that I believe to be literal fascists. The police were menacing us with guns so large I didn’t know the names. They were arresting people and throwing them to the ground. I saw a woman zip-tied and held down for dancing. 

I suppose I wrote this to achieve relief. Hi, Portland: I’m the antifa protester you’re afraid of. I’m the villain “just as bad” as those who I call neo-Nazi Proud Boys. But I’m also a full-time college student, a lively barkeep, and a cabaret performer. I fight for the rights of the oppressed because it’s all I can do. Times are dark for those persecuted by both the Trump administration and our society at large. 

I educate where I can. Antifa is short for anti-fascist; nothing more, nothing less. I take to the streets as a form of catharsis, I suppose, and as a statement: this city will not tolerate fascism in its streets. Oppressed minorities shouldn’t live in fear. I use what privileges I do have to stand up for the voiceless. And if the bandanna over my mouth makes me a villain to polite society, then call me a villain. 

I’ll be antifa for life, and I’m proud to say so. 

Getting Mobile

By Julien-Pierre Campbell

 

 

Months back, I wrote an article talking about dysphoria and my experience as a feminine trans man. I began the piece describing a scene looking in the mirror. On the first day of the new fall term, I found myself echoing that experience. I stood in front of my mirror — still dusty — and inspected what I saw. I’d chosen my outfit carefully, put thought into the denim jacket and leather collar, the ankle-high boots and skinny jeans. There was something new, however, an element I was unused to. 

Gripped tightly in my right hand was a cane. 

I’ve struggled with chronic pain since I was thirteen years old. There is a constant, invisible war being waged in my body every day. I wake up in pain and I go to sleep in pain. I’ve been to countless doctors, tried everything from CBD to acupuncture to pain medication. They all work in their own small ways, but the pain does not go away. It only ebbs. 

Most days, I put on a smile and go about my business. I’m a very happy person by nature; compartmentalizing pain is a necessity to keep sane. When at work, I slip between tables with ease, bringing food to customers and checking on my regulars. I pour beers and sling them down the bar. I’m on my feet all day. At school, I’m an engaged student. I sit up straight and make it to all of my classes early. On weekends, when I take to the stage to perform in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I do push-ups, I run from a lovesick pursuer, I carry people. I literally play a muscleman created to look pretty and strong. 

All of this is done through the pain. 

What isn’t seen is the fact that after work, I’m generally so pained I limp. After school, my sciatic nerve is on fire, sending urgent signals up and down my legs. After the cabaret, I’m nearly bed-bound for a day. 

After a flare-up that forced me to take time off work and limited my mobility, I finally snapped. Being in pain 24/7 is abnormal. My teenage years have been heavily impacted by my constant pain, and I feel like I’ve missed a normal youth. I want to be more proactive about my health. I want to take steps to help myself. 

I’m now seeing a physical therapist once a week and an acupuncturist semi-frequently. I’ve taken the leap and use my cane at school. 

So now when I look in the mirror, I admire the cane in my right hand. It helps me. It allows me a little extra support, which I sorely need. I won’t be ashamed of it. In fact, I’ll celebrate it. 

My pain is a part of me, but it’s a part I’m challenging. This invisible illness does not define me. Using a mobility aid is nothing to be ashamed of, and I so I refuse to be shamed by it. Look out world, here I come — with my cane.