Home has been a difficult concept for me. Where is my home? Where should my home be? Do I need a husband to call it home? What does home even mean? With a year of no traveling and being confined to my apartment, I dove deep into evaluating what home actually means to me. Two distinct identifiers keep rising up; Home as a physical space and being at home in my own skin.
I couldn’t wait to leave my childhood home in tiny Lyndon Station, WI at age 18. The minute I could, I did. As a freshman in Eau Claire, I lived in a dorm that housed more than my hometown’s population. I was assigned to an overflow room; A study room turned into a large dorm room with four other guys. That space felt like home. Our room was the center of life on our floor. Everyone had the code to get in, and residents would bring their parents by saying, “This is our overflow room.”
This odd living arrangement revealed one quality of what home means to me. Home has an open-door policy. Yes, I lock my door at night, but people are welcome, and many people often have a key to my house. My mother has something to do with this. The children in our little town were always welcome to come by. Having an open-door policy and hosting has been a theme in all of the places I’ve lived since then. Every apartment I’ve lived in, including in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, had open-door policies.
Vegas allowed me freedom to explore and begin understanding who I was. This included coming out. The loved ones who I came out to are still incredibly important in my life. I also learned how to push my limits. I was getting my theater degree, bartending at a slow gay bar from 12:00 a.m. until 7:00 a.m., and rehearsing before I went to work. Home is where you can sleep and feel safe. The fine arts building became my home that last year of college. Even though my apartment was five blocks away, I slept more at school.
In Los Angeles, home evolved further. Growing up, many of us are stressed about the importance of family. I agree, however, missing were the conversations about chosen family. Los Angeles was where I felt chosen family to the core of my soul. In LA, I met the gifted Dina Nina Martinez and coincidentally, I had my old friend Christine Ameigh there, too. We would host lavish Thanksgiving dinners that lasted all day. We would pop a turkey in each one of our ovens before going to the bars on Wednesday night. I’d make my way with my turkey to Dina’s house on Thanksgiving “morning” to get everything ready. People would be in and out all day long bringing food, drinks, celebration, and love. For me, Thanksgiving is really a chosen family holiday. Home is not confined to your four walls.
All holidays have been like this when I haven’t been near my biological family. In Little Rock, I was submerged into a cohort of 46 brilliant humans. They immediately became a part of my chosen family. We celebrated every holiday. From Labor Day to Eid Mubarak, we were all attached at the hip. Home is a place where loved ones know they have a safe harbor.
Little Rock elevated my definition of home more than any place could ever have. Home is destructible and redeemable. I was out celebrating a friend’s birthday party and found a nice gentleman to bring home with me. Yes, a trick. As we approached my front door, I noticed that it was open. We entered and saw a total mess. Lights were on, things pulled out of drawers, a broken window.
That was the first time my Little Rock apartment got broken into. The second time illuminated how sometimes strangers need the structure of your home. I was returning from a trip to Cape Town when my landlord called me. “Someone was in your house and left frozen chicken on the kitchen table.” I didn’t think anything of it. Many of my classmates had a key in case they needed to crash while I was gone. I returned to the house and realized I was robbed. The person(s) in need took my laptop, my bike, my TV, and all the contents in my freezer. Any other time in life, I would have been furious. I was coming back from working for three months with the homeless in Johannesburg, and for four months working with LGBTQ refugees in Cape Town. This work revealed that crime like this is not malicious. It is just a means to live another day. Home is a place to become stronger and aid our neighbors.
My first trip to South Africa was in 2013. I have called it one of my homes since. I’ve been able to use the lessons of home and apply them to everywhere I’ve worked and traveled. Connections are so important to me. For example, in Belize, I can’t get through the airport without hugging someone I’ve connected with on a previous trip. In South Africa, I’ve created such a network that when I’m there for work, I bookend my trip with space to see everyone. I am so fortunate to have met these beautiful people I call family. In Cape Town, I often stay with my friends Ken and Vlad. During one visit they had friends visiting from Amsterdam. One day, as I was doing my usual Cape Town routine (early gym, work, meet friends at the beach before happy hour), I decided I needed a nap. I returned to Ken and Vlad’s and fell asleep in my room. When I woke up, I could hear all four of these wonderful humans cackling in the kitchen like my aunties watching over me. I was soon greeted with a glass of wine. Home is where love is shared as easy as a glass of wine.
I started to truly know myself during my experiences in Little Rock and South Africa. The opportunities, the vulnerability, the hard lessons, they all taught me how to find home in my skin. Nothing challenged this more than love. The first time I fell in love, and confidently knew he loved me back, was on my first trip to Johannesburg. He was everything I thought I wanted. We lived together in Cape Town for a brief moment. He visited the States, and met so many people I love. We even presented at a conference together. It didn’t work out. He was still married to his wife. I had never had a heartache like that. Home is a place that is guarded, yet vulnerable.
Home in Madison
After being hired by an international nonprofit, I made the decision to move back to Wisconsin and not return to Los Angeles. Despite my incredible dislike for winter, it was the best decision. I am close to home and have been gifted with an incredibly large and rich chosen family. Three of my LA family are here with many others from past adventures a short drive away. Madison provided the space to really become comfortable in my skin while establishing a physical home. Besides my mother’s house, the apartment I’m in is the longest I’ve lived in any single location. People often see me out and believe I’m visiting. The truth is, Madison has been my home base. As I tell many people, home is where your mail gets delivered.
Until this last year, I wasn’t able to really understand home. I turned 40 and had a huge celebration, then we all became aware of COVID. Within two weeks, all my travel stopped. All my Project Kinect clients were canceling. I don’t share this to be a COVID sob story. Billions of people are in worse situations than I am. I share this to illustrate how much time I had on my hands. I was forced to take inventory of who I am. It was an opportunity I needed. I had to really learn to love myself.
Home is all of the qualities I previously mentioned but also, home has to be suited to fit the person living there. It comes in many physical forms and can be many things and places at once. Most of all, those qualities are inside us. We are home. Our bodies and how we connect with the world is home. Therefore, we need to constantly work to be the best home we can be for ourselves.
Now, as I am approaching 41, I have changed my focus. I have home, family, and love all around me. Mix that with my experience and knowledge, and I have everything to conquer my goals. I am bringing all of my passions together with a new book, a new travel project utilizing my chosen family, and most of all, I am celebrating all of the places I call home. I couldn’t be doing this if I didn’t invest in that time to work on me and my relationship with home. From my work, I know time like this is not a luxury that everyone has. Hopefully with my home, I can support others in creating more meaningful homes for themselves.
Celebrate Pride in South Africa
The LGBTQ+ Interchange, Gregg’s new travel program, launches this October. The trip combines an amazing vacation with an opportunity to further develop leadership skills. This program teaches Potter’s Collaboration Framework, and participants will receive a certificate of completion. Participants can opt out of the certificate for just a vacation. Dates for the trip are October 8–21. Information can be found at projectkinect.com/everything-lgbtq-interchange. You can also follow updates on Facebook and Instagram.