Overcoming fear and finding passion

Landon Starnes had to step outside his comfort zone to compete as Lotta Pink in the Miss LifeWalk Pageant

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Landon Starnes as Lotta Pink

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Talk to Landon Starnes about his involvement with LifeWalk, the annual walkathon benefiting AIDS Arms and its partner agencies, and you’ll hear

Starnes repeat the words “passion” and “fear” a lot.

Starnes said he let fear rule him for too long. But in the end, there’s no doubt that “passion” wins out.

Starnes, who works as a hairdresser, said that he was diagnosed with HIV in October 1998. But he wasn’t prepared to deal with reality, and so for years, he said, “I ignored my diagnosis emotionally.”

But then some friends began to encourage him to confront his HIV status by getting involved in LifeWalk, specifically by joining the Guys and Dolls LifeWalk team.

Starnes said it took him awhile to get up to speed, and he was involved with LifeWalk just “off and on” for several years. But three years ago, he decided to really take the plunge and has been an active member of the Guys and Dolls team ever since.

This year, even that got ratcheted up a notch when Starnes finally gave in to his teammates’ cajoling and entered the Miss LifeWalk Pageant.

“My team had been asking me for two years to enter the pageant, but I declined every time. I was just scared to death to do drag,” Starnes explained. “But this year, I decided to accept the challenge, even though it scared me.”

The first challenge was to come up with a character, so “I started brainstorming about a character, about who I would be,” Starnes said. “I started thinking about things I, as a person, am passionate about. And I am passionate about the singer Pink.

“Her music gets to me in a way that no one else’s does,” Starned continued. “Her lyrics inspire me. I think, if I had to pick just one, my favorite Pink song is ‘Glitter in the Air.’ It says, ‘Have you ever wished for an endless night?’ ‘Have you ever thrown a fistful of glitter in the air?’ It made me look into myself, literally. Last summer, while we were on a road trip, my friends and I stopped and actually threw a fistful of glitter in the air. It was silly and fun, and now it is a memory that will last forever.”

But there is one line in the song, Starnes said, that really touched him, one lyric that made him think and gave him the determination to set aside the fear that had held him back: “Have you ever looked fear in the face, and said, I just don’t care?”

It was, Starnes said, a spark that made his passion for LifeWalk and for doing something to help others blaze even brighter.

“I knew I wasn’t going to try to be Pink, but I love what she does. So I decided I would kind of pay tribute to her with my character,” Starnes said.

And so, Lotta Pink was born.

And lo and behold, Lotta Pink won the Miss LifeWalk title on her first try, helping Starnes bring in about $7,000 for LifeWalk this year, bringing his total over all his Guys and Dolls years to about $11,000.

Starnes said he and Lotta Pink obviously have a lot in common. “We share our passion for the cause, first of all, and second, we both want to step outside the box,” Starnes said. “I was afraid of doing drag. But my favorite quote is ‘Do it scared,’ so that’s what I did. I stepped outside the box and challenged myself, and in doing that, I learned that fears are just fears, nothing else.”

Starnes said that while his fears still remain to some degree, Lotta Pink “has no fear,” and she is helping him overcome his own.

“It’s easier when you can put on a wig and some makeup and kind of step outside yourself,” Starnes said. “Now, learning to step out without that disguise is what comes next!”

Knowing that what he does is all to help AIDS Arms and the clients the agency serves makes it even easier to put the fear aside, Starnes said.

“The Guys and Dolls team works all year, not just on the day of LifeWalk. And the people at AIDS Arms work all year trying to help other people. I love AIDS Arms, and I love what it stands for,” Starnes said. “The walk itself is symbolic, to me. It’s a short walk, yes, but just going through the movement of walking allows you to release your passion.

“Everybody who participates is there for their own reasons, but whatever the reason, they are passionate about it,” he continued. “That alone speaks volumes. The biggest thing that came out of all this for me was seeing how good people really are.”

Again, it all comes down to overcoming fear and fully realizing the passion.

“It’s so important for everyone to find their passion, whether it’s LifeWalk or something else,” Starnes said. “Finding my passion has lifted me to a whole new level of awareness, understanding and joy. It’s just such a positive energy when you are around all these people at LifeWalk who work so hard to make a difference in other people’s lives. It’s helped me find a happiness I have never known before.”

AIDS Arms LifeWalk will be held Sunday, Oct. 2, at Lee Park. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m., and the walk begins at 1 p.m. For more information, go online to LifeWalk.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Why am I not celebrating more?

Although the swearing in of the first trans trial judge is cause for celebration, there is still a long, hard fight ahead

WREN A. WYNN  |  Special Contributor

We have recently seen America’s first transgender trial judge sworn in. So why am I not celebrating more?

Are you kidding? I read the news to my husband and son, and we all cheered and breathed a sigh of great relief and deep gratitude. This momentous ceremony brought us all one step closer to lawful and societal equality and a much safer pursuit of that very happiness our Constitution grants to us all.

But this is where I — as an American, a woman and the wife of an amazing transgender man — must restrain my celebration. The full celebration will commence the day society’s labels fade away.

Humans always try to define things we do not understand. Our lack of understanding leads to fear. Labels are incessantly cast onto anything we need defined for us.

For instance, say you have two tin cans, both sealed. One is labeled “beans;” the other has no label. Which would you choose?

Unless you have an aversion to legumes, you would probably choose the labeled one. I would — I mean, what if the other can has beets?

We should be electing transgender officials. We should be electing lesbian and gay officials, female officials, African-American officials, Hispanic officials, Jewish and Muslim officials — and so on. Because, quite simply, every one of the members of our global society are human beings.

We are all born inherently equal and all hold the same worthiness as our neighbor. Our labels do not designate our worth or, believe it or not, our contents. Existence is where our worth lies. You are here. I am here. We are amazing.

The full celebration will commence when all marginalized people refuse to be yoked to such a lexicon: marginalized, victimized, worthless, wrong, immoral, dangerous. These are only a very few of the terms used by the media, the Biblical Christian right and those in seats of actual “power” when referring to “them.”

When you are marginalized, the first thing that is stripped from you is your name. It is far easier to be cruel and hateful when you are aggressively pursuing the nameless.

How many of us have found ourselves in such a place — no name, no support, no safety? I was hit in the face in seventh grade by an extraordinarily hefty repeat eighth grader because my being gay offended her. Her name was Amie. I bet you a million dollars she doesn’t remember my name.

We cannot continue to allow our names to be replaced with a vocabulary of invisibility and hate. My name is Wren.

The full celebration will commence when those seated in positions of power and authority stop being so damn afraid that they will be dethroned and overrun. If you are a just and compassionate leader, this is not a concern. So it is no wonder that so many higher-ups are constantly having to towel off their flop-sweat as they stand at their microphones and bullhorns leaking their heartlessness and fear into the world.

This decidedly ridiculous behavior, though, should come as no real surprise. Look at what the leaders worship. All religions at all moments in history, both patriarchal and matriarchal (though to a lesser extent), worship very wrathful and immature gods and goddesses. How many times has a deity cruelly destroyed all of life because another god was getting more attention or because the people weren’t pliant enough or, sometimes, just for the hell of it?

I am all for America. This is proven by the fact that I haven’t run off to Canada or Europe … yet. I truly do believe, very dearly, that America is the home of the brave. Every day I encounter transgender people (my husband included) who are changing the world and saving lives by simply being who they are.

We hear and see and know lesbian, gay and bisexual people who are not willing to let another person die because bullying gay kids and adults is seen as not so big an issue. We have seen the African-American community rise up saying, “We are not second-class citizens.” Everyday the cycle of racism slows.

In recent months, we have witnessed the courageous stance of the Muslim community in New York as they prepare a way for a mosque, even as the Koran is being threatened in Florida. With every passing moment we see and hear men and women standing up for women’s and human rights and equal passage and opportunity in the world.
What amazing and brave people we all are when we stand up for one another!

So God, Goddess, Allah, Abba, Brahman, Waheguru, Yahweh, Jesus, The Light, Almighty, Bahá, Jehova, El Cantare, Oya — all of them — bless America, Mother Earth and all of her beautiful creations. We live in truly amazing times. May we be awake and willing, enthusiastic, even, to stand with one another in our various fires.

This is not a case of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” This is about celebrating life and Victoria Kolakowski, America’s first sworn-in transgender trial judge. You go girl!

Wren Wynn is a local writer and artist and the author of Chrysalis, a collection of poetry and artworks. She is also a commissioned artist and her paintings have been chosen to hang in the Visual Arts Center of Dallas galleries. Wynn is currently working on a collection of personal essays and a second poetry collection. Go online to Open.Salon.com/blog/wrenaw to read a sample of her work.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright

So-so happy Texas

I just read an article on YahooNews. com, about a report on LiveScience.com that ranks the 50 U.S. states — and the District of Columbia — from “happiest” to “least happy.” Texas came in as the 16th happiest state.

Here’s an explanation on how they came up with the list: “The results are based on an examination of two data sets, one that included personal reports of happiness for 1.3 million Americans and the other that included objective measures, such as how crowded that state is, air quality, home prices and other factors known to impact quality of life.”

The list has Louisiana at the top, as the happiest state in the country. But then it says, “scientists caution, however, that the top spot, Louisiana, might not reflect current levels of well-being since the data were collected before the disruption caused by Hurricane Katrina. They are confident that data for the other states does accurately reflect happiness levels.”

The top 10 are: 1. Louisiana, 2. Hawaii, 3. Florida, 4. Tennessee, 5. Arizona, 6. Mississippi, 7. Montana, 8. South Carolina, 9. Alabama, 10. Maine. California was way down the list at No. 46, and New York placed dead last at No. 51 (remember, the rankings included the District of Columbia, which by the way, was No. 37.)

Here’s the interesting part: A similar study released last month used some different criteria and came up with a drastically different ranking. This study, also at LiveScience.com, says “states with wealthier, better educated and more tolerant residents are also happier on average. The reasoning is that wealthy states can provide infrastructure and so it’s easier for residents to get their needs met. In addition, states with a greater proportion of artists and gays would also be places where residents can freely express themselves.”

In other words, the “gayest” states are also the happiest states.

This report’s top 10 are: 1. Utah, 2. Hawaii, 3. Wyoming, 4. Colorado, 5. Minnesota, 6. Maryland, 7. Washington, 8. Massachussets, 9. California, 10. Arizona.

Texas dropped to No. 26 on this list, and Louisiana was down at No. 40 (no word if this info was gathered pre- or post-Katrina) and New York moved up to No. 35. This list didn’t include D.C., and West Virginia was No. 50 on the list — in other words, it was the least happy state.

I personally don’t think that any such ranking would actually be helpful to any individual in decided where to live to have the best chance at happiness. But if I had to choose my state of residence based on these lists, I think I’d go with Hawaii. It did the best overall. Besides, I like the beach.

—  admin