As LGBT HealthLink’s Social Media Specialist, I can easily share my entire tobacco-addiction story in 140 characters or less:
The shame of my #queerness caused me to #smoke. The pride of my queerness inspired me to #quit.
But wait! Even though you know the story’s ending, please don’t stop reading yet. Hopefully, my words will motivate other queers to steer away from smoking. At least, it might offer a few minutes away from work.
Growing up, I was the oddball. Always the shortest girl in school, always mistaken for younger than my age. I hated sports. I loved Roger and Hammerstein musicals. I also wore glasses (rather, I was supposed to wear glasses, but preferred blurry vision to bullying). Yes, as you might imagine, I was the most popular girl in my class.
Were that true, I might have a different kind of confessional for you.
Maybe it was my myopic vision that skewed my sexual self-identification. As a teenager, I couldn’t take the stress of one more thing that would set me apart. So, similar to one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, I pulled a “George Costanza” and did the opposite of everything that came instinctively in order to “succeed.” I sought boyfriends. I took up smoking. Heavily. I was the coolest looking 4’11”, 13-year-old cigarette smoker you ever saw.
What’s Your #Policy?
Wait? Did I just say “13”? How do you get addicted to smoking at 13 years old?
Wouldn’t you if your public high school allowed you to smoke on its property? I kid you not. In the mid-1980s, my New Jersey public school still clung to a cigarette-tolerance policy created in the more youth-ruling 1970s. We smoked in between every class and chain-toked through every free period on the “smoking porch.” Sure, maybe I would have smoked without this policy (see #Odd above), but by my high-school math calculations, I still lost about a gazillion minutes off of my life.
Maybe you’re thinking how far we’ve come baby from the days of smoking in schools, airplanes, and phone-booths, but my point is that #policy matters. Since we’ve changed those antiquated policies, then clearly we can pool our resources to change today’s negligent policies and culture relating to LGBT tobacco, cancer prevention, and other health disparities.
By the 1990s, the culture of non-smoking shifting in more mainstream upwardly-mobile America. I really wanted to quit. And I did! ―Like 20 times. I also started doing yoga, which helped tremendously during the cessation phases. Why did I relapse repeatedly? The easy answer is the possessive power of nicotine. But also, I still hadn’t come clean about my sexual identity. Anyone who has suffered from an addiction of any kind will tell you that their drug of choice conceals the surface pain. It’s all smoke and mirrors.
As an adult, the more I did yoga, the more I was challenged to look within: I was living a lie in a man-woman marriage. Yoga ― in large part ― inspired me to come out, but coming out inspired me to put out the smokes.
How so? I was now single for the first time in ten years. And ― gay-or-straight ― anyone who has ended a long-term relationship has probably confronted the fear, Good God. I’m going to die alone. While my fear of life-long singlehood might have been off-base, the odds of contracting cancer or other life-threatening, smoking-related disease were not. After every other failed attempt, that fear is what finally compelled me to quit smoking for good.
That – and something else: I was having a lot of **fun**! There was a lot of lost time to make up for. Once I had a taste of what it was really like to live out loud, I wanted to stick around for a really long, long time.
I’ve lived a really full life. In my career, I’ve done everything from long-term union organizing in the film industry to editing a travel magazine. It’s important for me to channel my communication skills to causes I care deeply about. In recent years I’ve taught yoga and worked as a social media consultant for the Kiss for Equality campaign, which is dedicated to promoting marriage equality at a global level. I also write a blog, Yogi After Forty.
Today, my healthy lifestyle is as much a part of me as my sexual identity. It’s who I am. As HealthLink’s new social-media and project specialist, I have the honor of showing up to work every day to create and share critical messages about building an entire culture of LGBT health and wellness.
Because in 140 characters or less: It’s all about the quality in e-quality.
Julie Balter, LGBT HealthLink Social Media and Project Specialist, is a long-term project manager, yoga instructor, and published author. She also writes a blog, Yogi After Forty. Most recently she’s served as a marketing and social media consultant for the global marriage equality campaign, Kiss For Equality (aka The Supreme Kiss). Read more about Julie and the rest of the LGBT HealthLink staff team here.