It took me years to come to terms with the person I am today. It took me months to find the courage after finding myself to tell my family. It took me weeks after I returned to school to tell my closest friends. It took me hours to find the words and to rehearse how I would say them. It took minutes for me to approach my friend to tell her. It took me seconds to say, “I’m gay.”
The difficulty that surrounded what seemed to be a simple task of saying that combination of words appeared to me, years ago, as an insurmountable task, an obstacle that would never be overcome, a challenge that was greater than myself, a moment worth avoiding. I was more committed to protecting and living the life I created rather than living the life I was meant to live, because to deny myself the simple of act of existing was, without a doubt, the path that protected me from the outside world – a world that was, and still is, filled with homophobia cast under the veil of dogmatic misinterpretation and hatred fueled by ignorance, not love. As a child who grew up living in the years following the height HIV/AIDS epidemic, which had implanted in many Americans a state of perpetual fear of the unknown, I was able to see that many people still harbored that fear, that hatred, that ignorance, and only awaited a catalyst to publically express that repulsion toward gays and lesbians. Why would I willingly become that catalyst for my own disenfranchisement and public shaming in society? Why would I thrust myself upon the stage only to be ridiculed by those who hate gays? Why would I do this when living this life worked so well?
Many of us take for granted the simplest of things in our everyday lives. Most of us never know how incredible it is to walk until you become dependent upon a wheelchair. Most people never sense the beauty of sight until they can no longer see the faces of their loved ones. Most people never know how much of a luxury it is to simply live in the sense that you can awaken and go throughout the day being the very same person that eats dinner and goes to bed – without changing yourself once. A life without false pretenses to cover the truth is a life lived within the light of the truth. It is a luxury, a gift, a blessing. This was the blessing I did not have for much of the time I was growing up during my teenage years because of the resistance I experienced while in middle school. At the time I did not know what sexual orientation I was because I did not have to know – I simply was who I was. If someone had asked me what a stereotype was, more than likely I would not have been able to define the word – but I fit the mold well enough to be taunted for being gay to the point that hearing the obscenity ‘faggot’ made me (and still makes me) wince. Beyond this, there were people who harassed me and created a distinction made between my femininity and the masculinity I should have adhered to. Whoever I was and whatever I was doing with my life and with myself at that moment in time had to change if I wanted a chance at a normal life. And so I changed who I was, I created the perfect straight male who was traditional in his actions and in his words. But I did this clearly and distinctly. Before I entered high school I recall saying to myself that I will not become what they say I am — I would not become the thing that caused me so much pain. Because of the harassment I experienced, I wanted to do anything and everything to distance myself from that pain that was caused by their actions. Soon this molded lie would become a molded life that consumed and who I was. I will admit that I allowed this lie to consume me not because I wanted it to, but because it worked in allowing me to fit in with my community without feeling or being ostracized.
The years following spent within the lie can only be described by looking toward the myth of Sisyphus and his struggles in which the Greek mythological figure was punished for eternity to roll a rock atop a hill but which eternally rolled back upon himself again and again. No matter how hard I tried to make things work, no matter how hard I tried to make the mold into the fullest reality I could – all attempts were bogged down in a perpetual smog of prevailing failure. And as the years progressed I began to fail myself as a person in living the life I was meant to live because of the fact that I was not living the life I was meant to live. No human being is condemned at birth to live a life, no human being is meant to live two lives, all human beings are meant to be who they are regardless of who that may be. But in this seemingly simple notion of living, I was failing; this failure was a prevailing emotion that I was unable to discern from where it came as the years spent within the lie tallied four.
Nothing could explain why I began to act differently toward my family, my friends, and even toward myself. There was no reason for the sudden change in personality and perception of the world as I returned from my winter holiday four years after I entered the closet. Something was breaking through the surface, something which had remained dormant for many years and had gone unlabeled and unrecognized for that time. Looking back, I see that I had repressed any emotions or any thoughts, I had repressed my true identity and my true self. When psychologists discuss the effects that repression have on individuals with regard to the long-term the difficulties and dangers that surface cannot be characterized because of their weight. The depression, the anxiety, and the self-hatred merely cover the surface of what I felt during those months, which I can classify as having been the darkest moments of my youth. Not only did the depression and the helplessness seem to swallow me, but the inhibition to bring myself out of an eternal descent into darkness seemed impossible to overcome. I became engrossed in an impossible to overcome darkness that blotted the sun from the sky every day and possessed my life. There was no escaping it. There was no escaping what was happening to me at the time. But there was a reason.
I do not remember when it happened or how it happened, I only recall that it happened and emerged from the darkness an individual who knew himself as a better and fuller human being. At that moment, I privately acknowledged that I was in fact attracted to men and not women because I realized the life I created for myself in order to hide from the world who I actually was. I was born gay and I will die gay. There is nothing anybody, including myself, can do about that. Any attempts at all to mute the truth about my identity or the identity of any other people like myself will never work – the truth and love will always win. It took years for me to accept a part of me that has been with me from the very beginning, but I realized who I was at fundamental time in my life. I realized that I was gay before I truly was out in the world facing it alone – I had my friends and my family to support me, but only once I came out to them.
It was only a matter of time before I knew I would come out to my parents; this was the one thing I could not avoid and I didn’t want to avoid. The two individuals who had sacrificed so much for me and given me my own life deserved to know the truth about my sexual orientation. All through the months leading up to my telling them I did not fear their reactions to my news, I knew they would still accept me and love me for who I had always been: their only child. Looking back I am able to recall all the times my mother would ask if I like any boys or any girls; she always created an environment of acceptance and didn’t seem to disregard the notion that her son, the boy she raised from birth, may like members of the same sex. Both of them found out on the same night, and on that same night they still loved me as much – if not more – than they had before. My mother’s response to my coming out was that she had “always known” that I was gay – I am not even surprised since mothers always know. The only change in my relationship with my parents was that I could now openly joke around with them about men and I could actually be myself with my own family. But as much as I felt the love within myself and within my home for my sexual orientation, that was the limit of my expression. It had not occurred to me to come out to my friends before we left school for our summer vacation and it became easy to transition out of school and into the freedom that prevails during the vividly bright Florida summers. But as the summer came to a close and the school year approached, I realized that I could not wear my marriage equality shirt or my rainbow shirt to school because I did not want people to know the part of me that I had come to not only know but come to love over the course of those months. I began to dread school as it approached, instead of looking forward to my academics in my final year of high school I feared the possibility of my sexual orientation coming to light and the repercussions that I was certain I would face for that. It was not rejection from my peers that I feared, it was the physical and mental harassment that so many youth experience which I feared most of all.
My plan was to not come out to my friends during the course of my senior year to avoid any social drama or conflicts and wait until school let out for the final time to tell my closest friends. It seemed as if the path of least resistance was to keep my secret from my friends and simply continue on as I had for the past years of my life. However the daunting task of restraining a large part of my personality which I allowed to blossom in private over the summer months seemed more difficult as I returned to school. Rather than being in the closet both in private and in public, I was in the closet only in public but out in my private life among my family. I deeply underestimated the toll and the arduous task it took to ensure that not only I kept my secret safe, but I kept myself safe as well. There was no rationale for me to return back to the months I spent within the incongruence during which I realized who I was. There was no reason why I should continue to suffer leading a life where I applied a mask every morning to face the world. There is no reason why the young and the old should have to do this too.
I told my closest friends in a variety of ways: over text, in private conversation, by talking about another gentleman for whom my heart was fluttering – all variations on the same combination of words: I’m gay. And the most amazing thing occurred when I told those people closest to my heart. Nobody verbally harassed me. Nobody bullied me over text or social media. Nobody physically harmed me in school. Nobody did anything except give me hugs, offer their love, smile, and offer their acceptance and support. Never before in my entire life had so many people given me so much support. The stark difference between the backlash I faced in middle school and the outpouring of love I was given in high school is not only a testament to our society, but is a testament to how our world should treat all LGBT youth. When any individual reveals his or her sexual identity and/or gender identity nobody should violently react to that individual let alone impose oppressive beliefs upon that individual. It is not the place of society, religion, or the state to silence the expression of a minority who has been granted a fraction of the rights that non-LGBT people are guaranteed. And yet among my closest friends, the most religious Muslims and the most political conservatives gave me more love and more happiness during that time of immense struggle than I can capture within these words. To say that I am thankful for my friends and my family is an understatement, I truly owe them all my love and my life because they helped me survive.
I was fortunate in my experience, others have and still do experience far more than I do. There is a reason why gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth have a four times greater chance of attempting suicide than heterosexual youth. It is unacceptable for our society to continue to allow homophobia to prevail in our schools, in our government, and within the homes of every family. But to move past homophobia our nation and our world must accept the very simple fact that homophobia is a choice, homosexuality is not. If people were to accept the fact that I did not choose to experience the struggles I went through, that the numerous teens did not choose to have their depression induced to the point of suicide, then, and only then, will we be able to make serious change regarding equal rights in our society. This is the root of the problem; this is the root that we must address by spreading the ideals of acceptance and love among all peoples because if one group of people is oppressed then we all are oppressed.
I am immensely thankful for all of my family members and my friends who have helped me along this difficult journey in not only realizing who I am but have helped me to realize my place within our world. But through all the difficulties I have faced and will face in the future, I am who I am – and there is nothing I would ever do to change that.
If you are an LGBT youth and need assistance of any kind do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are contemplating suicide please call the Trevor Project lifeline at 1.866.488.7386 or text “Trevor” to 1.202.304.1200.
Tapp is an editor for The Millennial Times.