From Anderson Cooper to Heartstopper, Gay Man Learns the Value of Living for Himself.

by Kevin Bentley

I think the benefits of living authentically is that I’m able to be me and to get to know me better.

My name is Kevin Bentley, and I’m from Baltimore, Maryland.

When I was 17, my brother came out as bisexual. He put it out there and was just, “This is it. No room for discussion.” And my mom, both my parents, but mainly my mom were just okay with it.

And fast forward; I’m in college at Swarthmore. I know that I like guys, but I mainly just stick to dating women or not dating anyone at all. I realized also that I wasn’t completely ready to come out to my mom because I think that I didn’t want to disappoint her or appease her – I wanted to appease her, or I didn’t want it to be another difficult conversation.

Then when I graduate, I’ve been in some serious relationships. And at this point in my life, I was in a serious relationship. And I made a promise to myself and to God that if my parents ever asked me outright, I wouldn’t lie and I wouldn’t hide.

At this point, I’m living in Philly. My mom calls me. I’m outside of the Barnes & Noble in Rittenhouse Square, which is the main square in Philadelphia. And she calls me, and she says, “Have you heard?”

And I’m, “What?”

And she’s, “Anderson Cooper just came out as gay.”

And I say, “Oh, mommy. Everyone already knows. That’s an open secret.” And at that point, she pauses.

And then she ask, “Well, are you gay?” I had said that I would always tell her if she had asked outright.

First, I said, “I don’t think we should talk about this over the phone. Maybe we should talk about it at a later time.”

And then she asks again, same question, “Are you gay?”

And I say, “Yes, I am.”

Then she asks, “Well, are you dating anyone?”

And I said, “Yes, I am.” And I told her his name. I cut the conversation short because I was uncomfortable.

It took a lot of processing in a way. And not in such an immediately what you would think a negative way. I think that she cared a lot about protecting me, protecting me as a Black man. The world was already hard enough, so why be gay or queer or anything else? But over time, she loved and accepted me for me.

My relationship with my father was one that was filled with anger and resentment to him because he came in and out of our lives. There was no need for me to tell him that I was out. No urgency whatsoever.

So, fast forward to 2021, 8 years later after I came out to my mom. I’m talking to my dad. And at this time, I have moved to Harlem. I’m living with now my partner, we’re just catching up.

And he asks me, “Oh, I heard you moved from Brooklyn to Harlem.”

And I say, “Yes.”  And I lived with another family friend for four years.

And so he asks, “Oh, are you and Daniel still living together? Why did y’all move to Harlem?”

And I say, “No. Actually, we’re no longer living together. I moved in with my boyfriend.”

And he was, “Oh, I always knew.” He just really said, “I wanted for you to wait to tell me” and that he loved me. And he asked about Kurt, my boyfriend.

But it was so different from my mom where you feel like it would be the opposite because I’m obviously super close with my mom. And with my dad, it’s always stop and go, that he was the one that basically was, “I love you no matter what. I always knew.” And he was happy for me. My mom was definitely happy for me, but I think she just was obviously concerned for me.

Fast forward to Netflix’s groundbreaking phenomenon, The Heartstopper, that I’m sure at this point, everyone is talking about. I watch Heartstopper for the first time, and I truly love it because it’s seeing young people fall in love and wishing something that I had. The main character, Charlie, has a great relationship with his dad where he’s always protecting him and looking out for him. Watching Heartstopper, I cried. Not cried throughout the entire time, but there are just very poignant moments between the two main characters and their parents. I wish that I had just been brave enough to come out to my parents and not project or think about how they were going to react, in a way, to me. I wish I had just jumped all the way in when I knew and had it and for us to maybe even work it out together. Because maybe my parents would’ve surprised me.

I think the benefits of living authentically is that I’m able to be me and to get to know me better. And I think that that has led for me to be in healthy relationships with everyone; with romantic partners, with friends, with family, with myself.

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