I grew up knowing that I never really fit in in my hometown. I believe the first time I heard the word “fag” being used against me was when I was in 7th grade. I remember the shame and pain of that word and its association. I remember that for the next couple of years until I was a senior in high school I’d be taunted and harassed for being gay and I didn’t even know I was gay. I guess other kids are much more perceptive. School, though full of harassment, was gonna be my ticket out of there. I knew I needed good grades to get out of this small working class town. So I worked really hard and escape I did, I was accepted into a prestigious private liberal arts college where I traveled the world trying to escape who I was. I found refuge in the tropical forests of Cameroon, then to the warmth of the south of France and all across western Europe for almost two years. Always looking for something new and never confronting who I was dead on. It was easier to learn another language and culture than it was to dig deep inside and come out.
It took New York City to finally make me confront myself and to forge who I am today. It took an out lesbian to ask me at work, even before I knew her name, if I was gay and for me to just say yes before I realized it was okay. Sure I was basically out to my friends since senior year of college but not to my family or truly to myself for that matter. And now here I am living in New York, five years after graduating college, trying to be an artist which basically has meant waiting tables to a hard-to-please clientele in midtown. I’ve been out to my family for about the last three years and I’m still finding it hard to go back home. I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to bring home my “male lovers.” I was asked if there was a pill I could take to make it better because it wasn’t natural. I was asked how that might affect me getting a job if I was gay. I understand that these questions weren’t meant to be hurtful or harmful, they just never thought they’d have to experience this in their small-town upbringing, but they still sting when they come from your parents.
Now I rarely call home and I have a sense that there’s still a lingering disappointment, both professionally and personally, in their voices when we talk. I talk to a therapist on a weekly basis and I think in my quest to find myself I’ve also not done such a great job at trying to talk with them about this, to bridge the dialogue about what it means to be gay and how it’s so far from their preconceived notions. They say things like this get easier over time and I’m sure that is true. But I wish that I could heal the wounds faster and to have a life with them that my brother and sister both of whom are married share with them.