Maybe I shouldn’t complain about any of my experiences. Thats the instinctual thought that first crosses my mind sitting down to write this. I’m an out 18-year-old living in an affluent liberal suburb in a very “blue” state, and I have never (okay, extremely rarely) worried for my physical safety. How is my story powerful enough to learn from?
I haven’t suffered like many have and do, it doesn’t seem right to be frustrated with my experiences. Then I look and see that there are probably others in my situation, and that I’m closeting myself in a way by pretending like I’ve had it easy – because I haven’t.
I don’t have horror stories of being bulled incessantly – though I’ve received my fair share of hate mail. I don’t have awful memories of fights – though I’ve had cowards throw things at me from cars shouting “fag” as they drive away.
I struggle more with respect and acceptance. While this may seem insignificant, my struggle for acceptance still hurt quite a bit – doing damage in a tangible, physical way.
I have ended up the modern social leper.
I came out my freshman year of high school (mid-2000s), perhaps earlier than I should have, but at the time I had grown so sick of lying and pretending that I told myself it would just be less exhausting for me to get it over with. Looking back I see I should have thought out more clearly what I was about to do, but hindsight always seems to work that way. I also know now that there’s really no good, comfortable time to come out, so I don’t regret doing it when I did.
I lost many friends as a result of coming out. Some immediately, some more over time. I expected some of this, however, it’s like being stung by a bee. We all ponder the pain as we see the bee approaching, but it still comes as a surprisingly painful shock when the stinger sinks in. And while you may be better off without friends who don’t accept you, it doesn’t make losing them less painful, especially if you had good times with them.
I don’t have very deep friendships with many guys now 4 years later. I can’t have many sleep overs as most guys are too uncomfortable, and I’m still very much an average guy; enough so that it would be weird to have a sleep over with some girls (and not all parents go for that either). Not that there aren’t exceptions, but definitely one of the hits to my social life.
I have some great close relationships with girls, but I’m still very much a stereotypical guy. I’m not very into clothes or shopping, I enjoy being outdoors, I’m for lack of a better phrase: very manly. Most people suspect nothing when they meet me.
One of the more difficult things has definitely been the loneliness. I have fewer friends, but most of them are strong friendships. But they have other lives too, other relationships and I go through periods more isolated than I would like to be. I know a lot of people go through that in high school, but it’s more frustrating when it’s prejudice.
Easily the most difficult thing has been speaking up for myself, because inevitably when I have called someone out for something (either gently or more indignant) it has come back to haunt me. I’ve gotten to the point where I believe that people have to learn, but I don’t feel the need to teach them. I don’t attend rallies or go to GSA meetings, but I don’t like being pushed around either.
Everything is gay at my school. I can’t walk between classes during a day without hearing “what a fag,” or “that’s so gay” or some other derogatory remark or joke. Most jokes are more ‘blond joke-esque,’ which I find annoying, but don’t lose sleep over.
However many are not so harmless. Many attack simple gay existence, over-simplifying us in cruel ways akin to racist blackface humor. Make no doubt, we can excuse them any way we like – as I used to. We can tell ourselves that they don’t understand, they don’t mean it, that the world is not separated out into Westboro Baptist Church members and allies, but treating homosexuality like it’s degrading, even in jest. You honestly can’t come up with better material? Pathetic, and yes it is homophobic to say “that’s so gay” because in the context they’re really saying it’s stupid, it’s gross, it’s wrong. It shows an inherent deeper lack of respect. I find it impossible to be friends with people that say it, which unfortunately drastically limits my options at my school.
In my worst experience with this, I told a guy off for being a part of a really crude, really cruel homophobic group on Facebook he and his friends frequently posted in. I told him if he was going to be like that and let his friends be like that I wanted nothing to do with him. We were moderately friendly, and he kept trying to be better friends. I didn’t want to be friends with someone who thought so little of ‘my kind.’
I received a ton of backlash for telling him to leave me alone. Hate mail on Honesty Box on Facebook, notes shoved in my locker and backpack. People I didn’t even know started being cold to me, people unfriended me on Facebook, other people gossiped about me and spread vicious rumors that I liked him. I was somewhat naive, I didn’t realize just how many people didn’t accept me.
I let the stress and pressure get to me, and it manifested itself in an eating disorder. I ate when I was angry, I ate when I was hurting, I ate to try to stay happy. In about 8-14 months I gained 70 lbs. It was horrifically embarrassing, but I couldn’t stop.
It took me a while, but I eventually pulled myself out of it. With the summer and fall, in just 6 months I worked off every single pound I had gained, and got myself in prime physical shape. I now have healthier ways I deal with the stress, and things have settled down since that incident socially, but it’s still not easy.
I go to a party of 250 people where my classmates all have the opportunity to dance and hookup, and I have to find a way to just dance and have a good time alone. I’ve had a few boyfriends, but no one in my town.
It’s a very alienating feeling when you’ve grown up around a few hundred guys in a small town for the past 12 years and not a single one is even capable of reciprocating any feelings or desires. I sometimes think of myself as the permanently displaced foreign exchange student. While I may know the language, the differences make certain conversations and events awkward and frustrating.
I had a great time at my prom, but as hundreds of parents saw me walk in with a guy in tow, I felt too many stares and double takes, all reminding me that I continue to stick out like a guy wearing a Yankees uniform into an Irish pub in Boston. I just wanted to have fun, not be the center of attention. However my team, this team, is hardly the home favorite.
But it does get better, it has for me. It’s taken a special strength of character to stay out, but for me it’s about living my life, being who I am, and being proud of myself. I owe myself that, we all owe that to ourselves.
We gain very little by staying in the closet, temporary comfort and acceptance, but we lose everything. We take on a back-breaking burden by oppressing ourselves, and we live in illusion. Sometimes being out and open can break your back too, I won’t sugar coat that. But we gain so much more by living our lives honestly, and even when it’s lonely, it’s a happier, prouder lonely. And if my back breaks, that openness is where I can draw strength from to heal and go on. Being in the closet we fail to acknowledge all the pain, we bury our injuries beneath our pile of shoes, because we fail to truly accept and acknowledge ourselves. And it’s much harder to heal if you get hurt.
So when you feel safe and the time feels right, take that leap. It’s like skydiving. It’s terrifying, it defies our nature, there is no turning back, but the world seems so much more beautiful and exhilarating as you soar down. And good people will surprise you, they’ll help you break the fall and deploy the chute on the way down.