I’m From Herndon, VA.

by Michael Stratmoen

Satellite overhead image of Virginia from Google Earth 2022

My story isn’t one where I faced friends or family over my sexual orientation. It isn’t about discrimination or gay bashing. It’s about something far scarier and insidious. It’s about self-loathing and the repercussions that come from it. But it’s also about triumph.

I was raised in Herndon, Virginia, a suburb of Washington D.C. It’s a pretty liberal area, but I was raised in extremely conservative circles within Catholic Schools. I went there from kindergarten to the end of high school. There, young Catholics were told that homosexuality was sinful on the level of murder. Homosexuals were perverts who had higher rates of pedophilia and who spread disease. “Faggot” was the word of choice by young men to destroy the masculinity of other young men.

When you are thirteen in this environment, and homosexual tendencies begin to manifest themselves, it is a terrifying feeling that washes over you. I fought these feelings with vigor from the age of 13 to 20, when I was a sophomore in college. But they never went away, despite crying myself to sleep while praying to God to make me straight, many times right after looking at gay porn on my computer. The shame and guilt were overwhelming. I even thought that my father’s diagnosis and death from cancer was God’s punishment on me!

When I was 20, I realized that I’d never change, and I really began to hate myself. I started to plan my suicide. I never attempted it, but I remember deciding on pills and deciding to write a note that said, “I’d rather be dead than a Faggot.”

To be honest with you, I don’t know what happened one night in February of 2006. I think I had what alcoholics call a “moment of clarity.” I just realized that in my attempt to be the good Christian boy I was raised to be, that I had become completely socially isolated, was wracked with guilt and shame, and was now planning my own suicide. I wasn’t worth it, I thought. I said to myself right then and there that I would come out and live as a gay man, and if that didn’t work, then I could kill myself. Then I looked in a mirror, and for the first time said, “I am Gay,” and cried for hours, alone, in my dorm room. But the next morning, for the first time in my life, I woke up calm and at peace.

Things are a lot different now for me. At 23 years old, I’m in grad school and wrote a major paper on Gay and Lesbian history. I’m on a gay crew team in D.C., and will compete in the OutGames in Copenhagen this July. And I’m out, have a family and circle of friends that completely support me, all while being in a relationship with a wonderful man for the past 18 months. It wasn’t without lots of pain, personal sacrifice, loneliness, and rejection by former friends, especially in the Christian circles I used to run in and from my first few relationships, but I made it. I had to go to therapy and face a lot of demons, but I’m no longer filled with shame and I don’t hate myself anymore.

If you are filled with shame and don’t like yourself because you are gay, I want you to know that I like you, and that living life openly gay will be far better than your life is now. It’s hard, but you need to know that shame and guilt must not be associated with your sexuality. You are beautiful and you deserve to love and be loved for who you are, not who others want you to be. Love yourself.

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