I remember the first time I realized that I wasn’t quite the same as all the other boys in my hometown. I had this best friend, who had been my best friend for years upon countless years. We did everything together, had sleepovers, subscribed to the young boys’ crazes of cartoons and Star Wars, and became addicted to video games. Then, as we approached middle school, I started to realize I was strongly drawn to him. Not in the way I thought I was drawn to girls. I was seeing my best friend in a completely new light. These feelings built within me for months, and I spent many nights wide awake, wondering what was going on with me. The small town I lived in was so sheltered and church-oriented that I didn’t really understand what “gay” meant. I just thought it was something cruel that boys called each other on the playground, and it was something to avoid at all costs. I had no inkling of the connection between my new-found emotions and the schoolyard insult.
One night, my best friend and I had a sleepover. It was the summer before we began middle school, and we were both nervous about beginning this daunting new chapter of our lives. As we watched television into the wee hours of the morning, I decided I should express what I was feeling to my friend, even if I wasn’t quite sure what it meant myself. When I did, he was just as confused as I was. He didn’t know what to think of me, and in the morning, he acted like nothing had happened.
After that, we slowly stopped hanging out with each other. By the time school started, less than two months later, it was as if we had never been friends. I was devastated by this. Absolutely lost, hurt, and confused. I vowed never to allow my strange feelings to ruin another friendship. So I powered on.
It was relatively easy at first. I had not yet started to feel sexual attraction towards anyone, let alone men, so it was easy for me to pretend to enjoy the company of the girls I spent time with. I had a myriad of little girlfriends that meant nothing to me back then, other than the status that it provided me with my peers.
By the eighth grade, however, I was hurting. There were boys in my class who I had dreams about, and men on television that I wanted to hold me. By this time I knew what being gay meant, and I was terrified. Seeing how malicious my classmates could be using the word, and how even the slightest faux pas meant you were a “fag” terrified me. What if they knew I really was one?
So I latched myself into a church. My family had never been religious before, but my sister began attending a church in high school, and I saw my chance to snuff my mutation out. That was how I viewed my sexuality; a mutation, and one that would never see the light of day.
Thankfully, after two long disheartening years of religious oppression and degradation, my parents grounded me for some silly boyhood act, and this included a ban on church attendance for my entire summer vacation leading up to my junior year. When your folks are staunch atheists, they ground you from church as well as video games. Lucky for me.
Finally free from the constraints of religion, I began spending time with some different folks. These friends would sneak out to visit me at night. My Christian buds would never defy their parents like that. I began realizing that, for me at least, Christianity was only limiting me, trying to have me conform to a person that I really wasn’t, dictating my friends, what books I could read, what music I could listen to, but most importantly, what person I could love.
I spent that last year of high school identifying myself as bisexual, but I was “way more into guys” as I told friends. If I clung to that last vestige of being attracted to women I was, in my mind, that much more socially acceptable.
After dropping out at the end of my junior year and getting my GED, I started community college three hundred miles north of San Francisco in Humboldt County. I was on my own, far from home and anyone I knew. All my insecurities came flooding back. I was a year younger than all the other graduating seniors starting college with me, and I was scared. So I became straight again, to all the friends I met at school. Inside, I knew by now that there was no question that I was gay, and personally I didn’t have an issue with that anymore. Now, it was about being alone and rejected by others instead of myself.
Finally, however, I began the slow process of coming out for real. I started in October 2008, and am proud to say that I became totally and completely out in June 2009. The last folks I told were my parents, not because I was most afraid of their response but because it wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have over the phone. They took it monumentally better than I expected. My mother cried, only because she thought for a brief second that I wouldn’t be giving her grandchildren (boy, is she wrong! I want three at least!), and my father, a manly man raised in a small Texas town to be anti-emotional and anti-affectionate, patted my hand gently and told me that he loved me because I’m his son, not because of who I want to love. This gesture meant more to me than almost anything else. I can count on one hand the number of times that man has even hugged me, let alone told me how much he loved me.
None of the friends that I thought I would lose have abandoned me. In fact, some of those that I thought would have the hardest time with me being gay are actually my biggest supporters. I have a large amount of very, very straight male friends, and I have seen how my coming out has changed them for the better. I was able to put a real face on the gay world for them, and to help them realize that we are people, too; people that they love, go to school with, party with, go on road trips with, and are best friends with. The last of my insecurities about how they felt about me went away when I met my current boyfriend. He makes me feel that nothing about me is wrong, and he’s helped erase the last of my self-loathing that my struggle brought on. And my friends love him. I never thought I would see the day when I would hear my oh-so-masculine friends calling me and my boyfriend “cute together” with no trace of mockery, but I have. I went from being so worried about these hyper-hetero guys rejecting and mocking my sexuality to openly kissing and holding my man around them and they couldn’t be happier for me.
There is a huge burden off my shoulders now, and I still smile when I think about the fact that I am living true to myself now. I couldn’t know how much of myself was subdued and beaten down by my self-esteem until I finally let it all out and began fixing the hurts of my past and paving the way for my future.