One of the hardest things to do in this world is to tell the truth. When you grow up feeling alienated from those around you, it can feel like what you have to say doesn’t matter. In actuality, to many of those people, it doesn’t. They don’t care about you, your feelings, or your opinions -but it’s not always out of spite. Humans have a way of getting wrapped up in their own story in a way that doesn’t often leave room for yours. The problem is, you’re left alone in your head knowing that what you have to say needs to be said even though it might upset some, it might even hurt them. So for many years you remain silent. However, your experiences are your truth. Chances are if you’ve been led to think that no one will believe you if you tell your story, it’s a story worth telling.
This is mine.
I have always known I was gay. I grew up with a lesbian aunt and an uncle who was gay too. However, I was 3 years old when my uncle died at the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1994 and I didn’t see my aunt very much either. It never occurred to me, though, that anything was different about them. No one said anything to lead me to believe anything otherwise and my mom, whom took care of my uncle while he passed away, never shied away from the word “gay.” The problem was I didn’t understand the context of what the word meant.
It wasn’t until I was home alone sick though (many years later) when I heard a news anchor on TV refer to two men as “gay” that my 4th grade brain finally put two-and-two together. I laid on my bed and thought “Oh… that’s me. That word describes what I feel. Ok.” That was it. Unfortunately, I learned soon after that there were negative connotations to this word.
My friends were bullying me for the sound of my voice. Kids of all ages bullied me because most of the friends I believed I had back then were girls. Around the age of my little self-realization, the word “gay” became an insult. Something you hurled at someone you wanted to inflict pain on. This “gay” thing made you weird, strange and different. People were also getting hurt if you were suspected of being it. It was confusing because some people seemed very accepting of gay people and others vehemently hated them. Was being gay bad or good? I never received a clear answer. I just knew I needed to make sure no one found out their insults and bullying tactics were correct when it came to me. If I came out then certainly, my entire world would be destroyed.
As I grew up in the subsequent years following 9/11, I realized how polarized my family was in their beliefs. Half of them conservative, Proud-to-Be-American types who loved hunting, fishing, and guns. The other half of my family was liberal, embracing of changing times whilst being critical of guns, the government, and favored something called “domestic partnerships.” My father belonged to the conservative side and my mother was a free-spirited liberal (or “hated all politics” as was common to say back then.)
Throughout middle school and the beginning of high school I realized everyone had a point of view! I remember my mother crying in the hallway after George W. Bush was re-elected fearing that my aunt could never get married. My dad constantly asked if I was interested in religion and learning more about God. My friends began to firmly plant their feet down on certain political topics I didn’t understand. My siblings, all older than me, fell on both sides of the aisle too and frequently assumed I believed what they believed. Everyone told me how they felt about everything. The only person’s opinion I never heard was my own.
Freshman year in 2006, I finally got the opportunity to visit my friends in Japan with my mom. A place I had only dreamed of going, I felt right at home the moment we got off the plane. My friend and his family became my host family, flipping the script on what I knew always being the host family back in the USA. We visited places like the shopping district in Harajuku and Asakusa with the big Red Lantern leading to an ancient temple. I participated at another friend from the International Program’s school festival led by all of the student clubs. I walked the streets of Saitama, Akihabara the Electric City, and even Tokyo Disneysea for its 5th anniversary! I specifically remember going to the Edo-Tokyo Museum too, learning more about the history of how Japan’s capitol city came to be -this time by experiencing it first hand. My host father told me to pay close attention because there would be a quiz afterward (a promise he promptly fulfilled that night before I went to bed.)
The trip culminated in an International Program reunion featuring students from almost all of the previous 20 years. I was in my favorite city with the people who felt like family to me. I wrote songs with my host brother and visited the Pokemon Center in Japan (buying the new games several months before they’d arrive on US shores) feeling cautious but magical. I felt like I had space to hear my own thoughts. Maybe it was the 5.0 earthquake that shook the home I was staying in or maybe an earthquake occurred within me, but either way for the first time I had a strong opinion of my own about my life.
It took over a year later but I began coming out. It was sophomore year, beginning with my best friend at the time and then my mother (both of which had long assumed being gay was my truth.) It was terrifying and liberating. My mom cried because it brought back all her fears from losing her brother, but she was supportive. My best friend got very serious when I told them and they swore not to breathe a word to anyone, (a promise they kept even after the world found out.) Eventually the word got around without me saying anything! To this day, I have only ever come out, myself, three times because most people just assumed I was or didn’t care either way.
Public opinion was also changing. Lady Gaga ruled the airwaves and gay marriage was slowly being legalized state-by-state. I remember in Government class we did a mock legislative meeting where each student had to present a bill that would be voted on by the class. Of course, I chose gay marriage and aside from two people due to religious reasons, my “bill” passed by landslide.
Other kids were out at this time in school too. Most of the student population actually favored gay rights and would have participated more in my school’s day of silence if the Gay-Straight Alliance club president had done a better job telling people what day it actually was. My high school wasn’t perfect and coming of age in that environment was definitely a privilege, but things were changing, which I appreciated. I, myself was changing. The only person who didn’t know how to deal with that was my Dad.
I did not come out to my father by choice. My dad was accepting of gay people, but having a gay son was much more of a complicated issue internally for him. After finding a picture of me and another boy I may or may not have been secretly seeing at the time, he cried very hard like a river becoming a flood, then an ocean. We sat there in the living room in silence as he fought back tears. I felt like I had committed the worst crime a person could commit. He tried comforting me in the best way he could, but I knew he was wrestling against his beliefs and his reality behind the emerald eyes I also inherited. Even though we lived in the same house, after that day, my dad receded into his work and barely spoke to me again for three years. There were many other factors to this as I would learn later (the recession hit our family hard and we nearly lost everything at one point, never fully recovering) but the guilt stuck with me.
However, it wasn’t the only guilt I was harboring. Something was eating me from the inside. Something was wrong and something was worse. The boy I was seeing disguised himself as kind and beautiful like a perfectly wrapped Christmas present… but this was a manipulation. “He didn’t mean to,” I’d tell myself, “it was just one time.”
It wasn’t. It was never just one time.
He wanted me to keep quiet and because I was seeing my truth destroy the world that I knew, I followed suit willingly. I wanted love like any teenager does, but this wasn’t love. This was different and I knew it. Somewhere deep down inside, I understood what was happening to me in secret wasn’t normal but I pretended I was ok because simply being gay and in a relationship was collapsing everything. The songs I wrote took on stronger emotions about freedom and anger. I didn’t consciously understand why though.
It was May of 2010. I was 18 and a word kept cropping up in my mind over and over again. Little did I know how many personal meanings this word would go on to have for me as I began to open my eyes to the ways I was being treated by people.
It was time to rewrite history. It was time for moving on.
It was time for Graduation.
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