On Being a (Former) Second-Class Citizen
I wanted to write this to share my experiences with the hope that it may help others understand what it was like growing up in a straight society. For anyone who may have undergone similar experiences, I hope this can help you. It truly does get better.
Like most kids, I was raised in the mindset to grow up, get married to a nice girl, have kids, etc. This was no fault of my parents. They have always been incredibly supportive of me in everything that I do and I could not be more grateful or love them more. This is how they were likely raised and how society is structured.
I have memories of being different from the other kids in my class as young as 5 or 6. At the time, I had no idea what “being gay” was or that it even was a thing. I remember thinking from very early on that the stereotypical picture-perfect life (wife, kids, dog) was a life that I would never have. Call it gut instinct or whatever you want, I always knew it wasn’t for me. The thought of marrying a woman seemed strange. I knew other people did it, but why did I have to? So much pressure to follow this norm is put on kids from such a young age rather than letting them decide naturally.
I first heard the term “gay” and learned the meaning by the time I was middle school aged. It wasn’t until this time that I started to think that it was bad to be gay and if others thought you were, sucks to be you. So of course, the other kids in my class eventually caught on I was different, and being middle-school kids tormented by the overflow of hormones coursing through their veins, they asked me the dreaded question: Are you GAY??
It was all very confusing for me. I had been attracted to guys over girls for as long as I can remember. Once the dreaded question came about though I managed to convince myself (for entirely too long) that I was obviously straight and it was normal to be curious. How could I know for sure? I never dated a girl. It probably just comes later on. I’m fine.
I was spit on once; another time I came to my locker to find FAG written in sharpie. I was always on high alert to make sure I was acting as straight as possible.
Fast forward through high school. The dreaded question never ceases. I continued to affirm my straightness. I was pushed so deep in the closet that I thought I was straight, but my classmates still thought otherwise. I don’t want to paint the impression that my entire middle school and high school life was a miserable experience because I have many wonderful memories with friends I still am close to today. But the ignorance of kids raised in ignorant families can be cruel. I was spit on once; another time I came to my locker to find FAG written in sharpie. I was always on high alert to make sure I was acting as straight as possible to quell any suspicions. Graduation could not come fast enough.
I actually dated a girl in college for a few months. Yes, the closet is a dark and confusing place. It’s disorienting and there was no sign of escape yet. The dreaded question followed me to college, but not in a negative way. The atmosphere there was infinitely more accepting. I met this girl in one of my chemistry classes. She was so kind and pretty, and in a classically beautiful sort of way, had strawberry blonde hair. If anyone could have convinced me I was straight, it would have been her. The first time she kissed me on the cheek was when the closet I had been trapped in for the last 20 years started to crumble. I immediately felt horrible, asking myself “What have I done?” Shortly after this I started to realize that I could never marry her, or any other girl for that matter. I still couldn’t bring myself to say I was gay. Not yet.
A few more weeks pass and finally the closet door swings open (I was 21). I was with friends watching a movie at a theater on campus when the flood of enlightenment washed over me, and my instant response was “Well shit. Now what?” It was like being hit by a bus. The first person I ever told was my best friend and roommate at Edinboro and it was the hardest thing I ever had to say. I couldn’t even say it out loud at first. I had to draw a picture and try to make him guess what I was saying. I was terrified beyond reason because I knew what could happen to some people after coming out. Afterwards, I promised myself I would not tell anyone else until I told the girl I had been dating. Long story short, it was an awkward conversation, but she was very understanding and kind just as she always was. She is married now.
From this point on I was a different person. I slowly started to come out to friends and family and they were all so supportive of me. My fears of losing everyone and everything were all in my head (Thank God) and I had nothing to worry about. I became closer with people because I could finally be myself and the wall was gone.
Once I told my initial group of friends and immediate family I decided to tell people as the subject came up. I have never explicitly told my extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents) because it never came up, even though I am sure they know. This has been a stubborn point with me over the years and I realize now that I was wrong. My philosophy was to never deny or hide it, but not to bring it up unless it was brought up. My reasoning was that straight people never had to explain themselves to me, so why should I have to? As I said before, the closet is a dark and confusing place, and I think this was its remaining finger clutching to me.
So let this serve as a means to inform any family whom I have never told, for whatever reason, that I am gay.
I have no fear.
I will not let anyone hold me back.
And I love you all.
On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court overturned the marriage ban and announced that everyone has the freedom to marry in the U.S. I was at work when I heard the news and had to step away to compose myself. I have watched countless movies where the ending is a “happily ever after,” meaning the guy gets the girl, gets married, has kids, etc. Those endings were never happy for me since they only reminded me of something I may never have, but not anymore. When I got home the reality of it all finally sunk in. I was a bawling mess because I was so happy to finally be considered an equal. I am no longer a second-class citizen.
It really does get better and I truly believe it will only get better from here. When you go out into the world, spread love, not hate. Spread laughter, not judgment. And most of all, just because you may not share the same beliefs as another human being, this does not mean you cannot love them unconditionally. We are all one.