"I want to be a girl". This is what I wrote in my diary at the tender age of ten. I couldn't figure out how a boy like me could fit in a world with the other boys I knew. I was different than them in so many ways. They liked sports, I liked dancing. They liked video games, I liked Barbies. They liked fighting each other, I liked braiding each other's hair. Our differences made it impossible for me to relate to them, and subsequently to my own gender.
When I realized that these differences made other people look at me differently, and even negatively, I did everything I could to hide those differences from the world. Suppressed those interests that made me who I was. Dancing became less expressive, Barbies became a secret vice, and hair braiding became something I only did in front of my trusted allies.
When sexuality joined the formula I became even more acutely aware of just how different I was, and according to the scripture of my family's religion, just how sinful my secret desires were. It now became not only important to hide my differences because of other's opinions, but also to prevent the eternal damnation of my soul. I thought to myself, I like girls in so many ways, I can pretend to like them in this way too. It would be just like playing house, a game where I often volunteered to play the father.
I pretended so much that I built a character out of it. His name was straight Jeremiah. I created the way he talked, the way he walked, the thoughts he shared with others, and the space he took up in the world. I put so much work into living in his shoes that I began to blur the moments I was being him, and the moments I was being me. It was so much easier being straight Jeremiah, or so I thought.
Straight Jeremiah had friends, a safely living in the conservative world of West Virginia, and a family and who loved and accepted him. He had all the things I was uncertain I could maintain by myself.
I wish I could go back in time and tell that little gay boy that it is ok to be yourself. Tell him that he is not alone and that he doesn't need to pretend in order to fit in. I'm not sure how open he would be to taking that advice, but I still wish I could give it.
Recently I was watching the newest season of Grace and Frankie on Netflix, which is great and you should watch it right away! This scene came on where one of the characters, who was married for years to a woman and is now married to a man, gets embarrassed when his new gay friends find out about his former life as a straight man. I had such a strong connection to that scene. I have felt that exact feeling of embarrassment so many times since coming out four years ago.
I feel such shame every time someone finds out about my life lived in the closet and gives me that response of, "really?!" The feeling is surprisingly even more shameful when another gay person finds out. It's like my gay card is being instantly taken away. The shame and guilt of that discovery has always baffled me.
Part of that feeling, I believe, is jealousy. I see these young members of the LGBTQ community living their lives open and free, and I wish I was brave enough to have been that open at their age. I also feel this sense of anger towards myself. Why wasn't I able to be that brave? I think of all the feelings I could have spared with my lifetime of lies. I think of all the friends I could have been closer to if only I was able to share myself fully with them.
Those feelings still sneak up on me four years after coming out, and four years of learning to love myself. When I see friends from high school or college, I get this feeling like I have to reintroduce myself. Even though we shared many moments of authenticity, it feels like everything was a lie. I know that my sexuality doesn't define who I am, but for some strange reason I still feel like a different person around them.
Maybe that need to reintroduce yourself to friends of the past is just part of life. As we grow and experience new things away from each other, we become different people. The guilt that comes with that reintroduction is what really confuses me. My family and friends were nothing but wonderful to me when I decided to come out at 25. They gave me words of love and encouragement and made me feel the biggest feeling of relief. I realized that I hadn't given many of them the credit they deserved, and it changed the negative views I had on many of their religious and social opinions.
They only negative response I got was from, ironically, the person I was most nervous to talk to. I dated her for over four years. She was my best friend, my partner in crime, and the person I loved the most.
We met when I was 18 years old. I remember thinking that she was the most alluring person I had ever met. She had this infectious personality, and this contagious hunger for life. I knew I had to be in her life, in her orbit. We started hanging out as friends, and never had a dull moment. My desire to be around her grew every time I was in her orbit. She was everything I wanted to be; adventures, unapologetic, tough, loved, self-aware, and happy. I knew to stay in her orbit I needed to be as close to her as possible.
The closest possible relationship, in my eighteen year old eyes, was that of lovers. Lovers that stories are written about, and songs are inspired by. I thought this was my chance to be in that type of love story, and to be in love with someone the world could accept as my lover.
As the years went on, and our relationship grew stronger, I fell in love, despite my childhood desires. This love was real. It was everything I read about and hoped for. It was more than enough, until it wasn't. I don't know exactly when it wasn't enough for me anymore, all I know is it become harder and harder to pretend it was.
I was flooded by feelings. Feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, anger, confusion. What happened? Why wasn't this enough anymore? Why did I do this in the first place? How could I hurt someone I loved so much? How do I get out of this? These questions haunted my every thought. The only solution seemed to be to end my life. That was the only way to get out this situation without hurting the people I loved. I knew I couldn't continue with this relationship. I knew it was unfair to her. She deserved the love from those stories, and I couldn't give that to her.
We broke up and I moved to the other side of the country. I moved to escape the shame I was feeling. I moved in hopes she could begin a new chapter of her life without me in it. I spent a year in a tiny apartment hating myself. Drinking too much alcohol, smoking too many cigarettes, caring too little about my body. I was still in daily contact with my ex, even as she was dating someone new. I had random sex with strangers, not caring who they were, or what the repercussions could be. They offered me a moment, even if only for a few minutes, of feeing wanted and loved. I hated myself and the lies I told so much that I didn't care what happened to me.
It wasn't until I saw this video online of a gay couple, aswering questions in something called "the boyfriend tag", that my thoughts began to shift. I watched their videos over and over again. They seemed so happy. They seemed so accepted. They seemed so in love. It was then that my views on the stories written about love got a new perspective.
Months went by of me coming home and not going down a spiral of bad choices, but instead watching videos of gay couples being in love. I kept thinking, "I want that!" I wanted that love, but thought there was no way that was a possibility for me. I would have to admit to all my lies and lose the loved ones I had lied to for so long, something I wasn't willing to do.
Then, one lonley night in my tiny apartment I stubbled upon a documentary on Netflix. It was called Bridegroom, and it followed the story of a gay couple in Los Angeles. Two young gay men from small towns trying to accept their self-forbidden love for each other. They struggled with revealing there feelings with those they loved the most. Their story is one of love and tragic loss. Even in the sadness of their story a desire to love and be loved, or at least the possibility of that, grabbed on to me tightly.
I wanted the chance to have that kind of love before I died. The kind of love where you don't have to hide anything. I knew before I could find that love I had to be honest with myself, and with those closest to me.
I bought a plane plane ticket to come home to West Virginia for thanksgiving. I had planned for this visit to be my "coming out tour." I had planned out and practiced all the speeches and who I was going to give them to. The only speech I was having trouble with was that of the girl I once loved, and it many ways still did.
I knew I owed it to her to tell her face to face. To stand up and take whatever "punishment" she had to give. I called her to set up a time we could see each other. She was still hurt by my confession a few weeks before, where I told her that I was not in love with her like I was before and never would be again. Harsh words, but looking back I realize that was my attempt at laying the groundwork for what was to be the real confession. She told me she didn't want to see my while I was home, and I didn't try again after that first rejection.
Honestly, it was a relief. She didn't want to see me, so it wasn't my fault that I couldn't tell her in person. It took the blame off of me. I knew it was a cowards way out but I allowed byself to take it. Instead I wrote a letter. A letter explaining why I lied her for so many years, and reassuring her that my feelings weren't every forced or built on a lie. Sentiments I now feel were selfish.
It is true I fell in love with a person, not with their gender, but the relationship was still built on a lie. A lie that perpetuated throughout our relationship.
I visited her family, who were like my second family, for what I knew may very well be the last time. I didn't want to come out to them before she had the chance to read the letter. I gave her sister the letter in a sealed envelope hoping her curiosity wouldn't tempt her to get a sneak peek of its contents. I received news from her sister via text in the next few days. She told me her sister read the letter and wasn't ready to respond. I knew she would never see me in the same way, and I knew I didn't deserve a response. That response did come a week later, and it was not one of well wishes. I don't know if we will speak again, but I do know I will always hold the moments we shared in a very special place in my heart.
After returning from my coming out tour I felt renewed. Like I was myself for the first time in my life. I was so excited about what the future held, and scared shitless. I knew I did the right thing for myself.
I look back on my coming out experience and my self preservation as a young boy and I can't help but notice the similarities. The choices I made were for other people. For other people to feel comfortable. I never stopped to think about myself. Yes, many of my choices were selfish in that I made them to not get hurt, but I still didn't make them with my happiness in the forefront. I thought of ways I could experience the least amount of pain while making others happy.
From where I stand today I don't see the selfishness in that. I see the selfless desire to please. I will always feel a certain amount of guilt for the people I have hurt in my goal of self preservation, and my desire for love, but I will also always feel proud that I was able to come out of the closet. A closet which I buried myself in, so deep, that I couldn't see any light on the other side.
Not everything on the other side is unicorns and rainbows, although those are synonymous with the gays. I still struggle with feeling rejected and unwanted at times. Even through those struggles I feel this sense of ease. There is a feeling of possibility. With that possibility life has become so much more beautiful and exciting. This gayby's journey to a self accepting gay man wasn't easy, but what amazing things in life ever are?
Thanks for reading. Make good choices, and be safe with your bodies.