Los Angeles, California is a city who has garnered many nicknames since its inception in the 1840s: Hollywoodland, City of Stars, La La Land, The Big Orange, City of Flowers and Sunshine, The Entertainment Capital of the World, Tinseltown, and many more. The most fitting name, in my opinion, is The City of Angels. Not only is this nickname the origin of the actual city's name, but it is an accurate representation of my observations of the unique inhabitants of this coastal gem.
As I was getting ready to move to Los Angeles about 5 years ago I got some advice from my Grandfather. He traveled the world as a memeber of the United States Air Force and one of his stops was California. "California...", he said with a sour taste and a West Virginia southern twang, "...that's the land of fruits and nuts, and they call it that for a reason."
"Great! I'll fit right in!", I said with chipper irony.
New York City was always my dream city to live in, but I used this chance to move with friend to Los Angeles as an opportunity to escape my 22 years of mediocrity in West Virginia. I knew it wasn't going to be my dream city but I also knew it was a city where dreams came true. Frankly, I was ready to start living some of those dreams.
Besides my grandfather's thoughtful remarks, I had also heard a great deal of other negative attitudes towards California, and Los Angeles in particular.
"It's a city FULL of narcissists!"
"People in LA only care about becoming famous!"
"Everyone in California are dumb surfing bros!"
"Hollywood is a town that will pay a million dollars for your body, and a penny for your soul"...It was true in her case : /
"If you move there you will become obsssed with being in the entertainment industry, and won't care about your family."
These ideas crept into my mind and placed a veil of disdain over a city I had never even seen.
My initial observations of the people of Los Angeles where all over the map. They were contradicting in almost every way. I had never met people so friendly, in West Virginia you don't say hello to people you see on the streets, even though you know almost all of them. Simultaneously people seemed tough and scary here. The people seemed happier as a collective whole, unlike the sullen folks of appalachia. At the same time I saw people struggling to survive in a city that was unforgiving in it's privation.
My first year in LA was rough by any standards; I worked four jobs at once, I lived in the middle of nowhere, my car fell apart, and I struggled like I never had before. Even through these tough moments I had this feeling of excitement. I was finally in a city where things were happeneing. I saw celebrities almost daily, I met cool people from all over the world, I took in landscapes that I had only seen on postcards...it was all worth the struggle, for a while anyway.
After that first year things got easier, but that veil of Los Angeles disdain was still floating in the background of my mind. It wasn't until I actually had time to sit and think about my surroundings, after finally being able to afford to live with only two jobs, that I began to question my life as a Californian.
Im not sure exactly what sparked my desire to get out of LA, but I know many factors came in to play. First was that I felt like my dreams were unobtainable and unrealistic, for the first time in my life. Every other person I met wanted to do the same thing as me, and there was no way I could ever be better than them. I began to get disgusted with the word "Actor", and wanted nothing to do with that title. All of the things I loved about being an actor felt dirtier on the west coast. Since this is the land of entertainment and I no longer wanted to be associated with that business, not that I ever really was, I began to think this city was not for me.
Secondly, I started to find my friendships were lacking in any depth. It felt like my friendships were made up of Instagram likes and VIP booths. I missed those simpler connections I had shared in my small town life. Although I admittedly felt strongly connected to some people who I felt had admirable qualities I was drawn to, I also found it increasingly more difficult for me to watch them live out their dreams. I felt jealous, not only because they were working hard to fulfill those dreams, but also because they hadn't become jaded. Jaded, like I was realizing I had become.
Finally, the dating scene in LA was beginning to make me feel more and more unworthy of love. The only men who seemed to be attracted to me were possible serial killers or men Narnia deep the gay closet. Everytime I felt like I could have feelings for someone, those feelings were immediately met with stalker like behavior, or even worse...ghosting. I felt I could never be happy with the men LA was offering. I didn't feel successful enough to date anyone of substance, and I didn't feel attractive enough to date anyone who was available. In this la la land where 85% of the gay community could model for Calvin Klein and 75% of them are as successful as Calvin Klein I felt like finding my equal was damn near impossible.
I moved to Austin, Texas to have what I was calling a "trial run" at a life I thought would better fit my newly found desires. Working a job that had nothing to do with acting, and getting back to relationships were people didn't live there lives only for their dreams of stardom.
I had a lot of fun in Austin, and met a lot of amazing people, but I was disappointed to realize that those problems followed me to a different time zone. I still had this feeling of sadness and regret for not living out my dreams, even when I wasn't around millions of people trying to accomplish the same dream. Also, my dating life was at an all time low. I realized that my stressors in life weren't connected to a city, but part of me. Moving wasn't going to fix anything, and I began to miss the perfect weather and excitement of Los Angeles.
I semi-reluctantly headed back west, trying to forget the reasons I left to begin with. After a short speed bump of a transition things fell back into place. The friendships I once considered shallow seemed deeper then ever. The industry I considered gross was more magical then it had ever been. The men who seemed impossible to find happiness with became attractive in a way I never noticed. Los Angeles felt like the home I have always wanted.
I began to explore the city in a way I never did before. I opened myself up to the many eclectic experiences Los Angeles has to offer. Since moving back I have been surprised by this town more each day.
This shift in my views became even stronger in this recent election. The name of sanctuary city took up a whole new meaning in my head. I became aware of the passion for humanity, and the feeling of togetherness that the community of Los Angeles has.
Attending the Women's March here in LA, was a cherry on top of the coming home sundae. I got to observe a group of diverse humans who cared, not just about their experience in the world, but the freedom granted to everyone. I was so privileged to witness the unity of the residents of a town that I previously thought to be a group of people who worried about only their individual successes. People came out in record breaking numbers, to show how deep this city feels for all of its inhabitants. They came out with messages of strength and love, not with fear or hate in their hearts.
I felt proud to be a member of the large LA community, and to be a Californian. I felt a pride in my city that I had never felt before. Even in the aftermath of that march I still feel this pride. I see people everyday expressing messages of love and acceptance. I see the leaders we as a community are electing. Leaders who are fighting and will continue to fight for equality and justice. I see the hope in the people of LA, hope that our fight will make a difference.
I am aware this city is nowhere near perfect. We have a tremendous problem with homelessness and gang related crimes. We are covered in smog with the endless traffic daily slowing down our city. We are struck by a drought and the perpetual worry of earthquakes. Taxes are high and living expenses are even higher. I still meet those people who only care about becoming famous and talking to the people who can better their career. I still feel that jaded veil creeping over my new vision of this city. We have so many obstacles to overcome in this city which is growing rapidly in both population and problems, but we have so many people who are ready and eager to face those obstacles.
Some refer to this place as the land where dreams come to die, but in my case it is where my dreams came to be reborn. It is where I found love, acceptance, and hope for a future of unity. The allure of this city is sometimes dirty, sometimes beautiful, sometimes inspiring, sometimes tough, and even on that rare occasion...sometimes a real life Hollywood ending.
Thanks for reading. Make good choices, and be safe with your bodies.
"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.