Photo C/O Yannis Papanastasopoulos
By A. A., Contributor
I was on a study date with a couple of my close friends at a Starbucks we used to go to almost every single day. A couple guys we had met there came and sat with us to study. Skim forward a little bit, my friend, who knew I was gay, made a joke and exposed my sexuality to one of the guys.
All of a sudden, everything changed in the way he spoke, as if he was trying to alienate me. I froze.
I advocate for being proud of who you are and I do embrace my sexuality, but in that moment — I hated everything about it.
He insisted that he could “fix” me if he spent 24 hours with me. He even told my friend, who was a girl, to have sex with me. I tried a couple times explaining that being gay is not something he would ever be able to understand, it is something he needs to accept. But my words were quickly dismissed. I had no words, I did not know whether I should say anything at all. I was catching glares from a boy sitting across from us at the large table we were sitting at. It felt like a beaming hot spotlight was shining over me; like everyone was looking at me with pity, disappointment or disgust.
I felt a rush of tears come to my throat, that feeling where you are about to cry and if you say any word at all you will. After so many years of owning my sexuality, I felt isolated, alone and the odd one out all over again. I was taken back to being 12 years old, when my parents told me that I could be sent somewhere to be fixed.
I needed to leave, so I walked out and called an Uber. While waiting for my Uber I could not stop myself from breaking down.
Am I really proud of who I am? Or just around people that accept me?
I cannot stop thinking about how he won. I was not able to stand up for myself. I was not able to show him that I am me no matter what he thinks is right and wrong. Insidead, I felt so small and alienated. I am usually loud; I say what I want, when I want. I stand up for everyone’s story, but that day, I learned that I cannot stand up for my own. My own truth and who I am is fragile right now. I know they say—even I say—that being gay is just a part of me, but when that is the biggest struggle in your life, it becomes you. I am gay.
Why does it have to be so hard?
I think I have established for myself that life is not fair, but this has not been an easy lesson for me to learn—in fact, it has been the hardest. I am a 18-year-old Middle Eastern man, born and raised in a outspokenly homophobic household where religious ideals formed the foundation of my family member’s lives. But I am also gay, and discovering my own identity in such an environment was not fair.
It is not fair to grow up in an environment that shames parts of who you are before you even recognize those parts of you. It is not fair to only be able to be true to who you are around three of your friends. It is not fair to feel like your family is not going to be there forever. It is not fair to feel as though your family’s love is conditional over something you cannot control—who you are.
There is no explanation. I have no explanation for being gay so how do I explain it to someone that does not understand? Should I even try? Should I let them be ignorant? Why is it easy to stand up for someone else, but so much harder to stand up for myself? I feel like I’m proud of myself and my accomplishments but am I really proud of me—am I really proud of being gay?
I want to learn to be loud and proud but that comes with a price.
Not everyone will be supportive, not everyone will accept me as I am. I have to learn to be who I am regardless of how many times I’m discriminated against for something that is nobody’s business but my own. Before I can be loud and proud, I have to pay the emotional price of working to turn every doubt and harsh thing someone says into a reason why I will not back down from who I am.
I am who I am and that should be okay. This will be the next thing I learn.
This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.