I decided to repress my feelings, my thoughts, and my motivations and walked the lines of a religious path that didn’t bring me comfort or any hope. I isolated myself every day to collect my thoughts. I would run as far away from my house as I could so that I could find someplace that was quiet and I would stare at the clouds. During high school I walked a careful line to maintain my peace of mind. Friends were dating and living their lives. My only escape was my artistic flare. I painted, started writing, playing piano, and photography. All just to keep myself busy because suicide was the most present thought that was on my mind every day.
The reputation of our family was paramount to anything else. “We sacrifice our own interest for the interest of the family reputation.”
When I was 14 I was completely isolated from kids my age. I didn’t participate in school activities, wasn’t allowed to associate with friends in the congregation that didn’t have perfect reputations. I became friends with an elderly gentleman that helped me appreciate the world. We collected stamps and rocks and went to the beach and hiked. It was nothing more than what I just outlined but someone in the congregation thought that it was weird that that we were friends. They accused him of having an inappropriate relationship with me. Despite nothing inappropriate ever happening he stopped speaking to me. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t have friends my age nor could I have friends that were older. I didn’t understand why my sexuality was inferior to others or why I couldn’t just live my life and be me.
When I turned 18 I started drinking alcohol to hide my fear and hopelessness. I was still following my religious path and was plagued with guilt as I wasn’t helping anyone, I wasn’t helping myself, and couldn’t see any light. All I knew was depression and desperation. I started building friendships with friends my age once I was 18, but it was too late and the damage was done. They started getting married and doing things with their lives that I was never going to do. I knew that my family would never accept my authentic self unless I married a woman and faked it. When I was 19 one of the religious leaders in my congregation decided that it was his responsibility to force me out of the closet by telling people around him what he had discovered. If this wasn’t bad enough, when I was called a faggot by one of the Christian women that was a living example of love and compassion I knew that not only was there no hope but there would be no escape. I began to increase my drinking and isolation as it was the only escape. Whenever I was questioned about how I was spending my time my sexuality was always first on the list of topics, I had only suggested that it was an issue in my life. He robbed me of any dignity that I was struggling to find and something that wasn’t his to take, or to talk about, or to make it his goal to make sure everyone knew about my secret.
I did start coming out to people that I worked with as it was the first time that I felt safe with people that actually cared about my life. My work friends would change my life. I started straying away from my visible practice of faith by working through time that I should have reserved for worship. When I resigned myself to losing my faith it became easier to live with myself. Partly because I was distancing myself from people that hated me, partly because I was taking a stand in resigning my faith, and for the first time in my life…my life started to become mine one step at a time.
The emotional void that is created when a child has to let go of the one thing in this life that should be forever leads to aimless thoughts and wondering “why am I here,” “what makes me different than everyone else in my life,” “how do I do this alone?”
My family wasn’t changing but I couldn’t explain myself either. I started to become reckless in my driving and tested my limits and in turn almost killing myself while I stacked up traffic tickets and was arrested. I would walk the beach for hours knowing that when I left that I would have to face my reality.
In my first opportunity to escape I accepted the opportunity and ran. My job transferred me which was half of my worry when it came to supporting myself. I took what I could pack in my car and I left. I moved with one of my friend’s family and started my journey. It was 1997, and within the first three months again I was forced to come out to my friend and felt that I needed to tell my family before someone else told them…again. But this time I was living far enough away that I was in a safe place. I was 23 years old and had told three people in my life about my sexuality. Obviously, my parents already knew that I was gay because I had been forced out and harassed for it and no action was taken. It’s a different feeling though when the truth is actually spoken, and I validated all of the accusations.
I made the long drive just to tell my parents that I was gay. In my drive I found my peace of mind because I knew that I was in a safe place even though I was out in the world and not knowing where I was going. I sat down at the table with my parents as they sent my brother to his room and I told them that I was gay. As I talked about my feelings and my life my mother sat silently without saying a word. My dad talked about therapy and counseling that would alter my life or medications and such that would help “straighten” me out and the family would be able to go on. It was going to be fine. Silently I knew that since God didn’t fix my sexuality when I was 10 that therapy or medication wasn’t going to change my sexuality at 23, but I wasn’t in a frame of mind to debate the subject.
Because I had been outed years before they knew what I was going to tell them and my brother was 13 by this time and he is girl crazy, which created a side by side comparison for them to validate how my life had deviated from their plan. The conversation took 45 minutes and I got up and left not realizing that I had forgotten my jacket. When I came back in the house I could hear my parents upstairs. My silent mother during our talk was now screaming about how embarrassing this was going to be and how are they going to talk about what I am doing with my life and what would people think about the family. Our reputation and what people thought of us had ruled my life but for the first time I didn’t know how I was going to function. I collected my things and knew that my life would never be the same.
Where I went…
I naturally assumed that since I was going to lose my family that I also lost my childhood friends and supporters. Everyone in my life faded away. Socially learning how to rebuild relationships to replace the ones that I lost was haphazard and I was desperate for positive reinforcement. I needed people that could see me. Because my parents were so embarrassed about my coming out I struggled with myself to take pride in my life.
My living situation didn’t last long once I had moved and I began finding places to stay that had enough space on the couch or would rent me a room until I ran out of money and I would move on. I started selling what I could to make ends meet. I was two days away and preparing to live in my car I had no where else to turn when friends that I had met decided to move into a bigger house and they worked with me and helped me pay rent. They knew that I needed help, but they didn’t know how close to living in my car and being homeless that I was. I survived on ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly because it was the cheapest food that I could find. Any money that I had left was for alcohol. I missed my sisters and my brother but didn’t know how to have a relationship with them without going through my parents who had already made their stand. Shortly after my trip I received a letter from my mother telling me that she understands how confused I am but by sacrificing my self-interest would get the family back on track. If I didn’t though she wouldn’t be able to help me.
I started drinking so much that it began to control my life. I was in the bars or at parties almost every night of the week. I would drink until 4 in the morning, sleep for two hours, and then go to work. I had so much conflict in my heart that I was numb. I didn’t know how to talk about my feelings, I didn’t know how to be me but I knew that alcohol would pacify the internal struggle. I was desperate to find people who recognized value in my life. Part of me thought that I should be embarrassed about my life as much as my parents, but I couldn’t. I started searching for professional therapists that could help walk me through my thoughts. I needed someone that understood my feelings and my life and where I was coming from. There wasn’t a good resource to help me make the right decision on who I should begin talking to. Once I drank myself through the emotional separation with my family I started seeing a therapist that was a good fit and she helped me to change my life. I continued to drink myself to sleep and slowly let my feelings out regarding my parents. The emotional stress continued to weigh me down. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I was doing everything that I could to stabilize myself and separate my family. I maintained my job and secured my housing which was the only stability that I knew.
After four years of alcoholism and at-risk behavior I was spinning in a downward spiral and there was only one stopping point. One night while out with friends I was drugged so severely that I made it out of the club and on to the street and then had to stop. As I laid on the street my body started trying to expel the drugs that I had been given. I was lost. As I lost focus, I thought to myself that this was the last time that I would drink to the point of losing control of myself. My body purged, and my thoughts drifted about how I got to this place. I had to be supervised for 24 hours to ensure that my body didn’t give up. Sadly, I wasn’t at the bottom yet.
When I was 27, I waited until my roommates had left the house and attempted suicide again. My self-loathing, emotional disarray, and the complete disfunction in my life was going to stop.
In that moment when my brain prepared for death my life did truly flash before my eyes. It’s the make or break moment before crossing the line of no return. In that moment the faces that flashed in my minds eye were not my family or the people that I had grown up with. It was the people that had befriended me and help me in my life since I came out to the world. My brain stopped on a face that treated me like I was a person. Someone that didn’t judge me or treat me like I was an inferior person just because of my sexuality. I lowered my hand before pulling the trigger and in that moment, I decided that my life was going to mean something and that I would add value to this world.
The bottom. My faith was a distant memory. I struggled with atheism because I couldn’t put the pieces together. How can God create me as he did and yet not allow me to be me. Being human we have to eat in order to sustain ourselves. What would happen if God came to us and said that we are no longer allowed to eat despite knowing that without food we will die. Every thought, every feeling, every inclination would be considered a sin punishable by death. If he did help me in this moment it was to stop me from killing myself. I had something to learn.
I chose to start taking control of my life. I would no longer be a slave to suicide, alcohol, fear, or emotional burdens. I started evaluating options for the military, public schools, private schools, and career paths. I chose my career path and school without knowing that it would be productive in my life. I made a guess on a career path that would make me money. Once I started I began second guessing my choices based on the school and how they approached teaching. As a private school they were more interested in the profitability of the institution than providing skills that college students could take away with them. In the early 2000’s diversity wasn’t on the minds of people, so I didn’t come out to classmates and maintained my closeted frame of mind even though I wasn’t in the closet anymore. Having parents that were embarrassed by my life forced me to assume that everyone would be as well. I decided to stay on my path and hope for the best.
When I did decide that I was in the wrong school and on the wrong career path I had already stacked enough in student loans that I couldn’t afford to change my major or my school. I was too old for scholarships and accrued so much in student debt that it will take me the rest of my life to pay it down.
During my college years I was required to volunteer in the community and like most things in my life didn’t know in which direction to go. I started looking at all of the foundations in the world from child sponsorships, to cancer, diabetes, homelessness, and sobriety outreach programs. One problem that I had during this time was a result that I had no self-value in my life and I was engaging in risky behaviors with men that I would meet. I was desperate to find someone that would try to understand me but I had too many skeletons in my closet to manage. I was ignorant to HIV and what it could do to me so I began volunteering with HIV outreach so that I could learn to protect myself. I discovered not long after that the organization had a program to help kids living with HIV and I decided that was my path.
When you allow children to teach you as an adult, amazing things are realized. Lessons about finding things to smile about to letting go of things that you can’t control in life. It also brought me to people that would change my life forever. Some of them realized my internal struggle but loved me anyway. And to this day they are still a phone call away.
My aunt died and for the first time in almost a decade the entire family was forced to come together. My fathers side of the family is very small, and it gave us the opportunity to regroup. This was the first time in many years that I was able to speak to my parents and I wanted to show them that I’m a normal person. Even though I started to see them more often and we were speaking I knew that it wasn’t a safe space for me to be my authentic self, so I wouldn’t talk about my dating life or anything that pertained to my sexuality. Not only was it not fair but it was extremely difficult because I had to build a double life. One that was me and one that wasn’t. They were convinced that if I found the right woman that I could get married and still represent a life with the quality and reputation that they expected. With no regard for my happiness or the happiness of an unsuspecting woman they continued to pressure me into changing my life to meet their expectation for a “clean” life.
I started going back into the closet. I stopped dating so that I wouldn’t have anything to talk about. I started minimizing my interactions with the gay community for the same reason. The on-going debate that if I found the right lady that I would be happy and could live within Gods law continued. As you can imagine the conversation was draining, unsympathetic, and inconsiderate of any humanity in my life. In the last debate over my life I told my mother that I would start sleeping with women when she did which ended the conversation. Because I was taking a stand for my life and standing up for myself I knew that the second end of our relationship was looming. I was right in recognizing the path that we were on.
The door to their relationship was always open if I met their condition that I wasn’t gay. They came to my house one time, but before they did I was required to “de-gay” my condo…which I did but it didn’t change their views. It accelerated until the following letter was delivered:
In this letter the fact that they resorted to using my sister and niece to emotionally blackmail me pushed me to the end of my rope and I realized that my life is stronger without people that would try to manipulate me with what emotional connection that I had left. They see no value in my life regardless of how I live my life and what I do.
Whenever I hear someone say that we choose our sexuality outside of heterosexuality I challenge them by asking when they chose their sexuality.
It is easier to pretend that I don’t exist than to explain to people that I am gay and that I will be judged for the type of life that I live. I finished my degree, was able to finally find a job that was in my career path and was successfully supporting myself. I had been helping kids affected by HIV for years but nothing I do is good enough because I wasn’t meeting their basic conditions to be loved and accepted. I maintained my relationship with my siblings, but it was always outside of family functions.
Where am I now…
What I have learned throughout life is that many of the problems that I lived with could have been avoided either by parents that were less worried about what people thought about them or by having better social support that helped me with big decisions about going to school and managing social issues that changed my life.
Nothing is gained by judging people for their lives and how they choose to live it. We were put on this earth as we are and our job is to be the best human that we can be. That means allowing people to live to their potential as their authentic selves without hate. If I can do something to help students find the right school, or connect with groups that can help them prevent substance abuse or managing their emotions related to family rejection or social injustice then I am obligated to do everything that I can so that those that come behind me not only don’t make the same bad decisions that I made but improve their happiness at the same time…I have to make a stand. Without the life that I have led…Proud Scholars wouldn’t be here to help LGBT youth and their families.
My spirituality is a closely guarded piece of me that is deeply personal. I believe that God isn’t as judgmental as humans portray. I must hope that my actions to help others and my faith that there is a divine plan will come to fruition when it is time. I choose to not live my life with regrets. There are things that I am sorry for but if I live my life and always wonder “what if” …I will miss the joys that I can see today that are reality.
Because of the harsh judgement that I received I work very hard to not criticize other peoples lives. I recognize that they are on this earth the same as I am, and that kindness will take us much farther than constantly putting people down for being different than what we label as “normal”. The act of judging is calling people derogatory names or condemning them for something that we don’t agree with or classifying their lives as “off track” because they aren’t living within the boundaries of what we think is right for their lives. God created me. If you find fault in his creation, then the internal battle is not mine to fight. Putting words in Jesus’s mouth and reading between lines to interpret a divine statement does nothing but pacify their own fears and misrepresent a message of hope and love.
Treating other people as we want to be treated isn’t just a passing statement. It will motivate us to have empathy for people even when they don’t agree with us. And if they choose to be abusive and talk down to us, it is our opportunity to leave them with a positive interaction despite their intention to condemn. Emotional slavery doesn’t serve anyone.
I don’t tell people my story so that they feel sorry for me or to indulge their grudge against people that foster their faith. I tell my story to reinforce the importance of devoting my life to helping people make the most of their lives and move on when they are rejected by family members. Especially if kids are forced into homelessness, substance abuse, and self-harm because they don’t know how to cope with the loss.
What I want you to take away from this is a commitment. I will continue to stand up for kids that are abandoned by their family or by society as long as I am able and will work to help as many kids as I can to the capacity that society will support. What I ask is that if you believe in my mission and you believe that we can help steer the community in the right direction…stand with me. One person at a time, we will change the perception that the gay community is disposable and that our lives don’t matter.
Every life matters.
Every life deserves to be a happy and fulfilling one without regrets.
The future belongs to each of us to make a difference in the lives around us. In helping people to understand how important that our mission is, they must see the fight that has brought us to where we are, to this moment when you realize what needs to be done.
Where I came from…
For you to understand why it’s important for Proud Scholars to have a presence and to be doing the work that is being done, I first have to help you understand what brought me to where we are. I was raised in a deeply conservative religious family and by ten years old I knew that I was on a path that wasn’t cohesive with the belief system that I was being taught. I struggled to understand why I was condemned by God and yet was created as I was but wasn’t allowed to live as God created me.
I knew that I was gay at a very early age. I was different than the other kids that I grew up around. I prayed every day for God to take my sexuality away. I didn’t understand how to find comfort in my faith when it did nothing to appease the confusion in my heart. My relationship with my parents was an ongoing struggle that had me on the edge of running away until my mom figured out my plan and made me promise not to leave her because she wouldn’t be able to help me if I left. The internal struggles that this created couldn’t be tamed. By the time that I was 12 years old I knew that my sexuality wasn’t going to change but also that my family wasn’t going to change, I attempted suicide for the first time. My plan was averted as my mom walked in the room and I made a very quick recovery so that she wouldn’t know what was about to happen.