Twenty years ago, when I came out, it was unbearably hard. I am from the deep South. Anyone who dares to deviate from social norms was sure to be ostracized. It’s not that these people were born hateful or mean; rather, it probably had more to do with them not being subjected to other lifestyles. Anything different from their own sparked fear and confusion. Homosexuality, interracial relationships, religious differences, these were all unfamiliar territories to the average person I grew up with. Thus, growing up was particularly difficult.
I remember lying in bed at night when I was a little boy. I would pray and beg God to not let me be gay. Every single night I would end my prayers with, “… and God, please don’t let me have nightmares, and please don’t let me be gay.” I cried myself to sleep many nights.
My dad would often call me a sissy and say, “Don’t act like a queer,” because I didn’t want to get dirty like my brother. As I grew up, I didn’t really like to go to my dad’s anymore because of his verbal abuse.
Growing up, I remember thinking it took a really strong person to embrace their true selves and to have enough pride to show it off for everyone to see. This was their life and they had the right to live it how they wanted, regardless of what the rest of society thought. I secretly admired that so much. I still remember hearing snide remarks about interracial couples holding hands in the mall. I remember thinking how incredibly bold those couples were to not be intimidated by anyone. It took a special kind of bravery to place their affection on public display; if only I could be like that one day.
Indeed, my time would come to rise up and embrace who I truly was. Defying social norms is risky business, and all I could think about was being shunned by my family, church and friends. As it would turn out, those fears came to fruition and happened, and it shattered me. People turned their backs. They said awful and hurtful things. Many people I went to school and church with blocked me from Facebook. That hurt just as much as much as mean comments.
Even some of my closest friends did this. But do you know what? Today I have grown to understand I didn’t need those people in my life.
Unconditional love isn’t something you reward someone with. It’s something you give regardless of any outcome or expectation. If someone doesn’t give you their unconditional love and respect, then that person isn’t worthy of being in your inner circle. THAT TOOK ME YEARS TO LEARN. There are many other people out there waiting to get to know you and give you what you deserve. You just may have not met them yet. When you do, you’ll know it.
When I realized I was gay after I graduated, I confided in a friend named Lauren. Lauren was absolutely hilarious, and she looked like Ana Gasteyer from Saturday Night Live. I loved to be around her. I was so scared when I came out to her that I was shaking. Her reaction was just … matter of fact. “It’s no big deal,” she said. And I loved that!
As it turned out, we lost contact and I moved to New Orleans. Many, many years later my husband, Douglas, was showing me around his hometown in Jackson, Mississippi, about two hours from where I grew up. He took me to his childhood best friend’s house and knocked on the door. And who should open it? It was Lauren! I almost fainted! They were best friends! It must have been fate.
Looking at society today, I cannot imagine what it is like growing up with social media platforms all around you. I still have trouble understanding how people can be so hateful as they hide behind their computer screen. After I came out, I thought it was difficult hearing other people’s opinions about my personal life. With today’s social media, hateful people are able to stand on their soap boxes and lash out in a wide range of social groups and contexts. I remind myself daily those people will always be there and I shouldn’t take offense to what they say. I knew trolls were around, but I didn’t know how prevalent they were until my writings started circulating around different websites on social media.
In the beginning, I felt like I needed to write about my journey. Metaphorically speaking, I like to look at my writings like I am straying from the main road to leave a trail for others who may need hope. Helping to light a way for other LGBTQ people in our community is crucial in today’s society. I feel like it’s a personal calling and I passionately follow it, and I’m sure many of you do the same. People need to see that living our best and truest lives opens doors to so many beautiful opportunities. Young people who are questioning their sexuality need to see the beauty of what can happen when a person comes out and chooses to live their true self, boldly, proudly and unapologetically
Unfortunately, my writing leaves my work vulnerable to anyone who disagrees with my life. Although it’s exciting to have the exposure, it definitely isn’t without its share of disappointment. Hateful comments and messages from strangers still hurt. Having a large audience, I knew there would be people chiming in about my articles. And they did, and do. Some say, “You are going to hell.” Some say, “You are an abomination.” But the most hurtful comments come from people who lash out about my daughters.
They say, “Those poor girls,” and “Gays shouldn’t be able to have children.” How dare they come for my girls. We give our daughters the best life in the world. We raise them in a house of God. We pray before every meal and we love them unconditionally. For anyone to say they shouldn’t have been put in our life is simply hateful.
It reminds me that mean people are still out there. It also helped me realize I needed to grow a thicker skin. Yes, I am living my best life and I am damn proud of it. Why should some hateful and repressive comment hinder my growth? Why should I give trolls the power to tear me down? I don’t even know them. Who cares what they think? What I do know is that I am a good father, husband, friend, son, and brother. I AM good enough. That is ALL that matters.
But I am also a sensitive person, almost to a fault. I always have been. In school, when someone would call me a faggot, queer or something mean, I remember thinking about it at night when I went to bed. I would lay there and wonder, “Why would they call me that? What did I do to them?”
Later on, when classmates would block me after I came out, I would dwell on it. I have known them for 20 years. How can they just slam the door on me? That is how it felt to me.
Now, I don’t really worry about that too much. I am learning to deal with reading negativity online from my articles. I am learning to not even read them. That is a good place to start.
In life, I have found people are mean for different reasons. I don’t know why, nor do I need to know. They just are. Were they not loved enough? Who knows? The bottom line is, I must move on. For some reason, that person is struggling to find their compassion and kindness. They lash out because anger and confusion are their default emotions when they do not understand something, and I need to remember to not take that personally. In fact, that’s the solution–I shouldn’t take it personally. All I have to do is be the better man and turn around without retaliation. I wouldn’t be able to change them with anything I said anyway. It would be futile. I choose to not give them what they want. You can do this, too.
National Coming Out Day is important because it allows people who are questioning their sexuality to see the support from so many people all around the world. It gives them the chance to see it really does get better. And y’all, it gets so much better. Trust me. When you go to sleep at night, do you try to pray the gay away like I did? You may even cry yourself to sleep. It’s okay to cry, just don’t give up. Keep moving. Just keep swimming. Life WILL get better.
If you’re a teenager, you will find it can be very hard sometimes. It isn’t always going to be that way. Although it may feel like nothing will ever change, trust me, it will. Have faith. Your life means something, and you matter. Find your people. Find the ones who lift you up and embrace your quirkiness. Find the friends who love you for who you truly are, inside and out. Find the places that make you thrive. Find your passions. Paint. Garden. Cook. Work out. Laugh. Be kind to one another. Kindness is everything. Remember that your kindness today can be someone else’s strength tomorrow. Life is beautiful. And it truly gets better. Just push forward, fight, and I promise, you will see that.
LGBTQ youth contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.
LGBTQ youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGBTQ youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth.
Suicide attempts by LGBTQ youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.
Our support for LGBTQ and questioning youth is vital. All it takes is one person to be the support system someone needs. Let’s all be that person for someone who is struggling.