Tag Archives: accepting gay

Author, Interfaith Leader Chris Stedman Discusses Faith & Sexuality

chris sted

One of the most profound changes that occur after we realize that we are LGBT is how we begin to analyze every other facet of our lives. As a result of realizing our sexual identity and nature, we question the validity of everything we’ve been told to believe throughout our lives. From rules set by our caregivers that guide and discipline us to what our religious and spiritual leaders tell us about God, this becomes a time of great introspection and discovery.  Most notably the time is marked by a series of questions and what religion and our faith are able to bring to our lives. We question if we can still believe in a religion or rather teachers of that religion that being gay is wrong.

Faith is believed to be blueprint to our morality as it sets to guide us through all aspects of our existence. To an extent, faith is believed to be the figurative parent to our morality. We know that this construct of what faith means is different for everyone. As we have our own unique experiences and upbringings we discover that no two people believe in the same way. So when I was asked a while back to discuss religion and sexuality I had a hard time collecting my thoughts in a way that made sense.

Luckily through social media I had the great privilege of getting to know author and interfaith leader Chris Stedman and he was able to shed some light on how our beliefs growing up may effect how and when we come out. And as time went on he agreed to have a phone interview to learn about his latest book, Faitheist. This narrative work that is both biopic and applicable principles to today’s society chronicles Stedman’s journey of self-discovery as a result of initially wanting others to come  together and share differing ideas all the while building a sense of community and acceptance. This serves as a steady bridge for me to approach the subject of faith and sexuality.

I knew that discussing Stedman and his principles would provide clarity of my own thoughts on religion/faith in this discussion and how it could relate to the LGBT community. Let’s face facts; this is a sensitive issue regardless of your stance because our beliefs are always associated with our morality. We are passionate about what we believe in and too often when the subject comes up, especially when it relates to members of the LGBT community, emotions are heightened to a state where emotions overcompensate for reason. Facts are misconstrued and beliefs are treated as vengeful weapons against any opposition. I don’t want this discussion to go in that direction. That’s why reviewing Stedman’s position on the matter shows how differences in beliefs can come together.

BOOK-COVERWithin the first five minutes I learned initially as we discussed atheism and group identity how different my own beliefs are from Stedman’s principles but still related to so much with what he advocates. Always at the ready to having meaningful dialogue, whether that be on his blog or his twitter account, I know that we can discuss this without conflict. When he explained pluralism and how Faitheist demonstrates inclusion of all beliefs it helped erode this stoic, detached persona so erroneously associated with atheists because of their beliefs. Even when Stedman admitted he feels that most of those that have a belief in God or deities are wrong that does not prevent us from knowing one another. His belief does not condemn me or anyone else and we can still relate to each other.

To further advance the reasoning behind his principles, Stedman brought up that while growing up he felt that he couldn’t be both gay and a Christian. He then told me about a religious cross he wore as a symbol of his faith and how he received a lot of teasing and criticism. Of course he was not suggesting that this lead him to atheism but it is something we need to observe because it shows an example that as LGBT men and women we do not belong to just one identity or community. Dichotomies exist within our community that we often enough do not discuss and duality can affect many aspects of our lives. Not only in faith but in racial/ethnic minorities, and even gender and socioeconomic status… Stedman believes that when we talk about this it creates an ethos that will foster experience.

Stedman helped me realize again how cooperation and acceptance are paramount as he discussed how his experiences shaped this principle. When he talked about him growing up in what he described as an irreglious home, he became a born again Christian at age 11 after his parents separated. Before he recommitted to the church he read about different cultures and perspectives and it taught him a greater depth of empathy. Shortly after his parents separated he sought out religion for normality and structure, and a community that was willing to support him all the while giving guidance from a position of authority.  Felt their rigidity would provide clear answers.

As I write this I remember a song by George Michael, How you gotta have faith. The video was expressive about sexuality and having faith in your ability to love yourself. Looking back on it now I know the reason I was so drawn to this music video at 8 years old was because George Michael had a nice smile was doing throughout it was because of my developing sexuality. But it also made me question what faith was because I remember asking my mom after watching it what faith meant. She simply referred to it as “something you know to be true”.  At that time I wanted faith because I thought it was cool. But I did begin to seek out comfort from it.

Both of our narratives, though completely different in our youth were looking for answers to faith with different environments and outcomes but the stories do reflect how we search for meaning at a young age. Looking for answers to why we feel the need to belong and what that means for ourselves. I think one of the greatest lessons we learn is deciphering what faith means to our self-worth. No matter what one’s own beliefs of faith or non-faith you have to reach a point in which you rely on the strength that resides inside you. A willingness to trust that we are indeed made this way naturally as it was meant to be, by biology or God.

We know that there can be many obstacles that we face before, during, and sometimes even after we come out of the closet. One of the things that we question most is our belief in God. We begin to speculate if we were truly meant to be LGBT because of what we’re taught about homosexuality and wonder if our sexuality is natural. Faitheist is a narrative of someone’s own journey that is continually seeking a sense of community and a celebration of our various differences. The concept of pluralism the respects the differing opinions, beliefs, and philosophies without the need of ostracizing. It gives the reader a relatable account of coming to terms with faith and sexuality.

I loved how inclusive his work is in both his literary work and his ability to apply that people of all walks of life. Faitheist is at its most general definition a story of inclusion. I truly marvel out how when there is conflict of beliefs, whether it’s critics or social media can be done diplomatically. As we delved deeper into this interview I asked Stedman about if the nature and principles of atheism makes it easier for LGBT men and women to process and accept their sexuality and come out. Detailing later in a humble response noted that the issues that face as we process our sexuality and our experiences are not that simple:

 Once I began to question certain norms, it opened me up to questioning others, including the normative chris_wall01_300 (1)religious beliefs I had adopted. But I wouldn’t say that I became an atheist as a direct result of coming out, since I was a Christian for the first number of years that I was out of the closer as a queer person. Whether a queer person is religious or not, and whether or not that changes in conjunction with the coming out process, I think that there is a common experience of challenging assumptions and traditional ideas that most of us experience as we come out.

This is one of the reasons that I discuss the topic of coming out so much. Because so often when a person surprises one aspect of themselves, they are likely suppressing their ability to actively question other aspects of who they are. During our conversation I was completely fascinated with the empathy and compassion expresses throughout his work and his pluralistic approach. Onward as we discussed more about the principles he felt necessary like open dialogue are necessary to bridge understanding between belief and non-belief:

 Sometimes it isn’t always clear which came first, but they necessarily inform and support one another. Meaningful dialogue, where all parties listen and strive to understand, engenders compassion and empathy; likewise, a compassionate approach enables dialogue in the pursuit of common ground, making it more accessible and more effective.

It takes people out of these their comfort zones when we discuss differences. When we hear stories about conflicts driven by media that are divisive “conflict is the exception to the rule” he stated which suggests that instead of defending their own beliefs we are simply arguing to see who’s right. So we need to approach of our own stories, our own identity as a whole, and not just about what we believe. It’s all about humanizing our differences.  Options that both Stedman and I did were not afforded growing up.

But this made me think about the process more and how difficult it can be as a result of religion so I asked if he felt this would eliminate prejudices.  We know how religion is used against this community so it’s understandable why many feel that if religion no longer existed that we would have an easier time processing and accepting our sexuality. However, during our conversation this assumption was the one thing that Stedman disagreed with most.

Stedman did not feel that the elimination of religion would lessen our issues as we are naturally have the dynamics of tribalism and a feeling of wanting to fit in with the majority. After thinking about it for a while I see why he came to that conclusion. We will always want to feel like we belong and as a result any inherent differences would potentially stagnate acceptance. It’s also important to note that Stedman expressed that the first people to accept his sexuality were his brothers and sisters from his church before realizing he was an atheist. He hadn’t accepted atheism until years after he came out.. So it is not about beliefs in God, it’s about tribal natural need to belong.

Attempting to think in even more abstract terms I asked Stedman if he felt that atheism was more a philosophy than a grounded, secular belief. When he decided he didn’t believe in God it was sadness and the way he expressed this epiphany felt to me that he was describing the loss of a loved one.  Letting go of a concept that you have believed in your entire life has to take some time to process. But atheism brought comfort to Stedman because it taught him fortitude and a faith in himself because no one else could accomplish his goals and overcome any challenges. It motivated and empowered him to become more active.

The incentive of taking ownership becomes stronger and more rich. This concept reminds Stedman to live in the moment as time is finite. It suggests that at some point when we are accepting who we are that we have to take the initiative to persevere no matter what. We have to take control of our challenges and look at our actions in how they will affect that outcome. Being LGBT teaches us that it is up to us to make our lives and our environment better. It may not always come easy or in the time of our choosing but when we hold ourselves accountable for the direction our lives are going it truly invites us to be who we are. It encourages us to live. This point is what resonated with me the most during our discussion. You become appreciative of time when you know it is limited.

It’s important to note that Stedman and I are not suggesting that this discussion was meant to suggest we believe people who are LGBT and in the process of coming out would have an easier time if they became atheists. Far from it. But I do believe those that are going through this process should be ready for how this aspect may have on a subconscious level affected many other facets of their lives and personality.

I believe what Stedman expressed both in his book,  and in our conversation, is that examining our beliefs in all areas of our lives gives us a greater sense of self. Throughout this process that we go through in coming to terms with our sexuality and our beliefs we have to trust ourselves more than anyone else, regardless of whether or not you believe in God. Homogeneity is celebrated in our community more than individuality and Faitheist provides examples of how we can approach our different outlooks with diplomacy.

The biggest advantage to reading Faitheist or starting any discussion about faith is that dialogue will allow you to process your opinion and your beliefs openly. No matter those beliefs, with an open mind you can be honest about them and I will always advocate for that. We need more dialogue and opinions and beliefs not only in this community but society as a whole. You can have meaningful relationships with people of different backgrounds and beliefs with respect. This interview along with Stedman;s book accurately and passionately demonstrates that faith is not synonymous with morality. Morality should always be met with humanity and respect. We have to always remember that when we talk about faith, no matter what you believe. But we have to be willing to make that first step. So reach out. Talk.

How We All Need To Evolve About HIV/AIDS

HIV

Several weeks ago I was asked to do an Op-Ed on whether an HIV negative man should date someone who is positive. Being completely honest, I was nervous. Not because the subject matter of discussing HIV/AIDS makes me nervous, but for fear that I wouldn’t fully encapsulate my point correctly or present each side of the argument accurately. So I held off for a while to ruminate and collect my thoughts. Methodically trying to map out how to present it to a community that has such a taboo about even discussing the subject, fearing an association to something that affects the entire community.

During this process I kept revisiting excerpts of different points I wanted to bring up and as time went on thought they were too convoluted or sounded insulting or just was too random to be of use in the article. I then came across a brilliant and honest depiction of what it was like for a man living with HIV to go out seeking romance or possibly love. David Duran’s story about being positive and navigating through social dating apps really touched me because I truly felt the frustration he expressed about disclosing his status to men he could have some potential sexual relationship. I related to it because I felt frustrations when I’m discounted or erroneously judged because of race in the gay community, another taboo subject rarely discussed.

As I thought about the comparisons it made me think of how taxing that has to be on the gay men that have to endure the silent ridicule and muffled disdain for something that could have happened to any of us. Now some may chagrin to that statement I just made but they would do well to remember that condoms do sometimes break. They should remember that just because someone says that their STI test came back negative doesn’t always mean that they don’t have the virus because it hasn’t shown up yet. So yes it can happen to any of one of us.

This reflective journey made me remember an incident about understanding what HIV is after I came out. I came across a journal entry dated a little over six years ago where I attempt to process whether or not I would date a man living with the virus. I’m going to share a part of this entry to show some of the mistakes I made as a younger gay man and how this experience may resemble the reactions that David and other men have faced. I hope that even though it shows a bit of my own ignorance back then that it may also open eyes to the misconceptions and negative attitudes surrounding it. Because as I always state in these articles, nothing ever changes if we don’t talk about where we went wrong and how we can overcome these flaws.

Saturday January 27th 2007

Tonight I feel like I messed up big time. My first real venture into socializing with gay men, something I dreamed about was a wash. I was finally able to openly flirting with a guy..but in the end it just came out awkward. I was grateful that William had invited me out cause even though it’s been over a year since I came out I don’t know anyone other than the man I’d loved and lost as a circumstance of bad timing and a couple of random guys I fooled around with. This was supposed to be a big step but it..just didn’t turn out right.

I got along with everyone and flirted with the guys and that was received well. Later on this guy walked in. Black hair and the most brilliant  luminescent emerald green eyes I can remember. Checkered shoes with a matching scarf and pinstripe suspenders. A hipster from head to toe. I was so taken by him. A few drinks and I felt comfortable enough to say more than hey. We talked about school and politics. He was as so sharp and articulate as I always think I am.. Sweet smile and his butt. Amazing. After we went out back to talk more we leaned in to kiss but he stopped before we made contact. Saying he had to tell me about his status and I was so in the moment it wasn’t clicking to what he was referring to. He said he was positive.

A few seconds of confusion until I realized he was talking about HIV. I was just so caught up in the moment..but I wasn’t able to hide how hard the statement had brought me back down from fantasizing about us throwing each other against the house and me having my way with him. The starry gaze in my eyes was replaced with shock. I could tell he’s seen this expression before and it makes the whole thing worse. And I noticed that he noticed my initial reaction that was in my face that easily to him said “no” when I didn’t know what I would do. But I know he’s seen that face before and a resolve that nothing would come of our earlier flirtation. Shaking and so upset, probably heightened by the alcohol, my reaction condemned this man and I felt so ashamed, that I may have hurt his feelings. I began to cry.

Spontaneously crying, like I always do when I feel I’ve deeply offended someone unintentionally. He was trying to say something like “it’s okay, I understand” but all I could do was profusely yell how sorry I was if I made him feel bad or that he wasn’t desirable. Because I felt like at that point I couldn’t just save face and say of course it’s not an issue but my reaction said differently. Even worse that I know what that feels like on some level to be rejected on something you can’t change, though not to the degree that he had to have felt. Too often I’ve had resolve to rejection as sometimes as an African American you have to brace yourself as some people do react to you this way.

And here I am most likely making this guy feel that way. Both of us embarrassed at the moment I was having I flagged a sober friend to drive me home…Could it have been the era I grew up in? Definitely. I grew up in the 80s and 90s in the south, the time of the Cold War and the Reagan era that seemed to completely and utterly fail to diminish the impact of the virus. AIDS was on the news almost every night. And people were terrified  I was terrified. These all sound like more excuses about whatever I’m subconsciously afraid to say. 

Growing up I remember so often when the subject of gay came up it was automatically synonymous with AIDS and then death. Back then it due to the reprehensible negligence by the government so it really was a death sentence. I wonder if that image was ingrained as I was processing the fact that I was gay; maybe that had some weight in how I reacted. I just remember being so afraid growing up thinking if I’m gay then I’m automatically destined to inherit this disease? Of course I know better than that now. I know antivirals helps a person live normally. But back then that was all I knew. Maybe it’s all an excuse.

Why did I react that way? Why am I trying to justify being so wrong. This isn’t like me. It’s not like I have anything to worry about. I get tested for STD’s at least once every six months. And if we were intimate together I would take the same precautions that I always do. So why did I respond that way. William called and said the guy wasn’t offended and understood but I still feel like a horrible human being. I wonder if it wasn’t completely subconscious, or lingering fear. Maybe that’s why I panicked because I had internalized all the lies and manipulation I had been taught growing up from the media. All I know is that I was embarrassing tonight. And probably hurt someone’s feelings. I hate this feeling and sorry for all this,

I remember during this whole ordeal I kept thinking that if I referred to it as a disease instead of a virus that it was insulting. Or what if it’s the other way around or both or neither. I was just so afraid of offending this man and those amazingly beautiful emerald eyes of his. More likely it was fear that I still had not dealt with and it all came to the surface that night. I needed to reconcile that because no matter how open minded I believed I was, for whatever reason I was seeing a status rather than a person. That was why I had that reaction. For me, I needed to change that outlook immediately and I believe that I’ve done so.

Some things are the same as they were then. I still slightly look away when I make eye contact with someone I’m extremely attracted to and smile. I still have terrible one liners that somehow makes the guy I’m talking to laugh..still don’t know if it’s out of civility or genuine affection. I’m still immensely drawn to hipster. I still use protection every time I have a sexual encounter and get tested at least once every six months to make sure that I don’t have any STD’s. But now I do not treat a man that is positive as some fragile being I need to tiptoe around. No longer through my awkward, panicked behavior do I treat these men as though their status is the only thing I see. I view these men as men, just as deserving of love and affection as anyone else. As it should be.

So maybe the worse thing I did through that experience was be afraid of offending someone else’s feelings (which is at times still a flaw). But it was necessary for me to go through and learn some of the prejudices that I may not have been aware of back then. As the years have went on I grew to see people as people, no matter their circumstance. I now know that I would consider dating an HIV positive man the same way I’d consider dating any other gay man. Would there be lengthy discussions and all precautions before during and after sex be taken? Absolutely as I take those precautions with every man I’m with sexually, as we all should be.

So how do we challenge ourselves to stop letting stigma dictate how we treat these men? How do we evolve and overcome the insensitive and sometimes downright ugly reactions that we may have when these men are looking for the same things we’re looking for? Talk. Just as we did when we first discovered that we’re gay. We sought out after answers about what our sexuality meant and what sex would someday mean to us. We learned the mechanics of protecting ourselves and those we sexually engage. We learned that we don’t want to be treated differently on the basis of one aspect of ourselves.

Sometimes it is necessary for us to revisit the lessons of the past and apply them to a different situation. The one thing all of us can do, regardless of status, is talk openly about HIV. I’m not saying that anyone has to share the exact same opinion on this because I understand why people would have reservations about it. Who knows, maybe I still do as I have not dated anyone who is positive. But at least I am ready to talk about it and learning more.  Because I do believe there are valid concerns, just like any relationship you embark upon. Education is paramount, not only in prevention but in understanding what it means to those living with the virus.

All relationships have obstacles that we will all have to face. But that doesn’t mean that you have to treat these men so distastefully. As David has said, we are all kin, and status doesn’t remove our sexual nature or desire or our humanity. Basically the only thing I ask every gay man to do is challenge and examine why they have a certain view on this topic. Question where your beliefs come from, question what you fear, and ultimately do what’s right for you. And always protect yourself. Talk.

Thank you David for being my muse and inspiring me to find the right words to express how I feel. And my journals for yet again showing me how reflection is always necessary for growth.

Brushes With Death To Taking First Breaths: My Final Tale Of Growing Up Gay

gay love

It’s 2:05 in the morning and I can’t sleep. It’s been a long day like any other Monday but I’ve been feeling off. Completely tense, short tempered and just all around moody. So I wanted to catch up on current events and decided to read some of the latest LGBT news to see if there was anything I missed. Then I came across the story of Bailey O’Neill, the 12 year old boy that died this weekend after being beaten into a coma by some schoolyard bullies and the story of Marco McMillian, the openly gay mayoral candidate beaten to death in Mississippi.

My heart sank for them and their families and it made all the feelings of this day feel even worse because of the emotional quicksand I felt I’d been in the entire day. And then I remembered that it’s the first Monday in March, and all these memories came flooding back on why this particular Monday is so important to me. In 2005 on the first Monday in March was the day I almost died  and the day I finally came completely out of the closet. So I decided to finally follow up with the first two in this series by adding the last part of the growing up gay stories with the one that was the most defining moment in my life.

This all took place it was my first year off campus and it was a rough emotional one for me. It wasn’t the course load or tensions with the professors. It was because I had been deeply affected by the events of last year on campus. I was full of brooding and angst because I wasn’t out yet and so many times I had come close. Even though the most important people in my life, my parents, knew that I was gay I still felt the entire time that I was not living authentically. And with as much as a Resident Adviser and a friend that I always advocated for others to live in this example, I felt like a hypocrite because I was not doing the same.

My friendships with some became strained and I was steadily distancing myself from everyone. Maybe I did that on some conscious level to prepare myself for any potential fallout from anyone, though I felt like many silently knew.  The year progressed and I became somewhat stabilized until Valentine’s Day, when I lost an old friend of mine. Her death devastated me and I was completely heartbroken and an emotional wreck because I felt that I should’ve been able to prevent it somehow. I went through the remainder of my last year on campus in a fog of disbelief instead of savoring the last few months until “real” adulthood.

I carried some of the numbness and pain of that year onto my first year off campus but with all of that my not formally being out was the biggest thing on my mind. It had all but consumed me to the point that I welcomed any distractions that did not pertain to my dilemma. I was angry and sad all the time because I keep stalling this all out. It didn’t help matters because I felt that things had not been resolved with the man I had been seeing off and on since my freshman year of college. He had moved away and I missed him terribly but we still were in touch. But that only seemed to make the pain of us not being together even greater, And when he came to visit I was speechless that he had already came out since his graduation.

He questioned me on why I hadn’t done so, and as the nature of our relationship I still wouldn’t confirm it. So all his questions were met with a longing stare as a few tears strewn down my face. Again I tried to reconcile why I couldn’t do it. Maybe it was because I felt I had to embrace my race because of the covert, institutionalized racism that exists in the south. I feared that being of both two minority groups (African American and gay) would result in me being bombarded with acts of hate and judgment. That no matter who much I tried to show how I was so many other things than my race and my sexuality, it wouldn’t be enough.

Instead of not giving a damn what everyone else thought I felt that I had to sacrifice and suppress one aspect of myself in order to be seen as a real person beyond stereotypes and labels. The dichotomy would be something I would treasure later for the unique perspective it gives me but back then I still felt it wasn’t enough. At least that was the excuse I was using. So I thought if I waited until I was in a more diverse place after school would be better. But I wasn’t lying about it anymore by pretending to be attracted to women and become a pro at playing the pronoun game. So I was taking my time and doing it my way, as usual. But I didn’t have much time left as my health started to decline. I’d only eat a portion of what I used to and I kept losing weight.

And then I got the flu or what I thought was the flu. I couldn’t keep anything down. I lay in bed for nearly two weeks thinking I had the same bug going around. But eventually it started to hurt, a lot. the pain was dull at first, then cramping, then sharp agonizing pain. So my roommate took me to the hospital and after a two hour wait they gave me some Milk of Magnesia and sent us on our way. I cried for most of the night because this was by far one of the most painful things I had ever felt. I think I somehow drifted off to sleep from the sheer exhaustion of this ordeal. It was early that morning that I woke up and the pain was prolific. I could barely breathe and my stomach was protruding so far it looked as if I were in my third trimester of pregnancy. I ran to roommate’s room and as soon as he saw my stomach he grabbed his keys not needing anymore explanation.

We arrived at the hospital and they went to examine me. My blood pressure was dropping so they rushed me to another examination room that had an x-ray so that they could see what was going on. I remember looking at the clock as it said 915. They took me back to the previous room and I kept hearing doctors being paged. They brought in more fluids and a bag of blood because apparently I was too low. More nurses rushed in and I noticed there was a group of doctors all talking to my doctor. Then he came in and told me I had to have surgery immediately. I asked why and he said my organs were shutting down and handed me a phone to call my parents. I asked why again and he said “just in case” and darted out to prep for surgery.

I couldn’t focus and was too afraid to dial the phone so my roommate did. He tried to explain but my mom insisted that she talk to me. I tried masking my voice so she wouldn’t think I was scared, but mothers always know better. She told me to stay strong and that she loved me and it took everything I had not to lose it. Seconds later they said it was time to go and the machines were making more noises but when the nurse said that I couldn’t hear anything else. it was 922. This was serious. As they were wheeling me down for this surgery I stared up at the fluorescent lights and thought about how much I loathed them. time slowed and all of these never-ending questions about being gay popped into my head.

Why was this haippening. Why didn’t I pay attention to all this. What if I don’t make it. What if I die right here. What if I never see him again to tell him I love him and always will. What about my mom. What if..this is punishment…if it is then why did God make me this way. Why didn’t I live my life the way I wanted to. What if people never knew the real me. Why didn’t I tell everyone who didn’t already know I was gay. Why did I wait so long..Why

Then the next thing I knew I was waking up. I looked around and wondered if the surgery had taken place and then I wondered if I was having some out of body experience and then I let myself wonder if I was dead. and I freaked out. I started pulling at the sheets and screaming out of being so scared and disoriented. The machines were violently screaming as loud as I was and the nurses appeared from nowhere with several needles and within seconds I was out; I woke up looking at florescent lights as I was being wheeled down the hall. I started thinking I was dreaming again and everything that just happened was some drug hallucination and I was crying again and calling out for my mom and we turned the corner and she was there with my dad and my roommate.

I have never cried so hard in my life seeing her blue green eyes look at me, telling me that it was okay and to calm down. All it did was make me cry harder.  They wheeled me to my room and hooked up more machines and gave me more drugs to calm me down because I was aching all over. The doctor came in to tell that my appendix had ruptured and because it become septic my organs began to fail but I didn’t care about what he was saying. The fact that I was alive and with the people that loved me most was all that mattered. I didn’t care how close I came to death because I was alive.

After some time had passed I grabbed my mom’s hands and told her that I was going to be open to everyone else about being gay and she was of course fine with it. I told myself that if I pulled through this I was going to completely be who I was. And if. When people asked I would tell them. I asked my roommate to give me my phone and while he and my parents went to go get coffee I checked my voicemail out of habit and found out about another friend that had killed himself because he was gay. we were the same age and both of us had to face the darkest parts of humanity. But he was gone.

For a moment I felt so guilty because moments ago I was so elated about being alive in that moment. I sat there and let a few tears fall before collecting myself and scrolled down to the man that I had been unable to confess the truth to several months ago. Since death had been trying to say something to me twice in one day I finally decided to listen. It gave me the courage to be open publicly about who I have always been. Gay. And I have never felt so free in my life. I called the man I had loved all of my adult life at 1137pm on that first Monday in March and told him that I had almost died that day, that I was gay, and that I loved him.

Even with how hard it is to write all this down and share my most personal story it’s even harder for me to think of people suffering and feeling that they don’t belong in this world because of who they are. That maybe if I share my story, all of my story, it will encourage others to do the same so that people that are gay will avoid the missteps that I took and never have to endure what I went through. That they read stories like this and it makes them think of the kids that have it even worse than I did. That it may speak to those that felt like they have no support and are relentlessly bullied. So maybe those that feel insecure about who they are don’t feel the need to torture other kids for something they hate about themselves that they shouldn’t hate.

So maybe give that one kid perspective that even when you literally have no reason to believe that it will get better that if you hold on, that it does get better. You see today could have also been a very sad day for my parents. Instead of them talking to me on the phone they could’ve been laying some anniversary flowers at a gravesite and that makes me think of all the parents like those of Bailey, Tyler Clementi, Matthew Sheppard, and so many others that do or will now have these sad heartbreaking anniversaries. I don’t want us to lose another human being this way.

I do not want another soul to feel fear that they cannot embrace and love who they are. And if sharing our lives can get one person that is going through this to think then they will have served their purpose. The only way we can change the world is when we are willing to look at our own lives and question what we could be doing differently. And I am grateful that I was able to have the opportunity to tell others to ask themselves to realize that we do not have forever to be who we are today. And how much strength and love is waiting for you when you are ready to embrace who you are.

Dear Parents Of Gay Children

gayparenting (1)

Often I’m asked to approach all facets of coming out of the closet and today is no different. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about our process as we come to accept our sexuality. But I haven’t addressed how us coming out affects the people in our lives. Not just the everyday people that we may have to interact with at school or work. I’m talking about loved ones that are a part of our lives and care about. Our parents and siblings and extended family and even close friends.

See, often the process they go through isn’t talked about. Because while this journey is solely about your own self-discovery, when we come out, it is also a part of their lives and their stories. Talking about our process brings perspective and with that provides clarity for those who beginning the process. So I thought I would write a letter To Whom It May Concern to the parents that addresses their process as well as ours. Because we all go through a process. And we need to talk about it.

Dear Mom and Dad

Today, we shared with you one of, if not the, biggest secrets about who we are. Today we old you we are gay/lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. You don’t know how hard it was for us to tell you all this but it is a long, often challenging process that we do alone.We know that this is a process for you as well but there are some things you should know that we for various reasons may not be able to accurately express right now. We know that you are probably having varying levels of emotion right now so let us try to address some of what may be going on in your head. 

From a young age we already knew this about ourselves and how different we were from almost everyone else. We tried so hard at a young age to understand why we were so different than everyone else. At first we just couldn’t understand what this meant and we didn’t know how to articulate it. And maybe you saw the internal battle taking place but didn’t know how to address it either and we can’t fault you for that.

As we grew older, we came to make more discoveries of why and at this point, may or may not have come to accept it. Going through puberty is hard on everyone and this secret magnified our experiences. We were constantly bombarded with moments of confusion and fear to anger because of how some of us are bullied for being different. We wanted to tell you so badly what we were going through but feared your judgment more than anything else and it would be too much to handle. 

And then we reached a point that not telling the truth was too much because the thought of living the rest of our lives being someone we’re not was no longer worth it. And we, just like everyone else deserve a chance to be happy. From having the right career to good friends to being able to find a love of our own and possibly start a family, we deserve all of those things that you have envisioned. We’re also writing this because of some of the ways you may react to this and we want to address that as well.

We know at first you may not be accepting of who we are. You may struggle for months, even years after we come out. Sometimes even longer. We wish we knew how long it’ll take for you to accept the truth and somehow congratulate your child for being an exceptional being that embraced who they really are. All the while we wish that you would just hold us and take away the fear and anxiety that we are consumed with as we watch our parents struggle with this indelible truth. 

We know that you may be relentlessly examining everything that you have ever said or done with us to determine if there is something that you did wrong. Beating yourself up over if maybe you were too lenient or not strict enough. Searching for signs that you may have missed or interpreted differently. Wondering if you somehow showed that this “behavior” as you see it was something that you condone. These may be your thoughts as a parent’s first instinct is always to love and protect us. You want to ensure that we are safe and free from any pain or threat. Maybe that’s where your resistance to accept our sexuality comes from.

We know that a lot of times the experience of finding out your child is gay is erroneously compared to the death of a child. We of course know that being gay is nowhere near that devastating and we implore that you stop saying that. Because it is not devastating. Being LGBT is great. Maybe you compare it to death because you feel like the child you have always known (or thought they knew) no longer exists. Maybe it feels like the dreams that you envisioned when you first laid eyes upon us child are gone.

But we also know that isn’t true either. We know that we are able to have fulfilling lives and can have families just like straight couples. We are working on fighting for equal rights so we can marry the man or woman of our dreams. We can have children if we choose to do so. All the things that you envisioned for us are still possible.  It just doesn’t happen in the way that you thought it would, just like everything else in life. We are still alive and right in front of you. And we still want your warmth, guidance, and love.

Maybe you’re wondering why we didn’t tell you because you love and accept us no matter what and we are thankful. But there’s a lot of different reasons why. We feared being rejected and disowned by you and by society. We fear being bullied and beaten. We are angry at the prospect of being treated differently. Or we just wasn’t ready because this is a time of self-discovery and with that, some things we have to learn on our own. And even though you have supported us through everything else, we just weren’t ready because we were still processing it. 

We know you may say it is because of your beliefs that you don’t support who we are. And we need for you to know that with all of your beliefs that the one thing that you have taught us all our lives is to love no matter what. To show compassion and a willingness to learn something that we (you) do not understand.  And those beliefs taught both you and us to not judge the differences. That people are different and that this is no exception.

But we are our own people with our own thoughts and beliefs and truths that may not reflect your own, but we still love you just as much as when you kissed our scrapped knees and you took us to our first theme park and sleepovers. Our late-night chats about life. The hard lessons about discovering how cruel and how great the world can be. How to love and respect those around us. 

We know now that some things are different. And as our parents, you do have to learn the new rules. Just as we discovered as adults, we know you have to learn how certain phrases that made us cringe at and would make us cry ourselves to sleep at night are no longer acceptable. Because when those jokes at someone else’s expense are about us now too. And we say this all with all the respect and love that we have for them. 

Us coming out was not done out of contempt, malice, a challenge to authority or you grounding us for sneaking out of the house when we were kids. We told you because we want you to know us. The real us so that you see that we other than our sexuality, we are still your child with the same dreams.

We are here to remind you that we are still their children and are worthy of your love. That your fears and beliefs will not change that. We want you to know that under no uncertain terms was us being LGBT a decision that we were coerced into by wayward friends on the other side of the train tracks. It is simply how we were made. You have nothing to feel guilty about in that aspect.

We need you to know that this is not going to change and that this is who we are. We have learned that there is nothing wrong with being LGBT. You do however have a say in how you react and how you treat us. You can be open minded and let us share with you our experiences so that you can have clarity about it. You do have the power to show us that your love truly is unconditional. 

We don’t know how you will process this but we hope that you will at least try to understand. And we are willing to respectfully talk about this with you to help your process. In the meantime, we will continue to live our lives authentically and proudly as you have always taught us to do so. We hope that you will want to be a part of that journey as much as you were the moment you laid eyes on us. 

Love Always

Us 

Some of these elements of this letter is what I wrote my parents and I am forever thankful for their understanding and love. Even after I came out, and even with how unconditional the love my parents have for me, they still needed time to process me being gay. Because until I said it, no matter their suspicions, they still weren’t sure. They needed to hear me say it in order for it to be true.

We all faced some elements of this letter and that’s why I constructed it in this manner, hoping I touched on the varying ways that our parent’s reactions are after we tell them our reality. We hope that our parents will be open and ready for meaningful dialogue. Even though it may take time we have to live our own lives. Still this process is about you, and hopefully they will see that and show that their love truly is unconditional.

First Loves To Push & Shoves; More Tales Of Growing Up Gay

 dark gay

In my last piece I focused on the beginning of our process. The time of innocence and discovery that allows us to see how we’re different. And now this tale is about the middle part of this journey. It’s darker because this is when the internal conflict of accepting who you are and what everyone else believes you are.  During this time of the process we are presented with pushes and shoves that drive us to acceptance. Some are subtle yet linger with us while others are overt direct conflict that consumes every aspect of our daily lives. The time in which we leave our adolescence and begin adulthood is marked with these shoves during our process. Even though this is not as lighthearted and carefree as the first tale, it is just as important. Maybe even more so.

So I had learned I was different in third grade. Even though this discovery is monumental, the way I came about it was so carefree and innocent. And I was not prepared for the dark twist and turns of development coming my way. As we get into adolescence and later adulthood, we start to feel those push to understand and accept being gay. The first shove was to understand why I was different. Why I thought about guys instead of girls. Why I felt the need to want I wondered for what seemed like years why I didn’t like girls the same way. I thought girls were great. Still do. They’re nice and have amazing hair that I always want to play with for hours on end.  But that shove to be like all the other guys was strong; I was never quite able to be as they were.

It lead me to take on more androgynous behaviors and to this day I am still not sure if it was intentional or because I enjoyed those activities. And this understanding leads me to my first dark period. Bad hair, bad clothes and a sullen guy that listened to R.E.M. on repeat every day. That was coupled with my brief consideration on whether or not this was truly what God wanted for me. I also knew it was about how I didn’t fit into everyone else’s mold of what a stocky 6’4 guy should be like. I quickly learned not to care what others thought about every other area of my life but I still refused to confirm what a select few had suspected. And the representations of what I thought gay was did not resemble me at all so I didn’t know how to be gay. Or maybe I was just stubborn.

Those awkward years ended and finally I was an adult. I felt like as soon as I arrived on my first day that I would feel this euphoria and be able to just come out, everyone would be cool and I wouldn’t care either way because I was happy. And even though that year was the best of my life I still felt hollow. Because I still hadn’t come out yet. The shove of a new life and new beginnings was not enough for me to come out and fully accept my sexuality. I knew and accepted it years before. And more importantly to me, my parents knew. At that time their opinion and support was all that mattered. I often wonder if it was fear of being judged on one more thing I could not change. Because of my race I had faced discrimination. And I did not want to have to always be aware of something everyone else would constantly judge me on. But until I had that final push came the first of much one summer night. Or maybe I was just scared.

And during that summer after my first year of college came another shove. I had the privilege of making friends to two men like me that felt they could trust me with their secret. I was the first person they told that they were gay. That secret that was also my secret, but I just wasn’t brave enough to do so. One friend was there on campus working during the summer months after my freshman year, also known as one of the best years of my life, with me. One night he pulled me aside and asked me to go out for a walk with him as he had something to tell me. And I obliged wondering what he had to say.

We walked across the street and sat on the surprisingly cool steps of our university’s conference building and stared up at the stars, our favorite pastime. But Mick (I nickname all my close guy friends that, I don’t know why) was so quiet that night. And I sensed something was wrong. He turned to me with a tear falling down his face and said, “I don’t want you to hate me, Sly.” And my heart sank for him because I couldn’t take away his pain. I assured him for several minutes that he didn’t have to be afraid of him and that I will support him no matter what. And he said. I’m gay. And I said okay what else is there? And he smiled. Letting out a huge sigh of relief he started to cry tears. I’ll never forget this expression of ease and freedom that was so visibly etched on his face. And then I began to cry.

My heart felt like it was in my throat because I so desperately wanted to say “So am I, Mick” but I didn’t. And he asked what was wrong, holding my hand and more tears strewn down to the ground. The push was one of the most intense feelings I’ve ever felt. So torn on when to come out. I kept thinking would I take away from his moment or would this be a double celebration. Finally I recovered saying I’ll always be there for you and support you no matter what. This doesn’t change anything between us. And even though I meant those words they felt like cruel malicious lies because I was unable to say that I’m gay too and you’re not alone. We talked and laughed and when I went back to my room I cried until I fell asleep. The push, or this internal desire was not strong enough to do it. Or maybe I still felt alone.

The next shove was the most subtle and the most powerful. It has the scale and drama of those relentless romantic comedies I avoid religiously.  Because one of my last shoves was love. I had met a guy the very first day of college and I was in awe. He was lanky but still so statuesque. A business major with charisma that could woo the most uptight person into having a good time. He was smooth and I was in love. And even though neither of us was out at the time we were drawn to each other as if we knew each other’s secrets. A common trait of mine is to hide my greatest treasures away from everyone else in order to preserve them. Or maybe I’m just a little selfish.

We flirted off and on for years and came so close to something happening. But knew the moment either of us gave into our desires, we would have to share that secret about us. We weren’t willing to do that yet. We’d lose touch with each other then randomly find each other. But we still were unable to commit to announcing that we were both gay. Then during the summer before I started grad school I saw him randomly again. Before we had a chance to say hello we kissed. Impulsive and right in public. We hugged and talked as he asked me about when I finally had come out and I said I hadn’t yet. This changed the tone and he wanted to give us a real chance at something but only after I was out. But I still wasn’t out yet. And we hung out more and I felt the shove to embrace my sexuality more than anything because I wanted to be with him. He went on his way later that week and we kept in touch. I wasn’t fully ready but I was closer than ever.

And then a few months later my last shoves came. They weren’t sweet with hints of love even though I thought about my sexuality more than anything. They were dark and cold. The last shoves were death itself. I had been so stressed with school and grades I thought my appendix erupting was a simple flu virus. When I finally arrived at the hospital they had me prepped for surgery within 15 minutes because I was bleeding internally and were uncertain I would even survive the procedure. They said I should make a quick phone call to my parents and I did. This acceptance of being gay had consumed my thoughts so much that I ignored my own health. And as they rushed me to the operating room, O remember the bright fluorescent lights above me and I vowed that if I made it I would live as openly and authentically as possible.

Then news came of a college friend that had committed suicide because he was gay. Reading and hearing about it as I was healing from major surgery, I remember crying because I wasn’t just sad. I was livid. Because I felt that maybe if I were out sooner that he wouldn’t have felt so alone. I know that it’s not my fault, or at least convinced myself that I had no control over his actions. But I will always wonder had he been around more people that were completely out would it have changed the outcome and that I believe is true in anyone’s life.

So I had shoves in all states of my being. From the emotional, what felt like physical when confronted with how someone else’s truth was also my own and the spiritual side. Sometimes all at the same time, all shoving me to either come out or be alone forever. And I was terrified of both. You see there’s this push and pull. This shoving and stalling the entire time until you are full out. There is time of frustration and anger throughout. I felt even with all I knew and awareness I felt I possessed I still couldn’t own it yet. Even with my parents’ support I still hesitated for years in completely embracing my sexuality. Because that conflict, that pushing and shoving doesn’t end until we allow that process of understanding that we are different in one aspect than everyone else. Self-acceptance comes on its own time when you are willing to accept it. It took years for many of us. But thankfully that is changing for the better.

Again, I tell these stories because I feel we all need to share them. Because even though the newer generation of gay men and women have it better than us it still does not make that process any easier. But the way we make it easier is a result of them reading our stories and life lessons and insights so that maybe they avoid some of the things it took us years to learn. And for them to know that their feelings and emotions through this process is normal. Because it is about their development. So maybe they find more tears of joy than sadness. To know that they are not alone.

 

The Who’s What’s Where’s When’s And Why’s Of Being Gay

gay question

There are many what’s when’s where’s who’s and why’s to being gay. Because there is a neverending parade of questions that we begin to ask ourselves. We make speculations but all that does is raise more questions. It is a time marked by fear and pain that we carry with us. But it is also a time of strength and empowerment. So many vacillating emotions go into this process because it is an ongoing process. Through progress and setbacks these moments define our lives. But these five types of questions are the stages we face when we are gay. When I write about these experiences and stories I have only one goal in mind and that is that the more we share the more we grow. That the more we discuss in detail our processes of accepting our sexual

Now this has been written about before but it’s not enough. Even though we have resources like PFLAG that gives an objective and well versed PowerPoint on this process it is still not enough. Because to me, it reads more as an instruction manual rather than really delving into the emotions of what it’s like to be gay. There are so many emotions and questions that seem to lack answers. And while they give a general overlook for the LGBT community, I am focusing specifically on the gay community. Makes me think that we also need to hear more about the other aspects of our community but I can only do it justice if I speak from my own experience.

5 Stages of Being Gay

Discovery/Questioning This is the beginning. The first moments when you realize that you’re not like everyone else. Like most of us this happens at an early age. We notice how we may interact differently than the other guys around us. We may not be into the same things or play the same way. We may not want to dress like our other male classmates or prefer the same music. We have our first evidence of our differences in random encounters and innocent kisses. We may like the same things that girls like. Or we may do the exact same things as our male counterparts but almost like a sixth sense we know we aren’t quite the same.

Then as we progress into adolescence, we develop but in body and in mind. The awkward stage of being between a child and an adult. By now most of us know what’s different. When we aren’t trying to get the cute cheerleader’s phone number or going out for the position of quarterback on our high school football team. When we may have higher voices than all the other guys. When we might walk and move differently too. In a time when we want to be just like anyone else we can’t help but feel  the most different and even more alone. Because by now we’ve recognized on some level why we’re different. When we know that we are gay.

Anger/Confusion And as a result of this discovery comes more questions and no answers. This goes on throughout all but the final stage of acceptance. This can last for years. Constant never-ending questions about why we’re different  We’re angry because we aren’t like everyone else because we just want to fit in. We are angry at everyone else for not being like us.  We seek out the answer from our elders. Needing to find clarity of why we think about having sex with guys. Why do we dream about it almost every night. Why do we always have all these feelings when we see a guy we find attractive.

Why do we think of his shape; his hairy arms, his thighs, his strong hands and legs, his furry chest and chiseled abs, his beautiful eyes. Why do we dream of his hands encapsulated in mine as we gaze at the stars. Why can’t we think of something else. Why can’t we think of girls like everyone else. Why can’t we be like everyone else. We can’t stay this way. Why does God hate us.  Why can’t we be this way. Why do we have to try to be like everyone else. Why does it feel like everything about us a lie. We do we have to pray this away. Why are we so stressed that we make ourselves sick. Why can’t we stop lashing out at the ones trying to help even though they don’t know what’s wrong. Why do we have to let go of everything we thought we’d be. Why can’t we stop crying. Why do we keep thinking about his eyes. Why are we so damn afraid.

Admittance That moment when not only do we know but still may not know why. We are going through what feels like an emotional rollercoaster and there are no signs of it ending. For whatever reasons, while we may not be willing to accept it but we can at least admit it to ourselves. It may take years before we full accept it, if ever. We will always be different no matter how hard we try or hide the truth from everyone else. We know that we will never be like everyone else. And the dreams that our parents had for us will never turn out the way they planned. And it is a time where we are relentlessly contemplating what our next step is and where that may lead.

Where do we go from here. Where do we get the strength to accept that we are gay. Where did gay come from. Where will I learn how to be gay. Where can I go to stop being so afraid. Where will we go if our parents kick us out of the house. Where do we go to fix this. Where do I go to learn how to hide this. Where is the explanation why we were made this way. Where was God when he made us.

Fear and Doubt More and more questions with still no clear answers. And like confusion/anger, we go through this during most of the other stages. Constantly afraid to even think about what being gay could mean for us and how it will impact the rest of our lives. Terrified that we are being judged for every single thing we do. Fear that we will never be able to be like everyone else. Always fearing we will never be happy. And we doubt that we will ever be able to come out. We begin to doubt our judgment in all other areas of our lives. We even begin to doubt the few answers that we are able to find.

What if everyone else finds out. What if everyone else hates us. What if people tease us. What if God hates us. What if we can’t be saved and we burn in hell. What if they were right and we are wrong. What if there is something wrong with us. What if my friends start hating me. What if I never find anyone that can love me for me. What if I’m alone forever. What if people try to beat me up or try to kill me. What if I just give up end it all. What if gay is wrong. What if our mothers stop loving us.

Acceptance Then to us what appears as some miracle, things begin to change. Maybe an event or person has entered our lives to show is that there is nothing wrong with being gay. Maybe it was just time we needed to accept the truth. But we reach a moment. A pure, crystalline moment that frees us from all other thought and reason to the contrary. Because we have finally began to accept us.

 We have finally accepted that we’re gay and admit. No longer do we think about being like everyone else because we like who we are. As we have accepted and embraced our sexuality we are finally able to do the same in the other areas of our lives. We realize that being gay is not the only thing we are. We don’t care about being different anyone. So many nights we wondered would we ever feel better. It got better. We can sit back and let our fantasies run wild because it is natural. It is okay. We will be okay. To hell with trying to convince everyone else okay because we are not living for them, we are living for us. We are free.

Who knew we were this strong. Who knew that we would realize that there is nothing wrong with us. Who knew that our friends and family love us unconditionally. Who knew that even though some may have turned their backs on us that we are still okay. Who knew that we could like being gay. Who knew that gay isn’t much different than being straight. Who knew that we can still have all the things our parents dreamed for us. Who knew that we would love ourselves again.

You see, all of these who what’s whens where’s and whys are about me and you. These stages aren’t all linear and we go through some longer than others. I searched my journals for days and these were the things I asked. Even though they are all the personal questions I asked, these are the questions that we all ask. Because even though monumental events like this are hard to forget they are always a series of questions and answers. Even though I had admitted to myself when I was still a child I had not yet accepted it until I almost died. And then learning about a friend who took his own life because he was gay was enough for me. If ever there was a time to believe in signs to change my life those were two of the most defining moments.

I thought about the mothers that have lost their sons and daughters too soon and how my silence was suffocating my own life. Their pain was too powerful for me not to reflect upon my life. I gained the courage to fight back all the fears and doubts and face that this was who I was always meant to be. I searched for all the questions I had about being gay but the most freeing thing I have ever felt in this life is when  I discovered the answers lay within me. It is an extremely empowering moment.

When we share our stories it helps others dictate how they want their story written. Our lives all different but our questions are the same. The more we share the better the make it for those that go through the same way. We show that it’s normal to feel this way and that it is okay to be who they are. Because we are tired of seeing people being so bullied and afraid that they feel like the only way out is to end their life and that has to stop. When we talk about our paths, our stories, our lives and how our questions are the same. it shows how the process of accepting things as they truly are frees us. I only hope that it leads to those still afraid to do the same and answers some of their questions.

Special thanks for the twitter friends Tony, Jim, Mark, Colin, Christopher, Roy, and Mike D that helped inspire this article, and to my journals for being there for me during a time when I feared no one else would be.