I believe that nobody can make me feel anything about myself unless I choose to feel it. Knowing this gives me a strength that nothing and nobody can diminish inside. It’s not easy to put this into words; it is not something one can be taught. It is rather that sense of belonging to the greater whole of the Universe that comes from understanding that you are perfect exactly as you are.
This isn’t something I’ve come by easily. I am a gay man in his late thirties. I have experienced hatred and bias, sometimes violent. As a boy I was teased often for acting differently than my brothers or classmates thought I should. I was ecstatic to finally go away to college and get away from them to a place where I could be myself.
While I found friends at college, I realized quickly that hurtful people were there, too. I did not actually come out until my fourth year, and then only to my best friend. I told her what I then believed: I had no reason to “come out” as so many gay men do. Straight people do not “come out”; why should I? Ask me and I will tell you; otherwise do not assume.
I had convinced myself that there was no reason to identify myself as a “gay man” to the world, sporting pride flags and the whole bit. I was glad there were those who fought for equal rights, but I wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t my style, I said. I was too conservative, I told myself, to need to flaunt the fact that I was proud of being gay. But I was lying to myself. I had been called hurtful names and had been taunted and hurt-emotionally and physically-so much over the years that I learned, as all gay people do to a greater or lesser degree, to adapt and create a public face so as not to offend others.
Some people have difficulty understanding why gays have so much trouble in society. Intellectually there are those who support us, and who work on our behalf, and I am grateful for this. But changing society is not my goal when I hold my partner’s hand at the movie theater. I do not seek to unravel the social paradigm when I kiss him hello at the restaurant after a long day apart. I do these things because I love him and I will express this love for him whenever and wherever I feel like it. People may look, and, as happened not long ago, people may actually threaten me. But I rarely even notice anymore, and that is as it should be. Life is too short to be someone you’re not to make others more comfortable.
Nobody is born with an instruction book, and we’re all trying to figure out this thing called Life as we go along. But I have learned one thing that has made all the difference: Nobody can make me feel anything about myself unless I choose to feel it.
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