This I Believe

Joshua - Crystal Lake, Illinois
Entered on December 14, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I believe that I am me.

What a simple statement—yet one that has taken me years to reach. Years to believe that this is who I am. Years to learn that the person I am is so much better than the person I want to be. Years to assume the role instead of donning the mask.

In elementary school I was the “gay” kid. Not that I have anything against being gay, but as a fourth grader it was a horrible name to be called. It wasn’t just a name with no meaning, either; I vividly remember a boy my own age fleeing from me in perceived fear that I “liked” him. I was an outcast, and after I was told for years how I didn’t belong in the crowd, I eventually began to tell myself the same thing.

Middle school found me in a new town meeting new people. A fresh start. But these paradigms were so ingrained in me that I had soon established a reputation—not as a gay, but an outcast nonetheless. One other student, Mike, tried to befriend me, but he wasn’t part of the crowd I longed to join, so I chose to find him annoying. Mike was weird, and I didn’t want to be like him. I wanted to be special. I wanted to be the person on the other side of the social barrier—the one that everyone loved, the one that hung out with cool people after school, the one that was good at sports and not just at music. The one that people appreciated.

Gradually, I discovered what seemed to be a happy medium as I entered high school. The students were becoming nicer and more accepting of musicians, so I decided to change my personality to fit the rest of the bill. I put on a mask of sociality. I resolved never to let anyone see my inner self, not even Mike, who had become my friend despite my best efforts. My inner self was obnoxious. No one liked it, not even me. So I had to become the persona that I wore.

Gradually, though, something changed. I began to notice how weird other people were—and yet they all had a place where they belonged. Then I understood that I had a place, too, and it was with Mike and his kind—my true friends. Though there was no clear moment of catharsis, I eventually discovered that not only do my true friends like the real me more than the fake, but I can also enjoy my life much more as myself.

From the moment I entered college, I felt more accepted because of this newfound freedom coupled with another new beginning. People know the real me now, and I am much more respected and appreciated than I have ever before been. I need no one’s acceptance or affirmation to know that I am special, though. I believe that I am me—no more, no less.