Moving in the middle of the school year, as opposed to the beginning, prevented me from going to the school that most the other kids in my neighborhood attended. It was a “magnet school,” which is just a fancy way of describing a public school where the kid’s parents are present enough to actually arrange for their kid to be driven to and from school (there are no busses). They always have an air of selectivity and “elite-ness” about them and so these schools cap out at the beginning of the year.
As a transfer student to the district, there was no room to accommodate me which meant that I had to be bussed 30 minutes to an inner-city school called “Auburndale.” It was known to the kids in the suburbs as “Auburn-jail” because of the metal bars adorning the perimeter, the stereotypes about the student body, and the school’s sub-par acedemic reputation.
|Camping with the family when I was in middle school.|
I walked down the line of tables with my eyes set on the ones at the end where few people sat. As I walked, however, a boy called to me as I walked by and so I stopped. He had just taken a bite of pizza and it was difficult to understand what exactly he had said to me, but I stopped anyway and stood there while he wiped his greasy mouth with a napkin, turned around, and stuffed it into my untouched pizza. I was humiliated. He and his friends laughed and I walked on to the end table throwing my lunch in the trash along the way. I wanted to run away and cry, but I knew I couldn’t. Real men don’t hurt. Or cry. It would only make things worse for me.
My mother can attest, however, (and I feel awful about putting her through it), that those tears flowed freely every night before bed. I’d cry myself to sleep every night for weeks until I grew a skin thick enough to endure the pain in the way men are supposed to endure it. Skin is meant to protect us from harm. It is our armor. It is the wall of protection which guards our bodies from being invaded by some evil outside force. And so one day, after I had built walls thick enough, I stopped crying. And I wouldn’t shed another tear for twelve years.
Being gay isn’t everything that I am. It isn’t the one defining characteristic. But it is a very large part of why I am the person that I am. I learned from a young age to guard myself. I couldn’t let other’s see too deeply into me for fear they would discover the thing inside that I was desperately trying to eradicate. I was sure that being found out would destroy me. I knew my only choice was to take that secret to the grave.
|Set up on a blind date at BYU by friends|
|Camping in Moab my Junior year at BYU-2009|
I wish I could say that after accepting my sexual orientation, it has become easier to let people in and see me for who I am. But I think I wrestle with the same insecurities I’ve always had. I fear how others might respond to what they see in me. Whether it is a seventh-grade bully that labeled me a loser, or a college friend who might discover I was gay, or even a lover who will ultimately see all of my flaws; I have difficulty letting people in. It has taken me some time to figure out why this pattern repeats itself throughout my life in every stage, but writing this post has given me a lead.
From a young age, I felt fundamentally flawed… I was different. I perceived that difference as weakness— one which threatened to invalidate me in the eyes of everyone I knew and loved. Being “different” is something we all relate to. Some differences, like skin color, are impossible to hide. But I could hide my “flaw,” and hiding it was a better alternative than being perceived as different. I could “act straight.” I could control my actions, dismiss my feelings and rationalize my thoughts. I could pass as another member of the heterosexual majority. And so, I became a master people-pleaser— believing that, perhaps, if I tried hard enough to be what other’s wanted me to be, this feeling of utter deficiency would leave me.
What I didn’t realize was, not only did I forfeit to others the power to define whether I was a failure or success, but I positioned myself in such a way that I could never actually believe I was a success even if others expressed it. It was an unquenchable thirst for validation. I immediately dismissed any praise by accepting the lie that if they knew my secret, they would never say such validating things. And although I have learned to accept myself as a gay man, I have yet to learn to accept my flaws. I still feel invalidated by them. I build walls around me to keep people from seeing them.
I don’t want to live a life behind walls I've self-constructed based on the fear that everyone outside is potentially that seventh grade bully. I don’t want to give power to others to define my worth or value. I’m tired of feeling ashamed of the human underneath this skin. It is too heavy a burden.
“A man's shortcomings are taken from his epoch; his virtues and greatness belong to himself.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“Accept yourself: flaws, quirks, talents, secret thoughts, all of it, and experience true liberation.”
-Amy Leigh Mercree