Nothing is ever as it seems, but in the end it all will make sense. This statement is one I try to remember each and every day. So far my life (27 years young) has been filled with great happiness and some sadness.
Someone once told me, “Everything will be okay, I promise!” and regardless of what he was, who he was, or how he treated me, I would have to agree with him. There are things in our lives that seem like they never will get better. Events we think we will never overcome or, that we'll never believe in ourselves again. People who are always willing to put you down at any given moment in life. People we try to steer away from, but always seem to find their way back into our lives to put us down. These things, I promise you, will get better. They will make you stronger. They will help you grow into a better human being. But most of all, these things will make you learn how to love yourself again.
My story, along with others, is unique but different in the same light. To give you context around mine, here is a little about me growing into my own.
I was raised by a hard working blue collar family in a factory city in Wisconsin; Father a factory worker since graduating high school and mother with her associates degree working in an eye doctors office. I was fortunate enough to be raised by both parents, who are still married and by far the cutest couple (bias, I know). I grew up eating, breathing and sleeping sports but my passion was in soccer. My parents did everything they could to raise money for me to go to the Milwaukee Wave soccer camp every year. If you grew up in the 1990s in Wisconsin, you will know how cool it was to meet these great soccer players at the age of 8. If I wasn’t playing soccer, my family was traveling to northern Wisconsin where we would go boating, tubing, fishing, and roast marshmallows over the campfire. It was around the age of 12 I started to realize I was different than all the other kids. But growing up Christian, I knew from church it wasn’t okay to be gay or have these feelings.
But amidst these happy times came some gloom. When I was in the first grade I was sexually assaulted, and this would forever change the dynamic of my life and the way I thought of myself.
Throughout my middle school days, I was the kid who loved Student Council and leadership camps. The one who was always afraid of showing up late to class and disappointing my parents, teachers, and family members. To me, I was your normal Wisconsin kid. One who tried their hardest in school, played sports, and loved hunting, fishing, and being in the woods. You could say I grew up in the “masc” world. I looked up to men who were kind, hard-working, chivalrous, and overall fun to be around. These handful of men have molded a part of me and who I aspired to be when I grew up. However, these men are entitled to their own opinion, and in that, there was some chauvinistic rhetoric that came along. Hearing this hatred of a fellow human, where I have secretly placed myself in the gay category since I was 12, was hard to swallow. How could someone who is so kind and helpful be so hateful? Instead of growing farther apart from these men, I grew closer to them in the hopes if I act like them, these feelings of being gay would dissipate or go away. Rather I had more questions than ever. Why was it okay for two women to kiss but not two men? Why would God create someone who he didn’t love? Why would we treat one act of sin different from the others?
After middle school, high school was a bigger challenge. High school is a place where adolescents are finding themselves but sometimes at the expense of others. Yes, I’ve been bullied, been an outcast, hazed because others thought of me to be different or gay. But thinking back it wasn’t all too bad. It may sound bad, but like I mentioned before,
“Everything will be okay, I promise."
For me, I found my safety in work. Whether it be with my job outside of school, managing the school store, competing in business clubs, or spending time with my family at the cabin, my family and friends were very proud of what I have done but there was always a missing piece. I knew what this missing piece was, but I couldn’t come to terms with what it was. I wasn’t gay, I liked doing “masculine” things like hunting, fishing, and playing sports – stereotypically straight activities. I volunteered at church, went on service projects to help rebuild homes for the less fortunate, didn’t have anyone in my family that was gay. This couldn’t be me – or was it? Was something wrong with me? Was it because of the sexual abuse when I was younger…Yes, that had to be it. It was the only thing at the time to explain these feelings I was having. Again, I pushed these feelings deep down and worked through the “confusion”.
High school passed with a few girlfriends – that all ended a few months after they started. Then came college.
For some, college is a time for exploration and self-identification. The first two years, I continued to trap myself into thinking I wasn’t gay. Once I was a junior, I started to live a double life for the next three years. I was coming to realize who I was and started to live that way… but behind closed doors. It wasn’t until I hit a mental breaking point due to a secret fling that became mentally abusive that I decided I didn’t care what others thought and I came out for the first time to my best friend from college. Which brings me to my first short story.
The funny part of how I came out was how it came about. At the time, I was living in Madison and my best friend from college was in Milwaukee. On a Saturday night, I had set up a Tinder date with a female in Milwaukee, which as you can imagine didn’t work out. It was after dinner and I texted my buddy and told him I was in town. It is important to note he is gay as well. He told me to stop on over as he was at his friend's aunt's place for a dinner party. I walked over and he introduced me to his friend and we chatted over a few bottles of wine. It was getting late and both wanted to get to bed, but something weird was happening. Not sure if it was the failed Tinder date, the bottle of wine, or just me sick of keeping this secret. I told him we should grab a drink and catch up. He agreed and off we went to the nearest bar in the third ward. Palms sweaty, heart pounding and the fear of rejection – though in retrospect he was gay, too. Why would he reject me or not be happy for me? We sat down at a table not far off from the bar. It was loud, and the wine was hitting us both hard, but the conversation went something like this:
Me: “So, I have something I want to tell you?”
Him: “Okay… like?”
Me: “Well, it is kinda hard for me to say it so I guess it’s easier to show you.”
Him: “LOL Okay.”
I grabbed my phone and pulled up a picture of my crush, still to this day, Ben Cohen. And just to clarify, the rugby player, not the businessman – just in case you Google him. Again, in retrospect, I don’t know why I thought showing a picture would be easier compared to texting it or whispering it.
With the picture of Ben on my phone, I slid it across the table while half covering it up thinking someone behind me would see a professional photo of Ben and assume I’m gay… But I was about to tell my best friend just that: “I’m gay."
Him: “Whaaa, really? You’re gay… OMG this is awesome. Wait, have you told anyone else?”
Me: “No, you’re the first person I told.”
In an instant, I could feel the weight lift off my shoulders. The fact I told only one person and I wasn’t rejected or cursed at felt amazing. All my worst fears were all for naught. It felt better than a brand new pair of socks, ice cream on a hot day, or winning $200 on a scratch off.
Him: “Wow, well I’m truly honored and happy you felt comfortable to tell me. Wait, have you ever been to a gay bar?
Me: “Yes, but not with friends.”
Him: “Okay, we are leaving and going to one right now.”
As we sat at the bar catching up and reliving our college days I couldn’t help but think,
even though this gay bar wasn’t packed with people, it was packed with acceptance and I was with my best friend who loved me inside and out.
Being gay doesn't define who you are. Don't let people tell you who you should be, how you should act, or how you should live your life. Because in the end, you are the only judge of the success in your life.
It took you how many years to accept yourself, so you cannot expect others to accept you right away. And if they cannot accept you, that is fine. You should only keep people in your life that will love and support you. Go out in life and take chances, because you are putting off your happiness if you don't.
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