A lot of stories start off with background information and fear. The constant coming out. The never ending worry of what others will think. The pressure to stay closeted and out of sight. The endless talks about "how hard life will be" as if life was not already interesting enough.
Well, that's pretty much my story. I grew up in the suburbs of Illinois, North of Chicago. I always knew I was different, probably since I was young enough to remember. Maybe at age 6 or 7, I felt like I was in between. I did not understand the separation of boy and girl. I thought I was different because I was a twin, expressive, or because I was so sensitive about most things (which I guess that does make you different.) When in reality, I never thought I had to go on a self-discovery journey. Finding out who you are and what you like are two completely different spectrums. My coming out story was rather predicted by most, but who cares. It’s my story.
I came out in college. I always battled with myself and was a rather angry kid. Yadda yadda trauma and homophobic black family rules. “It was against the BIBLE.” That played in my head often as a kid, but in college, I was around a bunch of diverse individuals. Not to mention, the college guys were something nice to look at. I found myself disappearing and sinking mentally. I was often depressed. I struggled with my weight. I liked being alone. I was often suicidal (no plans.) Others considered me out-going. I considered myself not. I was feeling less authentic and unreal.
I told my brother first. “I’m Gay.”
His response, “Dude I already knew.”
My response, “Well I think a lot of people know.”
Him, “So what? I’m just glad you’re telling me.”
I did that with a few others in college and then eventually to my parents, and one by one, my sisters, my cousins, my grandmother, etc. I never really made a big deal about it. I just assumed everyone knew or I just ignored it. I knew for sure that it was a big part of me and that I needed to make sure others like me know that they are loved. Upon coming out, everything started to come up that I compartmentalized. I was abused as a kid. I had to come to terms with that as well.
I was told “No” a lot. Well, rather than no, I was conditioned to believe that gay people were not normal and that we don’t succeed. I was conditioned to believe that I had to be masculine, straight, dress and speak a certain way, do things outdoors, or hang with specific people. I was conditioned to obey and do as I was told. To get good grades. To not roll my eyes or listen to “girly” music. To go to church. To be careful. To not trust the world. To be afraid and fearful of others opinions. To not be too expensive but to stand up for myself. “Only girls do this, only guys do that…”
I had an epiphany over a year ago before I met the love of my life, Lucas. “Who cares what people think…do you?” It’s kind of odd because I’ve always told others that. Although, being Black, gay, thick, smart, and a non-fashionable diva would be my go to explanation. I first had to really dig deep into what "Doing you boo boo..." meant. Self Love!!!!! You have to love who you are and then people will gravitate. In addition, hearing that from someone that you truly love makes all the difference. My finace saw me for who I was rather who I presented. That’s key. I had to learn to LOVE MYSELF and see me for who I am as a whole rather than what I wanted others to see. Currently, I work at a LGBT Resource Center in Madison, Wisconsin. If I were to tell myself 10 years ago that I would be where I am today, I would panic and worry. I just had to let life take its course. The more I revealed my truth, the less I cared what others thought or assumed. “Who cares.” seems so cliché, but for me it was those words in the summer of 2019 that truly made me value myself. A proud Black, Openly Gay, Queer person with a renowned sense a humor. I love who I am. I am a living proof that when you live in your truth, there’s no stopping you.
Mark (The Future Dr. Mark Long)
Live in your truth and learn self love. Do it all on your own terms.
If I can go back to young Mark, I would say "It Gets Waaaay Better. Also, be who you are loudly. The more people say no, the more you do. If you get beat for it, just know, others experience the same. You are going to be a doctoral student and you will have a wonderful husband one day. Keep doing you boo boo, but love who are you first."
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