I remember the first time I had questioned my sexuality; I was 17 and it was late at night. I had my headphones on to make sure no one in my house could hear the videos I was about to play. I was in my normal scope of watching porn, but for a moment I started to focus more and more on the man in the video rather than the woman. The excitement of his climax made me reach mine. After catching my breath, I was brought back to reality and was scared. Days afterward, I kept thinking about it, the fear but also the thrill of that one climax... completely different from my previous ones. Though, being raised Roman Catholic and in a Latino family, I knew it was something I could not pursue. I had internalized the thought of it being wrong, for I believed at the time I was meant to be with a woman, and I had only dated or only showed interest in girls.

But after that one video, I started to catch a glimpse of the guys around me. Tennis, soccer, Taekwondo, track, and archery practice made it harder to not look. However, I punished myself for my actions. I would slam my fists into walls and lose myself to my anger, only to cause myself to cry in the shower as I sank into my tub, praying for the thoughts to stop. Hoping that the pouring of water would drown out my sorrows.

My high school years ended, and I went off to college, with graduation the only thought in mind. At the time, my mind was so conflicted, because I had found interest in a girl (we will call her Ali), but at the same time I had also found interest in a guy named Alex, my neighbor. Ali was beautiful, and I would photograph her as my muse. For some time, I thought my curiosities were "fixed" and that it was truly just a phase. I imagined Ali and I dating, and met most of her family and felt that this would be my life. That is, until my roommate and I stepped out of the communal showers at the same time one day. Normally, one would have their towel already wrapped, but Alex just liked to "air dry." He shook his arms and legs to get a good amount of water off and gave me a smirked grin with a nod. I stared deep into him, and took a mental photo of him, with each detail of him being recorded from the front to the back as he walked towards the sinks. Once again, I was shocked back into reality.

My heart felt like it was cracking, and I could feel a tear start to form in my left eye.

I tried to push the thought of Alex away and avoided him, and spent as much time with Ali as possible. Someone else obtained Ali's attention and they started to date, leaving me feeling lonely and regretful that I did not ask her out, and that someone else was happy with her, while I was hoping to have her to make me "happy" in the same way.

Night after night, I would have thoughts of Alex looming in the back of my head, but the fictitious words of my family would follow.

"You cannot be gay, you're Catholic."
"Are you trying to embarrass me with my friends."
"You upset God, and this is his punishment."
"You disgust me."
"I never want to see your faggot face again."
"You're not my son."

I remember waking from these nightmares, my eyes burning and my skin dried out from where the tears ran across my face as I slept. This continued for many weeks.

Come the summer of my second year, I was preparing to be a resident assistant and distracted myself with the training, the energy of my teammates, and being generally exhausted. My friend, Kyle, saw that I had been more sad than usual and wanted to take me to his girlfriend's party being held in a neighboring town. I refused multiple times, but was dragged along in the end.

I hated being forced to go somewhere I didn't want to be.

I was introduced to Emily's (Kyle's girlfriend) sorority sisters, and was being complimented on my looks and asked if I had someone in my life. Still angry that I was dragged along but too polite to be rude to them, I stated I was single and had not dated in a long time. This got a weird response from many of the girls, but they acted as if nothing was wrong. One of the girls introduced me to Daniel, the man who would upset the frail balance I had created.

Daniel was a track athlete and was attractive but, still being absent minded due to the desire not to be present, I didn't really notice at the time. But my distance and lack of presence seemed to attract him more. I remember talking with him over trivial aspects that I do not remember, and talking about where he came from, but once again... I do not remember anything he told me. As the night went on and drinks were poured, I started to lose myself to the fluids and beats that went through my body, and loosened up. One other fun fact, this was the first time I'd ever had a whole alcoholic drink. My inhibitions lowered, I started to dance with the crowd and forgot many of my problems.

The night continued to pass and people started to slowly disappear, or so it seemed to me. Kyle, Emily, and I ended up on the couch at one point in time, but I needed to grab water. I was having difficulty getting up and an arm reached out for me... Daniel's arm. He flung me up, and I stumbled into his body.

He looked at me with a smile, and I could feel his warmth. He walked me over to grab water and complimented a feature of me that I could not really hear due to the music. For some reason, I said, "Thank you, same to you," as I placed my cup down, which then tipped over and fell. I looked down to see if I got anything wet and looked up to have Daniel's lips lock with mine. It felt like an eternity, but it was truly only three seconds or less. As he pulled away, I felt his arm yank mine, but release as his friends pulled him away, and I stood there stunned. I could not move. I felt the deep throb of my heart in my ears, goosebumps fluttered on my arm, and all the thoughts of my family's words flooded my head all at once. I noticed people had seen the kiss and were staring at me to see if something was wrong with me, for I had not moved an inch for the last minute or so. I shook myself free and angrily chased after Daniel. I looked all over the house, but not a single sight of him. Kyle pulled me away from my search to see if I was ok, for he had heard what happened. I told him to never speak of what just happened. He agreed and told me he'd finally take me home.

Days after the kiss, I would cry in the shower and hit the walls again. I was back to my old habits and while I did my best to bury them, the thoughts kept coming back and watching porn was too difficult for me to do because I just kept looking at the guy more than the girl. So I did what any questioning male in college during the peak of Fraternity Rush would do... I joined a fraternity.

During this time, I was so busy with school, work, and the fraternity that I forgot about the kiss and my troubles most of the time. Yet there would be other times where it would creep up. However, I did my best to hide it.

My pledge brothers and I grew closer to one another, each of them sharing deep and even "dark" secrets about themselves. But I could not bear to tell them owhat was going on inside my head. Until one day, a pledge brother that I had grown incredibly close with asked me a question,

"Are you straight, or something else?"

I told him, not even thinking about it,

"I don't know."

Which I instantly regretted the moment I said it. For I did not realize that another person in the fraternity had heard me say those three words. Like a plane taking off, I was not fast enough to catch him. He was out of reach and I missed the chance to stop him from sending out those dreaded words via text, "Serphos is gay."

A sorority girl who was just a few tables away from where I had been received a text message and stared at me. I could feel her eyes locked on me, and as I turned my attention to her she looked away knowing she had been caught staring. I could hear more and more text messages go off, and the whispers that echoed in the den of our library bounced off the walls. It felt as though I could hear each one as if they were whispering it into my ears. I ran out of the library as fast as possible, making sure not to stop for anyone, my heart thumping faster and faster as I ran down the hill towards my hall. My lungs burning from trying to squeeze in to cry and the effort it took to keep going.

I finally got to my room and locked myself away for three days. I turned off my cell, turned off my Facebook account, and prayed that no one would find me.

On the third day, my fraternity brothers found a way into my hall and learned where my room was. The constant bangs on the doors made me quiver, for I thought this was the part where they'd beat me up or shun me for my secrets. After thirty minutes, I finally got the courage to fight back if it came to it, and walked towards the door. As I opened it up and saw the latent fists that were swinging on the door, I took that as an attack, and lunged forward, hoping to have the upper hand. I attempted to swing, but heard,

"Serphos, calm down, calm down."

"Hold him so he can't hit you."

I was pinned by five men, the one I tackled and one on each of my extremities. I was rabid, and felt like an animal in danger, my eyes closed tightly to hold back the tears, until I heard,

"Serphos, it's ok, we don't care. Stop fighting."

I told myself that it was a lie and tried to pull away, but was still restrained.

"Serphos, stop. We don't care if you're bi, gay, or straight. Just stop fighting."

My breathing was ferocious, and my panting to get them off of me was not helping. I exhausted myself from pulling and thrashing about. I finally looked and heard,

"We will carry your burden, you're not alone, you're our brother and friend. So let us help."

With me exhausted and a bit less angry, they finally let go of me after thirty minutes of having me pinned down. That's when I finally spoke to them about everything, yet having pauses and concerns about revealing the truth.

After hours of talking, they each hugged me and showed me their caring support. I felt lighter from that experience, and I wanted to cry from feeling free of the secret.

Days and months passed, and even though most of the whole school knew my secret, my family didn't. I managed to keep my school life separate from my home life, a two separate personas formed. This lasted for a while and I was able to keep my true self hidden from my family. That is... until Grindr became a thing.

My Aunt had a very flamboyant and gay friend that one tends to stereotype in the gay and especially in the Latino community, that I had forgotten was in town from West Hollywood. It so happened, at the time, that he used Grindr. I was not made aware of this until a "fun" conversation with my aunt started to occur while we were pumping gas during my winter vacation home.

She started to tell me about her daughter that was suffering from depression and not "being able to be herself," to which I replied about my feelings of condolences. She then stated,

"I wish there was an app she could use to speak to other girls like herself, kind of like what gays have on their phones."

I told her that would be nice, but that I didn't even know there was a thing like that for gay guys. Then she said,

"But you use Grindr to talk to other guys don't you?"

I was stunned once again, and tried to act like she was confused. Yet, she reinforced her statement,

"I mean, Pablo (the friend that was visiting) has seen you on it."

I was in disbelief and forgot that I had been pumping gas, which lead to me spraying at least fifty cents' worth on the ground.

She told me to get into the car and we could chat. She told me that many of the family was guessing about my sexuality but that no one was too sure. That she was the only one who knew for sure, and that she had not told anyone. I could not say a word, but she kept reinforcing that she would not tell anyone and that she still loved me. I felt like I was being tricked, but she continued to keep her promise for a few months.

After I went back to school, the concerns of my aunt telling people faded as no one in my family had mentioned it to me yet. So that put me at ease. I proceeded in my College Serphos mode for a while, until one day I was driving in the car with my friends on our way back to the University from In-N-Out. I saw my mother's phone number show up on my stereo system and my friends went into the routine of "no one is in the car."

I answer, "Hey mom, what's up?"
She replies, "Why is your Aunt Yeni telling me that you are gay...?"

By this time, you'd think I would stop being so stunned by the revelations and people learning about my sexual orientation. But no, I froze once again... mind you, while driving this time.

"Serphos... what is going on? Are you gay?" my mom asked.

I hung up on her and continued to drive, showing no emotion but the tears that flooded down my cheeks. I did not blink, I did not gasp for air. To me, it felt like I was dying... and driving even faster, mind you. More attempted phone calls kept coming through, and I kept ignoring them and sending them to voicemail. My friends were trying to aid me and were attempting to get me to pull over so that one of them could drive. But I still sped back to the University, wanting to die faster and faster and just start all over.

Once back, I tried to flee, but started to hyperventilate. My fraternity brothers and friends heard what happened and met me at my car, phone calls still chiming in, more being sent to voicemail.

After an hour of getting me to relax and come back to a stable status, they convinced me to just hear what she would say. That if it went bad, I had them, and that I would create a new family.

The next phone call came in. This time, I answered.

"Serphos, don't hang up on me, I have called you more than 20 times, this is ridiculous."

I said, "What do you want? To yell at me, to get angry? Yes, ok, yes, I am gay. I'm sorry that I cannot be perfect or if it embarrasses you, but I am gay. So hate me, disown me, forget about me if you have a problem with it, but I am tired of it, and I just want to be me once and for all."

...nothing. Just silence from her end, and the wind from the Sierras flooding the parking lot. All my friends were silent, holding one another's hands, afraid of what was about to happen.

"That's fine, Serphos, I still love you," she said. "I just wish you'd told me, and I didn't have to find out from one of your aunts."

I felt euphorically light after she said, "I still love you." My only response to her was, "I'll call you back." I hung up and sunk into my seat. I felt like a rag doll, my body finally able to go limp from the release of stress, anger, sadness, and fear. My friends cried for me and leaned into the car to hug me. I still felt like a rag doll - on the outside I was emotionless - but on the inside I felt amazing.

After days of talking to my mother and discussing everything, it became easier to talk with others about my sexuality and I was able to tell people who I was with less hesitation. I became more confident in who I was, and did not have to exert so much stress on being two people. I was able to be me.

Since then, I have broken free from my own anger and have stopped allowing others' opinions of me or the fears of what they would say to me shape who I am. Rather, I have ventured into life events that I wanted to do, and have had an open mind about such things. I had allowed myself to live for years bending to thoughts constructed by religious institutions and the norms that one hears that everyone should follow too. I've truly become a happier person.


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