I’ve heard the best way to change a heart or a mind is to tell your story. So here’s mine:
I slowly came to terms with being gay through middle and high school, coping with the closet by sneaking Will & Grace episodes and living vicariously through Jack McPhee on Dawson’s Creek. I officially came out my freshman year of college (as gayish at the time—it felt safer) to a room full of smiles: my straight roommate and some best friends. In the almost six years since, I’ve fallen in and out of love and have confirmed without a doubt that I am indeed a gay man.
For most gay teens, it’s a no brainer to decide to hide. When they look in the mirror, they see two different people. Why would you choose to put yourself through bullying? The brave ones do. I didn’t.
I once read a quote that gay teens hide in the places where they are least likely to be found…the sports jock, the all-American boyfriend, the altar boy. I was the latter. And even though I had found a Christian youth group where I felt I belonged, my friends wouldn’t have celebrated my news one bit, and I’m surprised that I lasted as long as I did.
It started in middle school with a nickname: Gay Clay. I still don’t know if those kids suspected or just liked the rhyme, but I never would’ve asked—better safe than sorry. I got pushed around: into walls and lockers. A boy once spat in my face in front of all the guys in my P.E. class. Didn’t help that I sucked at gym. Even in high school, I cried myself to sleep many nights because of what I heard my friends say, so scared that if they found me out they would all turn on me. I went on binges of punishing myself for thinking about it…it kept me from getting close to anyone, especially other men. I was a nervous wreck in high school, with a multitude of social anxieties, so bent on protecting myself and the real me.
It’s unnatural for a living creature to take a course of action that might lead to its bodily harm or demise. Such is saying, “I am gay.” Even speaking those three words: “I. Am. Gay.” was physically impossible. As in literally my throat would not let the sounds come out of my mouth. Because it changes everything. Your parents have to alter their dreams for you—your siblings have to look at you in a different light. When you say that sentence, it makes it real, and it can become life-threatening simply to exist.
I know with all my soul and my brain and my heart, that this is right. It’s that feeling that a straight person can assume – our government and society already justifies one kind of love, and children grow up never questioning it. As a gay kid, I had to learn to justify my kind of love to myself without, for the vast parts, any help at all – not from the government, society or adults in my life.
It took me over a decade to reconcile what I thought my life was going to be like with what it’s actually going to be like. And you know what? I’ve had it pretty easy. It took a community with more love and celebration of who I am than I have ever felt to make me happy. But a lot of kids and even adults aren’t as lucky as I am. It only gets better if we make it better.
Folks from the “other side” will claim that gay marriage is all about the children: having children, protecting children, raising children the right way. I agree that it’s about the children, but I believe that not passing marriage equality will hurt children more than anything else.
If we had happened to pass gay marriage in 2000 when I was a 7th grader in middle school (the worst year of my life), I know that it all would’ve been better. What I needed then was for someone to stand up for me and let it be known that I was okay. That me just being me was okay. I never got that. There are so many boys and girls who want someone to stick up for them.
I am writing this because the kids of Washington need you to Approve Referendum 74. Imagine the State of Washington saying to every gay and lesbian 7th grader: “Hey, we think you’re okay. We know it’s hard. We’ve still got a long way to go. But, when it gets better for you and when you’re ready to fall in love and when you’re ready to get married, we’ll be here ready to marry you.”
I know that I could’ve used that pep talk. So let’s give it to them.