In the Closet
When it came to the word “gay”, my neighborhood was pretty conservative. I grew up in Catholic schools, and not much was discussed about the topic of homosexuality. All I was ever told by my ever-accepting teachers was that it was okay nowadays to be gay; the person just couldn’t act on it. Then it would be a sin. Being thirteen years old and discovering online pornography for the first time, I had no idea how to come out of my teens without causing myself eternal damnation.
I separated myself from homosexuality as far as I could when I got to high school. I was tired of feeling different than everyone else and I just wanted to belong. I walked with my legs farther apart, and I made sure I didn’t talk with limp wrists. I agreed when people when they said math class was gay, or that someone else was a “fag”.
The closet was killing my spirit. But it was either keep up the charade or disappoint my parents; my dad, who made fun of transgender people and feminine gay men regularly, and my mom who just wasn’t buying that bisexuality stuff. I was gonna have a wife and naturally born children if it killed me.
This all ended of course, when I met Derrick.
My First Boyfriend
My best friend (who I knew wanted to date me) had introduced the two of us in my last year of high school. Derrick was a college student and the first openly bisexual person I had ever met. He had a confident feminine energy about him and it swept me off my feet. I could tell he really liked me. Our hugs would linger whenever we said goodbye. One day, he kissed me in his car after a late night hangout. I kissed him back and felt the happiest I had been in a long time.
I ran into my house like the joyful, geeky schoolboy I was. When I shut the door, I began to cry. I cried hard and long… The charade was over – I was dating a guy. I cried for my parents, who I knew would be disappointed. For my brother, who might get made fun of for having a gay older brother. For my mother’s Christian Jamaican family, who I was sure was going to shun me for my “life choice”. I cried for the friends I might lose. For the wife and wedding, I was never going to have. I used to go to bed anxious. That night, I went to bed scared.
The news spread quickly at my school. My best friend found out about Derrick and I and had kicked me in the shin in a fit of sobbing rage. People say in my presence that they believed gay people were disguising. My religion class teacher and I had a fiery debate on the morality of being gay, which landed me a seat in detention. My cover was blown. I was the only openly gay boy at the entire school. I was on the outside now, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to fight back.
In the end, it all worked out. Derrick broke up with me. But I thank him to this day for opening me up to my sexuality. I graduated high school with fewer friends than I went in with, but they are friends I still cherish today. I was too scared to come out to my parents, so they did it for me. They read a melodramatic journal entry I wrote about my lost love with Derrick and asked me if I was gay and depressed. My relationship with my dad never recovered, but my mom and brother have shown me endless love and acceptance. I’ve even introduced my current boyfriend Kevin to my extended family. It went extremely well.
My story is one of exclusion: exclusion from my community, my friends, and exclusion of my own making. But my story is a triumphant one. I am lucky to have the support I have. They are the reasons I am who I am today. But there are many in the LGBTQ+ community who are not afforded the same love and care. And that can be deadly.
Internalized homophobia is a common occurrence among those in the LGBTQ+ community. Internalized homophobia is the self-hatred of a queer individual who wishes they were heterosexual. It’s what caused me to try to pass myself as a straight person in my first few years of high school. We are human beings, and we have an innate need to belong and feel accepted. But it’s not easy to accept and love yourself when everyone around you is living and loving differently than you are.
Many queer people are brought up in conservative or religious societies, in which being LGBTQ+ goes against religious and social rules. In fact, there are currently 76 countries in the world today where homosexuality is illegal. In countries like Sudan and Afghanistan, homosexual acts can be punishable by death. It can be extremely difficult to feel confident in one’s own skin in these conditions, especially the latter.
Anger and Depression
Feeling excluded because of who you are can also cause anger and depressive issues. I fell into a deep depression after my first relationship ended. At the time, Derrick was the only LGBTQ+ person I knew and when he left me, I didn’t know who else to turn to for help and advice while I was discovering who I was. I had a short temper, and I was rude to people often because I felt that no one understood what I was going through. I was angry and sad that I was born this way.
But just like all other forms of depression, I didn’t have to be that way forever, and neither do you! There are a number of LGBTQ+ support systems that you can turn to for help and advice, and they are judgment-free. Here’s a LIST of them, given by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HERE’s an amazing LGBTQ+ youth hotline, for any Canadian readers.
Seeing a counselor or a therapist helps as well. In an ideal world, both your parents would be happy and accepting of who you are. For myself and many others, this can’t always be a reality. But you can’t let that stop you from being happy. It’s your life to live, after all! A huge part of my depression was due to the fact that I had a negative relationship with my dad. Seeing a counselor twice a month allowed me to accept the relationship for what it was and move on with my life.
It’s hard not to feel isolated when you’re an LGBTQ+ individual living in a society full of heterosexual people. The fact that we’re roughly 4% of the population (In North America, at least) doesn’t make finding love – or even queer friends – any less hard. But whether you’re in a big city or a little town, I guarantee you there are more people like you than you think. You just have to make the effort to look. Connecting can mean linking up via dating apps, but it can also mean doing a little online research to find queer positive spaces, group events, and clubs to go to.
In my first few years of high school, there was no gay-straight-alliance club, but there were youth groups in the city I was living in that were dedicated to queer youth like myself.
This may sound worse than what I mean it to be. But let me explain. Many queer individuals don’t want to fit in! And that’s great! Nowadays, it’s becoming more acceptable in North America to express one’s individuality, and many LGBTQ+ people have taken advantage by throwing away gender norms and societal expectations.
Many gay men feel free to embrace their femininity and do things like grow their hair out, or wear nail polish, or makeup. Lesbian women may not feel the need to present themselves as feminine and may embrace their more masculine attributes by keeping their hair shorter and wearing less form-fitting clothing. Many trans individuals recognize that they don’t necessarily have to pass as their gender-identity, as long as they feel confident in how they look.
Some people decide that it’s best to keep themselves in the closet. Keep in mind, there are some extreme situations where coming out is not necessarily a safe choice to make. But keeping one’s identity a secret from the world can come at an extreme mental toll. Staying closeted can increase a person’s likelihood of internalized homophobia and depression. Over time, not being accepting of one’s self can lead to harm in the form of self-harm and other suicidal tendencies. If you are having trouble coming out or if you feel unable to come out safely, I implore you to please reach out to the LGBTQ+ resources linked above.
It’s hard to be any type of minority in a society. But know that being an LGBTQ+ individual does not make you weird or undeserving of love and acceptance. If you’re not finding that love and acceptance now, keep searching! It’s all around you, even if it’s not totally obvious yet.
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“Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line.” LGBT Youth Line, www.youthline.ca/.
“Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 Aug. 2017, www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth-resources.htm.