A friend of mine is writing a paper for a gender studies class in grad school and part of her assignment was to interview someone who belongs to the LGBTQ community. She asked me if I was interested and I decided that it would be a good opportunity to reflect on where I was, where I am, and where I am going in terms of my sexual identity and development as an individual. I also thought that it would be a good idea to share with anyone who is interested my responses to her questions in order to maybe shed some light of some of the things that you may have been wondering about. Happy reading and I hope that maybe my experiences and thoughts on this can help you in some way:
What part of LGBTQ would you place yourself?
I think that sexuality is on a spectrum and that it’s often difficult and bothersome for a lot of us to label ourselves as one thing or another. Whenever someone asks, though, I always tell them that I identify as gay. It’s the most clear cut explanation of my preferences without going into too much detail about it all.
Around what time did you begin to think you were having different thoughts and urges than your peers (not necessarily knowing 100% what it meant)?
I honestly think that deep down there is a part of us that always knows from our earliest memories onward. We always feel like outsiders and that something is wrong with us. Only as we get older do we begin to realize the gravity of these feelings and begin to label what they are and what they mean. For me while I always knew I was “different,” the larger differences only became apparent when I was eleven (around puberty) and realized that I viewed girls in a way that was very different from those around me. They were beautiful and fascinating to me, but not sexually arousing. For a while my fascination and admiration of them was largely confused with romantic feelings toward them, which is why I largely ignored the little voice in my head that was telling me something isn’t right. It also didn’t help that my urges toward the same sex developed later in puberty and not at the onset.
Were you accepting of your LGBTQ at first or did you hide it from your peers and/or from others?
I didn’t come out until I was twenty-two, which means that I had eleven years between the time I knew I was “different” and the time I began to identify as a gay man. I didn’t actually put a label on what my feelings were until I was about fifteen. The shock paired with overwhelming denial made me tell myself repeatedly that I was only bisexual and that my attraction to the same sex would fade. I told myself over and over that there was no way I could be gay and that if I kept it to myself long enough it would go away. I did everything in my power to come off as “straight” and to eliminate all questions about my sexuality. I was terrified of the idea of anyone knowing my secret and refused to even allow myself to look at any boy for more than a couple of seconds for fear of what he would think. I would also often avoid the issue by delving into work and school. I did whatever I could to keep busy in order to think about it less.
How long did it take you from coming out to yourself to coming out to others?
The point at which I truly acknowledged who I was – the day when I finally spoke the words aloud to myself – was not that far behind my coming out period. I acknowledged it to myself on October 17th and wrote a letter that very day to my best friend. Two days later I was no longer the only person who knew that I was attracted to men. Within a month of that my close circle of friends knew. Within another month my entire family knew. By January 1st I was completely out and open about my sexuality. I even posted it on Facebook as if to solidify it in some weird way. Overall I transitioned very quickly compared to most people. I think a great deal of that has to do with the fact that I had had so many years to prepare myself mentally and emotionally. I waited until a point in my life where I was sure of who and what I was and ready to share that with the world no matter the consequences.
Who did you come out to first? Were they accepting?
I went through my close friends one by one and then decided to tell my family not too long afterward. I have a large family and large group of friends so the task was very daunting. I had an array of mixed reactions from my youngest brother who told me I was “stupid” for not telling him sooner to my mother who walked out of the room and would not speak to me without my father yelling at her. While for a few of them it took a period of adjustment, overall the reactions were positive and reassuring. Looking at things now, you would never guess that any of them ever had any issues with my sexual orientation. You would also never guess that I ever had any issues with it as well.
What type of environments, people, situations, etc do you tend to come out to…do you come out to everything/everyone or tend to be more secretive?
I’m completely open about my sexual orientation to anyone who wants to know. I don’t broadcast it to everyone I meet and people usually can’t guess that I’m gay, but I have no problem addressing any issue that comes up. I won’t tolerate hate speech or allow others to use “gay” in a derogatory way. In a lot of ways I’m becoming an advocate for those around me who are too shy or afraid to speak up.
Have you ever used a substance to cope with your homosexuality and/or to cope with the stresses from your environment?
Looking back, I would say that my alcohol consumption in college was closely related to my inability to cope with my sexuality. I would often drink to forget only to have my emotions magnified tenfold, making me feel more miserable and alone. I also think that a great portion of my weight control issues over the years stems from the maladaptive coping mechanisms I learned while I was in denial about my sexuality. I used food to cope. My sexual orientation made me sad, depressed, lonely, isolated, and afraid in a way that most people couldn’t understand if they haven’t been through it, which in turn led me to eat to fill the voids in my life.
Have you ever experience homophobia? If so, describe a particular event that has been/is meaningful.
I remember writing a blog online about coming out and having a woman comment on it, telling me that I was an abomination and needed to be fixed. She made me feel horrible about myself. What was worse was how angry it made me to find that someone could say such hurtful things without even knowing me. I’ve come across similar situations since then, but have reached a point where it no longer angers me, but fills me with great sadness instead.
Have you ever experienced internalized homophobia?
One of the things I regret most about my life before coming out was my own part in contributing to some of the homophobia that this country produces. I often made snide remarks and even made fun of someone who came out on my dorm floor freshman year of college. I was rude, judgmental, and unwelcoming because I not only didn’t want to deal with what I was feeling, but also because I was jealous of the strength that he had. I wanted to be strong and I wanted to be able to stand up and proudly say that I was gay…but I wasn’t ready at that time. I wasn’t ready to be willing to stand alone should others not accept my declaration. So I became something that, looking back, I now despise and am wholeheartedly ashamed of being.
Are you involved with the LGBTQ community? If so, how are you involved? Or would you like to be involved in the community eventually?
As I said before, I consider myself an advocate in many ways. While I am not at the forefront of things, I write about my experiences on my blog, share LGBTQ news with others, and even talk to people about my coming out experiences. I have even come across several guys who are afraid to come out and simply need support. I’ve provided that support in any ways that I can. At some point I would like to counsel and guide LGBTQ youth and aid them in ways that weren’t provided to me.
How did your family react with your coming out…do they all know? Did any relationships change?
The dynamic of my family changed quite dramatically, actually. Coming out allowed me to be more open with them and to include them more in my life. I was even able to bring a male date to my sister’s wedding last year, which meant more to me than they could ever know.
How did your friends react with your coming out? Did any relationships change?
Much like with my family, my relationships with my friends changed as well, but far more dramatically. I was finally able to say the things I needed to say and to truly let others into my life. I remember my best friend commenting a few months later on how I was a different person entirely with a light in my eyes that he had never seen before. It was like I was finally connecting to my own life and taking an active role in its development. My friends were not only there to witness it, but to be part of it as well.
Do you have any other LGBTQ friends/peers? If not, why do you think that is?
I’m going to say that it is very difficult for gay men to be strictly friends. It’s difficult to explain why, but there are almost always issues. I think a great deal of it comes from our overwhelming need to connect with others who are like us because we’ve always felt out of place, which in turn creates problems with attachment and jealousy. Nine times of out ten, when it comes to gay friendships one of the two will develop misplaced feelings for the other and the friendship will be ruined because of it.
What is the one thing you wish your heterosexual friends understood or knew?
I honestly wish they could truly comprehend how it feels to grow up disconnected and alone; to feel like there is a glass wall between us and them, which prevents us from connecting until we are ready to shatter it. It’s like watching life without ever being able to touch it. I just feel like if they understood the gravity of this, they would value relationships more than they do and understand why friendship is so important to me.
If looking for a relationship, since coming out, has it been difficult to find a significant other? Are you comfortable with a significant other in public?
I honestly believe that dating is a lot harder for homosexuals than it is for heterosexuals simply because of the fact that we have to be more careful about everything due to the warranted fears we have. We have to keep in mind that there are those who are not comfortable with our lifestyles and walking up to the wrong person, assuming that he or she is gay could end in actual physical violence. We have to think about whether or not it’s safe to hold hands in a public place. We have to consider far more things than any straight couple has to. It makes the task of meeting others very daunting and scary at times. It also doesn’t help that the majority of us have self-worth issues that stem from our feelings of inferiority instilled in us by the masses while growing up.
What do you think about marriage/kids?
I love the idea of being able to have a husband and children, but with the way the world is right now I don’t think I could allow myself the sham of a marriage that other gay couples have accepted. Until I am afforded the same rights under federal law, I cannot commit to any union.
What would be some things you would like to see in your town regarding LGBTQ community?
I would like to see more support for LGBTQ youth. I don’t think there are enough resources available to them in this area.
What do you think is the hardest thing for you on a daily basis regarding your homosexuality? What is the best thing?
The hardest thing on a daily basis is the battle with myself over the question of whether or not I’ll end up alone because of my sexuality. This isn’t to say that I regret my decision to come out. It simply comes back to the issues of self-worth and the challenges that homosexuals face in finding and connecting with others. It’s the question that a great number of us ask ourselves and in a community where monogamy is a subjective term, it’s easy to think that we could very easily end up alone.
The best thing is knowing, without a doubt, who I am and being able to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves because they haven’t reached the point that I have. It’s a good feeling to know that I have the confidence now to stand tall in the face of adversity.
If you are religious or were before coming out, how does religion play a role in your life and being gay does it make it more difficult to practice your religion?
I wasn’t religious before. I consider myself spiritual, but those beliefs have developed independently of my sexuality.
What was college like as a LGBTQ student, did you come out in college or did you go to college already out? Were you involved in any LGBTQ clubs/organizations?
I could have made far more out of my college experience had I come out before or during. Looking back I wish I had. I don’t dwell on it, though, because I know that everything happened when it needed to; when I was truly ready to handle it.
Until next time…stay classy.
– C.M. Berry
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