when i knew #16.

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“School had been out for all of fifteen minutes, but I was already headed back to the band room, even though practice didn’t start for another two and half hours. I was going to work on a research paper for AP English, a paper arguing that homosexuality was, in fact, a choice.

“At this point in my life, I had already acknowledged that I had a ‘problem’ with being attracted to other guys. Without much of a home life, or a close group of friends, I didn’t really know how to deal. I talked with my pastor, who told me that, if I was baptized, the devil wouldn’t have such a hold on me. My guidance counselor at school pointed to my strained relationship with my father as the source of my problem. This left me resigned to becoming an asexual blob of clay. I grew to over 300 pounds, grew patchy facial hair, and was happy enough on a day-to-day basis to ignore the ‘problem’ in general.

“I was hoping in writing my English paper, I would finally be able to put the final stake in the heart of my demons. To my dismay, I was finding there was little to no research supporting my claim. I was still pursuing the topic, honestly unaware of how desperate I was to help myself. When I walked into the band room, I glanced around the room and noticed that a few younger friends were also hanging around in the room working on papers of their own.

“Fancying myself an intellectual, I offered to read their papers and share my advice. One of their papers hit me so hard that it took years to readjust, and it was a simple assignment to tell a personal story. My friend shared his coming out story. He told the story of how he had been having a hard time dealing with life, and it ended with him coming out to his parents

I would love to see the look on my face as I was reading that paper. I knew this person, but knew none of this part of his life before. I knew he had a religious family, but they were supportive. I could barely reconcile those two things. I handed him his paper back, offering no commentary whatsoever. I couldn’t do anything other than to go immediately to the bathroom and cry. I haven’t cried that hard since. It was glaringly clear to me at that moment that I was still gay, and I had to find a way to come to terms with it. It was still several years and good friends later that I was able to publicly come out, but this was the moment that I accepted myself, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.”

– B

when i knew #15.

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“I was 19 at the time I first kissed a guy. I had recently broken up with a girl, and I met him in a show I was doing. He told me he was straight too. He dared me to kiss him, but I didn’t need dared – I wanted to. He told me, ‘Just because you kiss a guy doesn’t make you gay.’ So these two straight guys kissed, which … led to other things. We were together for about five months. Neither of us admitted to being gay – just two straight guys having a good time. I fell for him, hard. And so I broke it off.

Being gay is wrong. Continue living the lie. The words of the sermons at church echoed in my ear. I was not gay. I just needed to be fixed. When I transferred to a residential college, I moved with the hope of a new start. I was ready to embrace these heteronormative values and to find the girl of my dreams and make her my wife.

“I quickly connected to a girl at my new college, and we started dating. With all the emotions of my past behind me at home, I began to build a future with her. It worked for about a year, but with every passing day that image of a perfect wife and family dwindled. I wasn’t her that I saw. There was something else I was not acknowledging. 

“I began to cheat on her with men. The emotions I felt being with him, the first guy I fell for,  came back to me. I needed to explore the possibility of finding true happiness with a guy. Which is kind hard to do when you are with a different guy every other week. I felt ashamed, but I didn’t know how else to satisfy my desire. I finally told myself that maybe there was a possibility that the feelings I have felt for most of my life are because of how I was made.

“Things quickly fell into place the end of my senior year. A boy I admired from across the choir room every day changed the world for me. Having wanted to be heard, I shared with him things I hadn’t told anyone yet: I liked guys and I wanted to be with one. He listened. He held me. He wanted me to be set free. While I always had feelings that I might be different, it wasn’t until him that I finally had the courage to come out to myself.

“The rest, I guess, is history: I quickly broke up with my girlfriend, found solace and advice from two good friends, and fell in love with the man who sat behind me in choir. I will ask this man to marry me someday…

“But that’s another story for another day.”

– J

when i knew #14.

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“When did I know? That’s kind of a tough question. Deep down, I think I always knew I was bisexual, but it wasn’t until I was about 25 that I could truly come to terms with it. I have always had a logical, straightforward type of outlook, so spending 25 years essentially lying to myself and coming up with justifications for my thoughts and feelings rather than accept the truth was exhausting.

“I remember growing up, my friends would talk about celebrity crushes. I had to hide the fact that I had just as many crushes on male celebrities as I did on female celebrities. In middle school, one of my classmates introduced me to the black hole that was/is porn. He showed me a bunch of girl-on-girl stuff, but after he left, I gravitated to straight porn. I found myself focusing on the guy more, but I explained it to myself that I was imagining it was me and I wasn’t actually attracted to the guy. Then I stumbled upon bi and gay porn. Most of the porn I watched was all men, though I rationalized that porn only objectified women and I didn’t want to support that.

“Throughout high school and college I had a few girlfriends who I really did like – some of them love – but, no matter what, I couldn’t shake the tendency to stare when I saw an attractive guy walk by. I kept suppressing the feelings because, even without being fully honest, I was happy. I opened up to the girl I was planning to marry about my feelings of bisexuality. The conversation seemed to go well, but between physical distance and subpar communication, things changed and we called it off.

“That was the first time in my life that I was in a place to be fully honest with myself. I knew there would be a lot of questions if I came out as bi to my friends and family right away. I wasn’t ready for that. I needed to figure out myself and overcome 25 years of lying to myself before I could talk to anyone about it. It was and continues to be a tough road sometimes, but I am extremely happy that I can be open and honest to myself and to others. The exhaustion of holding this secret for the first 25 years of my life is quickly fading away…”

– T

when i knew #13.

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“I think it can be hard for LGBT people to identify our ‘moment of knowing’ because, as a result of the society we’ve inhabited, most of us wrestled with denial and with ourselves for a long time before allowing ourselves to know. I’ve compared it to the feeling of trying to hold an inflated ball beneath the water; at some point, we lose control and it bursts through the surface. Those moments, those bursts, are often our ‘moments of knowing.’

“I saw firsthand in my family that being gay was not welcomed or affirmed but instead met with heartbreak. I worked very hard, as a result, to drown my feelings before they could develop. I forced myself into relationships with girls in middle and high school, always wondering why I did not fully invest in them, and I prayed each night for peace from this. I could not bring myself to ‘take up space’ this way; I believed it was my responsibility to set these feelings aside.

“But there were ‘bursts through the surface.’ One day, while waiting for my brother to exit baseball practice so I could drive him home, the boy on whom I’d had a long-time crush knocked on my car window. He was in gym shorts and cleats, and he was a little sweaty from practice. My heart raced, my face flushed. I managed to sputter a few friendly words back and forth. When he left, I caught my face in the rearview mirror. ‘Oh,’ I said aloud, ‘I’m gay.’ But I pushed it beneath the water again immediately.

“My true moment of knowing, my ‘no-turning-back’ event, was when my best friend came out to me in college. Behind a wall of tears, he bared his soul and unveiled his story. As he spoke, I felt my blood racing; he seemed to be speaking my exact experience. In that moment, as I considered him and his immutable light, I realized how nonsensical it was to believe God could feel anything but love and pride for him and his courage. And, I realized, if God could so certainly love him, then maybe – just maybe – God would love me, too.”

– M

when i knew #12.

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“I knew when I was very young that something was different. My brother went to play basketball with the next-door neighbors – I might have been 6 or 7 – and TJ, the kindest of my brother’s friends, took his shirt off. I was infatuated.

“I’ve always had control issues, and my sexuality is no exception. In the fourth grade, a girl told me I looked gay when I was playing kickball, and I’ve made conscious and subconscious decisions since that moment to control my sexuality. This led to some very self-destructive behaviors: I drank excessively, abused prescription drugs in high school, casually dated women, and forced myself to watch porn with women in it. I compartmentalized the parts of my sexuality that I couldn’t control. The day after I lost my virginity to my then-girlfriend, I cried, but I couldn’t identify what had upset me. I finally accepted who I was in high school, slowly, and only to myself. I still wasn’t ready to come out.

“But the funny thing about control is that, when you try so hard to gain a grip on things, you lose it. I was at a party the night after we graduated, and I got wasted. I then got crossfaded from the bong I had taken a giant rip of, and the chemicals in my body forced me to black. When I woke up, a friend told me that I had come out to everyone at the party.

Learning to love myself and accept my feelings has not come easy. It’s been a long, halting, painstakingly slow process – and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not quite there yet. But, my life is a journey, and I’m slowly realizing that my sexuality is a gift that I’ve been given. It’s an amazing part of who I am and the man I have become. I still have control issues, but now I realize that my sexuality is something that I can’t – and don’t want to – control. I’ve let go, and I am liberated.”

– J

when i knew #11.

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“When I knew, for sure, to the point that it was undeniable, I was a senior in high school. Of course, by that time, I had felt attraction to one guy or another, but I was raised in an extremely repressive environment – a WASP haven, if you will. Therefore, it took me a very long time to admit in myself that love was possible for me.

“The moment I knew was when I truly felt love for the first time. He was a goofy, shaggy, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, baby-faced football boy. What started out as a casual friendship slowly evolved into a romantic one, and yes – even a physical one. On a fateful summer evening, he came over to watch anime, as we had done many times. When we did this, we would get food and pop, and I would lie in his lap. It was casual, our relationship. But this time, I was brave; I reached out and held his hand.

“Instead of retreating like I expected, he put his other hand in my hair and acted like nothing happened. My chest was on fire but light, heavy yet fluttered. Such a small gesture, a tiny thing. But, at that moment, I knew I had fallen in love with him. And, at that moment, I finally stopped denying the possibility that even I could be loved.”

– S

when i knew #10.

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“I had a girlfriend in high school, but we didn’t call each other girlfriends and we didn’t tell anyone we were romantic in any way. One day, my mom walked in on us kissing. Later that night my parents quizzed me about my sexuality and told me they loved me and it was okay to be gay, but the word ‘gay’ just never felt like it described me.

“I started dating my boyfriend shortly thereafter. And then in college I dated another woman. It wasn’t until I got involved in the university’s LGBT and Ally club and I met dozens of other people of many different identities that I realized that sometimes sexuality is too intricate for words.

“So I have recently been dating men again. But I have realized that my sexuality is immensely complex, and it’s still evolving, and I’m still making sense of it all, and that is all okay.”

– H

when i knew #9.

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Who am I? What do you care? As I thought about writing my story, my mind filled with many concerns, worries, and frustrations. I didn’t want to be a stereotype or create conflicts of interest between my experiences and those of others. I didn’t want my story be controversial. Then all of the sudden it hit me: I am me. I. Am. Me. What a concept.  I don’t need to wear a mask to share my story, so here it goes:

“Hello. My name is James. I am organized. I am a friend. I am a husband. I am a lover. I am loyal. I am deceitful. I am a son. I am gay. I am confused. I am strong. I am a gossip. I am moral. I am a student. I am a leader. I am human. I am a child of God. These are just few of the roles I play and also try to hide on a daily basis.

“‘I am gay’ was certainly harder to say at one point than it is to write today. I have always known in one sense or another that I was gay; it wasn’t like one day I woke up after a fever and became ill with homosexuality. When I was younger, I would listen to what others said and professed on the topic and tricked myself into believing I was a bad person,  that I did not want to be gay because I would end up alone in the world and most likely head straight to hell.

“I used to dream about guys in my high school class that I thought were attractive. Getting a high-five or even a hug during a class retreat was an amazing feeling. Somehow I was connected to them. I didn’t want to hurt the girls that ‘liked’ me. I started to wear masks during my middle and high school years. Which mask could I wear to hide myself for as long as possible? Would I be the class president who always wanted to control the situation and didn’t want to delegate duties? Or would I hide behind my own faith, professing to others at my own retreat that I wasn’t gay? Or the kid that would sit at home watching porn from the age of 14 onward because I didn’t what else to do with my feelings towards men?

“I must confess that these were all me. I am not proud of the masks I wore, but I cannot change my past. It is through these experiences I have learned and have tried to become a better person, even if that takes a lifetime to do. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I finally felt comfortable sharing my feelings about men with my close friends. Through many tears and deep conversations, I made it through. During my study abroad experience others let me know it was okay to be me. It was okay to take time to express myself. It was okay to take a moment.

“I would like to share a poem about wearing masks:

‘Undone,’ by Christine Bruness
Slowly he unraveled
bandages of facades
and bravely peeled apart
the cracked layers
of his contrived persona,
exposing his darkness
in all its authenticity
feeling vulnerable…
then free
by becoming undone.”

– J

when i knew #8.

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“I came out of the womb belting musical theatre tunes, and to save ourselves the stereotypes, I promise this is not headed in THAT direction. Imagine at four years old I am singing in my living room ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from South Pacific, I look to my parents and say, ‘I cannot wait to marry a girl just like Nellie.’

“My parents, unlike some, did not find this idea cute. They squashed the idea, ‘You cannot do that! You are BOTH girls.” Interestingly, this was news to me – as I had never and will never view myself as female. Yet, here I am, 24 years old living as I have always seen myself – the leading man.

– B

when i knew #7.

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“I was 22. I kissed a girl. Well, she kissed me. I turned around, walked to my car, and sat there.

“I should have known in high school, when I looked at my best friend during a sleepover and wondered what it would be like to kiss her.

“I should have known when I rewatched the lesbian kiss in Dodgeball over and over and over.

“I should have known when I became obsessed with Manny Santos on Degrassi. (To this day, I still have a thing for the Latinas.)

But I didn’t know any of those times. I knew immediately after this girl kissed me.”

– A