michael king

stack of stained pages, redacted love letters, spilling ink, pressing it into tomorrow

when i knew #28.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.16.11 PM

“Throughout high school and college, I had many boyfriends. So many, in fact, that family often joked about them. I constantly found flaws and characteristics in these partners, then broke it off. I often wondered if I was being too picky, but something always seemed to be missing. At the same time, in both high school and college, I found myself so interested in the ‘tomboy’ girls at school. I wondered, as an athlete, whether I just wanted to be like them or if I was actually attracted to them. I brushed the thoughts off and told myself, ‘Of course I don’t like them. They’re just really good at (fill-in-the-blank sport) and I’m envious of that.’ But, in the back of my mind, I always knew.

“When I got to college, my coach was a lesbian and had a partner. I was so interested in their relationship and often envious of it. I wanted to know more, but didn’t know where to turn. Randomly I would hear someone say, “Well so-and-so’s a lesbian’ or ‘well, she has a girlfriend,’ and I found myself quickly tuning in. I kept ignoring, however, the signs of interest within me.

“In my third year of college, I formed a close friendship with someone who identified as a lesbian. I loved how real this person was, how brave and … attractive? This was the confusing part. I constantly wanted to be around her. I loved the confidence she exuded and was drawn to learning more about the LGBT+ community.

“Enter grad school. Wow, two years of the biggest ups and downs of my life. A time where we were encouraged to do more self-discovery than I knew was possible. A time when I got to see classmates and friends become their bravest selves. A time when I knew I could no longer hide this big part of my identity. And that’s when I knew I needed to say it out loud. I didn’t know all the fancy words, but I knew how I felt. And I was so ready to let others know this as well. Saying the words felt unbelievably terrifying but also ridiculously freeing. I could be 100% me.”

– D

when i knew #27.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.16.11 PM2

“I must have known a million times before I admitted it to myself. But the world doesn’t want you to admit it to yourself. That’s not what we’re taught at home, on TV, in the books or the movies.

“I actually dated my first girlfriend for a *really* long time and still didn’t admit it to myself. Throughout that entire first relationship I thought, ‘This will only be once. I’m sure I’ll find a guy to start a family with. I’m sure there is someone else out there for me. This is just ‘a thing.”

“It’s crazy that you can be 23 years old, in a serious relationship with a female, and still think it’s temporary. It wasn’t even until that relationship ended and my next relationship started that I truly realized what it was. Since I clearly had no interest in men, that next relationship was also with a girl. Not until 24 did I really know. Not until my second relationship smacked me in the face and say, ‘Yep, this is you. It’s time to accept it.’

– W

when i knew #26.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.16.11 PM3

“Navigating the treacherous waters of adolescence is no treat on its own, but it is even rougher when you are trying to hide or suppress something that’s a huge part of who you are. I think I always knew. I just never wanted to admit it to my friends and family, and, most of all, myself.

“Throughout my teenage years I would develop relationships, often longing for more than just friendship from my male friends. Not really understanding why I felt the way I did, but always wishing that it would pass. ‘It’s just one of those phases.’ ‘It means nothing.’ I would often tell myself these things in my struggle to figure out what it all meant.

“After all the time of carrying this weight around with me, I remember when I finally confided and came out to one of my best friends. She just responded with, ‘Of course you are. I’m glad you can finally admit it to yourself.’ How could she be so sure, when I wasn’t sure at all?

“It was something I struggled with for years. Years of putting up an exterior that didn’t fit with who I was. In fact, I was more comfortable with the façade of who I was than with my true self. I would often compromise my thoughts and beliefs to make sure I fit this mold, this concept of who I was supposed to be, who I was expected to be.

“‘Of course you are…’ The moment I heard those words, I knew I was done being someone, something other than who I truly was. That’s when I knew I could start living my life fully and without reservations. I could finally be me.”

– D

when i knew #25.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.16.11 PM

“When I was little, I was always the boy that would want to play dress-up or play house with all of the girls. I didn’t see any problem or reason why a young boy wearing a wig of long hair would be looked down upon. I was just being me and playing with my friends.

“One Christmas, I asked for a Barbie doll because all of my friends at school had them. When Christmas morning came, there was no Barbie doll under the tree at my house. When I went to my grandparent’s house, my teenage cousin had spent her own money to buy me a Barbie doll, and I was so excited! I remember playing with that doll everyday for about a year. At that time I still didn’t know that this was not an ‘acceptable’ thing for a young boy to be doing.

“In the third grade, I got a gift card to Toys ‘R’ Us and I knew exactly what I was going to buy: a Bratz doll. Once again, all of my friends at school had them and we used to play with them at every recess. Once I bought my own, I took that Bratz doll everyday to play with at recess with all of my girl friends. I thought that this was normal because I was happy; I didn’t know why some of the adults looked at me funny.

“When my sister, who is five years younger, was old enough to have Barbie dolls, we would play together for hours. I was having fun playing with my sister, and we always had a good time. One day my mom walked into the living room where we were playing with the Barbie dolls and said Barbie dolls were not for young boys and told me that I should not be playing with them at any time.

This was the first time that I started doubting myself and who I was. Before that day, I thought I was just a ‘normal’ young kid that liked to play with the girls and have fun. After that day I started telling myself I was different and that I needed to hide who I really was: a young gay boy.

“Throughout middle school and high school, I kept the ‘real’ me a secret and never let anyone know who I really was. I never had a girlfriend, and many people asked me if I was gay, but I denied everything and kept my secret.

“Today, I am in college, and I have finally realized that I shouldn’t care who others tell me I should be or how I should act. If I am being completely honest with myself, and to everyone else, I have always known that I was gay, but I have never fully accepted this until college because of the opinions of the ones around me. I am now starting to share my ‘secret’ with the ones I feel the most comfortable around and know will support me no matter what!

“I am a 21-year-old college student who is just now sharing my story with people, but I knew I was gay before knowing what the word gay meant. I was just being completely myself. I look forward to the day when I can be myself again with everyone.”

– R

when i knew #24.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.16.11 PM2

‘I would like to share my story: When I was growing up, I was the typical boy-crazy young girl. But, when I entered middle school, a lot of things started to change. I would say that I always noticed girls, but – once middle school happened – I noticed them in a different light. I always thought that I was weird, because I still really liked boys (in fact, I had crushes on several of the popular boys in my grade), but I also began to have those same feelings towards some of the girls.

“In high school it got stronger. My freshmen or sophomore year, I told one of my friends that I liked her, and she didn’t talk to me for months after. It really hurt. At this point in my life, my parents had a point of view that it was all wrong how I was feeling, but I couldn’t help it. Very few people knew my secret; only those who were really close to me knew. That changed for me junior year.

“I got to go through Challenge Day, and it the the major turning point for my life. During one part of the day, an activity was done called ‘power exchange.’ One of the statements was, ‘If you, a family member, or friend is gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual, please cross the line.’ Several of my friends crossed the line, One of my dear friends gave me courage enough to pass over. I told myself that it was okay that I am this way.

“Later in the afternoon, I came out to the whole room, telling them I was bi. It felt good to tell them. I have to say that no one really looked at me any differently after that. There are days now, even at the age of 26, that I fear I made a mistake, that there is something wrong with me. I don’t know how to feel or how to tell others. I’m afraid of being turned away, of not having the support of my dear friends.”

– A

when i knew #23.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.16.11 PM3

“I have sometimes been envious of people who have known they were gay since five, six, seven. That was never me. When I look back on those years, I only see a childhood filled with kickball games, summer camp, and playground antics. Who I was as a sexual being never came into focus.

“However, as I became older, I automatically recognized that I was different. I would not define it as identifying my own gayness, but more of a recognition that I was not attracted to girls in the same way the guys in school were attracted to other girls.

“I continued to compartmentalize my own concerns about my sexuality until there were no other spaces in my brain to move the self-confusion and hurt. A decision had to be made.

“It was a dark evening, and I was lying on the second floor of my parent’s house, the window shades open and the moon hitting the reflection of the room, creating a bright white space. I sat staring out at a tree next to my window (which had become ‘my tree’ at that point), and I contemplated who I was and what I stood for. I knew that this was the moment; I recognized that I had reached a fork in the road and that I needed to make a decision.

“The first choice was to live a life as an openly gay male, something I knew nothing about (besides incredibly flamboyant men on television). The second choice was to choose silence, to allow the closet doors to devour me. I can still feel the dissonance that crept through the hairs on my head and came out through the tips of my toes. As my body grew tenser and tenser, I knew that I was not ready; I knew that I had to take the road more traveled. I chose silence and, for six years, lived my life in that manner.

“Over ten years have passed since that moment, and I can still physically feel the fear that I felt in those moments lying in bed. I spent years denying my true self because I lived in fear of breaking down, a breakdown from looking at the truth. It was only until I graduated from college, a month from graduate school, that me coming out to myself as a gay man came to fruition. As difficult as it was, life has not been brighter or better.”

– T

when i knew #22.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.16.11 PM

I spent so much of my childhood and adolescence working myself out of a bad situation. The home I lived in was very abusive. I was afraid to go home after school because I knew I would get screamed at, hit, manipulated, or sexually abused depending on the day and my stepfather’s mood. He hated my ferocity and did everything he could to break me down. Eventually, I threw myself into school because I finally realized that was the only way to independence and safety. The other parts of my identity were left unexplored for over a decade. 

“Before I even knew how to describe it, I was a highly sexual person. I was sent to counseling several times during my elementary years for masturbation. There, I was instructed on how to hate my body and bury my sexuality. I remained in that pit of self-hate and ignorance for a very long time.  I didn’t even know I was being sexually abused until I got to high school because I knew nothing about anything sexual. I was so scared and angry that I had difficulty communicating with people about simple things, never mind what was wrong. I didn’t trust counselors and therapists after my earlier experiences and refused their help. I was a mess of a teenager and am very lucky to have come this far. I moved out of that home less than ten days after I turned 18 and have never looked back. 

“I had a very serious boyfriend in high school more out of insecurity than anything else. At first he was a lifeline and later he grew to be an irritant. I absolutely despised myself for having failed to save myself for marriage, and it eventually tore us apart. Not even six months after that relationship fell apart, I found myself yet again in a very serious relationship with a different boy and still deep in self-hate.  

“While I was away for study abroad, I started reliving my worst memories in my sleep. At the encouragement of the man I was then engaged to, I came back to the United States early. The nightmares didn’t stop until I made the effort to process them and a commitment to healing the gaping holes and scars. That engagement ended very poorly a couple of years later due to a number of things, and I was thrown into a very dark place.

“During the soul-searching aftermath of that engagement, I started to realize that I wasn’t making life goals because I wanted to achieve them. I was just making the ‘standard’ life goals because that was what I had categorized as normal. I finally gave myself permission to just be. It took me a long while to figure out who I was, what I wanted, and where I wanted to be. Once I stopped trying to shoehorn myself into a mold I didn’t fit in, I started developing new interests of all kinds and noticing old ones that I had suppressed. I had always known that I found people of all genders to be intriguing and beautiful, but I had categorized it as wrong and dirty to entertain same-sex attraction. After I jumped into all my new interests and started projecting my newfound self-confidence, I realized that I shouldn’t limit myself to one gender just because society had decided heterosexual couples were default. I could be whoever I wanted to be and be romantic and sexual with whoever was willing to give me those chances. Once I threw away society’s rulebook, I realized I was a pansexual, polyamorous pagan who owed no one an apology. I was 24 when I finally learned to love myself. 

“I don’t make it a point to discuss my relationship dynamics with people because I don’t really enjoy being the pariah of the group. Being pansexual is relatively easy to explain to anyone who understands bisexuality. Being in a polyamorous relationship is not easy to explain, and I won’t volunteer that information unless I know the asking party very well. I tire of being called a whore, a slut, and a hoe. I don’t want to hear concerned parties tell me or one of my partners that we aren’t committed, aren’t serious, aren’t safe, and are taking advantage of everyone involved. Polyamory requires very thorough communication. If a problem comes up, we talk about it. Immediately. Leaving problems to fester is not good for any relationship. I have many diverse interests and not everyone is into all of them. That’s okay, and the beauty of polyamory is that they don’t have to be. When I became active in BDSM, I decided I was never again going to be monogamous because it’s cruel to ask someone to do something they find repulsive. Now, I think it’s really good that each person gets to enjoy what they find appealing and no one finds themselves in a situation they wouldn’t enjoy.”

– J

when i knew #21.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.16.11 PM2

“We met super young. Our parents were best friends, and I think somehow they thought we would fall in love, marry, and continue the tradition of high school sweethearts. No how matter how much I cared for her (and possibly actually loved her), I knew it wouldn’t be enough.

“As I wrote the first, ‘Will you be my girlfriend’ note, I thought about how I would never be able to give us both the life we wanted and be genuine in it. Did we both deserve that?

“It luckily never came to that. Somehow, she knew, and then I knew. It’s something unspoken that maybe she sensed from knowing me better than I knew myself. I was gay and I couldn’t live a truthful life in love with her.

“There will always be a ping of wonder – or maybe it’s even jealousy – as I see her now married and starting a family. Wondering how, if I had sacrificed more, it could have been me. But I wake up every day in a little more truth and a little more acceptance and a little more hope for the future.”

– B

when i knew #20.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.16.11 PM3

“My family grew up in the church and I had repeatedly heard about homosexuality and sin, but did not really understand what homosexuality was.

“When I was in elementary school, I called my sister a fag (obviously having no clue as to what a fag was) and clearly remember my mom telling me I shouldn’t call my sister a fag because it was ‘when a boy liked another boy, which is a sin.’ So naturally, in my little 10 year old mind, I was thinking, ‘Oh holy shit. I am so gay.’

“I have always known I was gay. I had crushes on other boys and fell in love with every shirtless movie star. I never struggled with my own acceptance of my sexuality, but I did struggle with what others thought. So, I spent years avoiding dating and lying to others until I had the chance to come out on my own terms. (Just kidding. My parents went through my phone and found me talking to a bunch of guys. Best coming out story ever, right?!)”

– T

when i knew #19.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 5.16.11 PM

“Dating men: I gave it my best shot in high school and freshmen year in college. I went to prom, wore the pink dress, and kissed my boyfriends like I was supposed to. I tried to convince myself that eventually I would feel ‘something.’ I just wasn’t doing it quite right. I had to try harder. Eventually, I told myself, it would all make sense. I would finally understand the excitement my friends felt about relationships, and feel a connection, a spark, that thing I saw in the movies.

But I never felt that spark with men. I found my connections rather boring, meaningless, and often made up completely erroneous reasons to break off my relationships to avoid leading them on more than I already had. Little did I know that by ending these relationships, I was actually doing everything right after all.

“At the age of 19, with the help of a standard college house party, a bit of liquid courage, and the presence of a beautiful, older, bisexual woman sitting next to me on an old, tattered couch…I found my spark. She looked at me, the young freshman that I was, and in a moment, I felt my entire body light up with a current unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I was shocked. ‘Could eye contact really be this powerful? What was happening? Have I had too much to drink?’

Despite all of these thoughts, I felt the truth in that moment. I was swept away, and in front of a room full of mostly intoxicated strangers, I found myself holding her head in my hands and kissing her. It was then that I knew. The connection, the spark, that thing I saw in the movies was real. It was meant for me too, not just everyone else in my life. The clarity of that moment just about knocked me off my feet…and heaven knows…she certainly did. I was definitely doing it right…”

– R