“As a child, I always felt a little different. There were so many clues as to my orientation growing up, but I’d been so entrenched in religious doctrine by family and friends, the idea of being anything other than straight never seriously crossed my mind.
“My interests and hobbies never fully lined up with other boys my age. My cousins would eagerly volunteer to help my grandpa and uncles with their construction business, while I begrudgingly went along with them counting the moments until I could get home and help grandma bake.
“Around Christmas, my favorite pastime was helping my mom wrap gifts while making homemade bows for the gifts. We’d have music (Cher, Paula Abdul, or Shania Twain) or TV (Designing Women, Golden Girls, or Will and Grace) on in the background. To this day, I joke with my mother she did everything in her power to raise me to be gay. Despite these subtle hints, I didn’t know until much later in life.
“I had numerous crushes on classmates and friends throughout my childhood, but, at the time, I didn’t recognize the feelings for what they were. It wasn’t until I finally met an openly gay person that I seriously entertained the idea that I might myself be gay, but even then I pushed those thoughts aside for fear of spending an eternity in hell.
“It wasn’t until my first intimate experience with a man that I initially accepted my sexuality. I immediately began coming out to close family members (my mom and a few aunts) and a few close (or so I thought) friends. In retrospect, this wasn’t the wisest decision as I hadn’t fully figured out what being gay meant for me and how I would handle the pushback from society. Word quickly spread around my high school. Rumors flew and I was challenged as to how I was certain this wasn’t a phase and being an insecure young person, I began to once again question if I really was gay. I received notes from ‘friends’ warning me of the fiery depths of hell who kindly noted they would pray for my sin. I went into hiding for the first half of my senior year. Six months of depression and questioning who I was ensued.
“It wasn’t until early February when a distant friend reached out and encouraged me to be me and not focus on being a gay version or a straight version of myself. To this day, I look back on that moment as a turning point. Those words were more empowering than I can begin to explain. They let me be me.”