if i could change #1.

by Michael King

orange

“‘You know,’ my mom said to me, ‘you’re going to start feeling pretty different about girls here soon.’ I was twelve years old, and I remember thinking that was awesome news. A whole new world ­– hand-holding, kissing, and school dances ­– was about to open its arms to me.

“As my adolescence unfolded, however, I noticed no change in my feelings toward girls. What I did notice, however, was the way my heart raced whenever a popular boy – let’s call him Steve ­– flashed a smile my way. At a time when I felt particularly invisible, Steve was the person who seemed to see me, inviting me to social circles and laughing uproariously at my jokes. I thought about him each morning when I picked out the day’s clothes, each afternoon on the bus ride home. I remember thinking I shouldn’t be feeling that way, but the crush persisted. These were the feelings I’d been waiting on.

“One day, as my social studies class was walking to the school library, a girl from my class said to me, ‘Hey, I have a question. Are you gay?’ Her friends laughed behind us, and everyone watched for my response. I denied it immediately. How do they know? I thought. By the end of the day, the rumor had spread that I had answered ‘yes.’ I was breathless on the bus home; I needed to change my image.

“I focused on walking in a more manly way. I became more expressive of a ‘crush’ I felt on a girl in my class. I made sure that she knew about it. I made homophobic jokes with my friends. We spoke often of how much we liked girls (so much so that we would be lesbians if we were girls – I wasn’t the only one in a closet.)

“At church camp the following summer, I was overwhelmed with emotion after a closing ‘solitary walk’ that involved being quiet with God on a walk to a prayer meeting. When I arrived, I sat down and prayed as hard as I could. Fix me, I begged. I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to be separated from You. I don’t want to be separated from my family. I don’t want to be different. Change this. I remembered something my grandma had said: that God would move mountains for us if we only believed enough. Move this mountain in me.

“The mountain didn’t move, so I convinced myself it was my burden not to notice it. If I searched long enough, I romanticized, I’d find The Woman, whose match for me would be so obvious I’d be relieved I didn’t acknowledge the mountain. I fell into a long relationship in high school, one with a woman I truly cared for. As the relationship moved into college, however, the mountain loomed in my periphery.

“The relationship fell apart. A little over a year later, I had my first sexual encounter with a man, an experience that forced me to turn and look at this ‘mountain.’ It was a tangle of knots within me I had refused to acknowledge. Hands shaky, I began untangling, digging into the part of me I’d fought so long to believe wasn’t there.

“It has been such a journey to get to this point, to stand here and say this: The truth is that, no matter how much easier life might be, I absolutely would not change this about myself. Being gay is a component of who I am, as integral as my sense of humor or sleeping position, and the road to accepting myself has not only made me stronger, but it has made me more compassionate and courageous. My life has possibilities, I have realized. Not despite who I am, but as a result of who I am. This is a piece of me. I am strong and brave enough to love it.

“On the way here, I have rested on some friends like family, forever bonded through a process of gathering the courage to say the words I needed to say. I treasure those bonds. With these friends, I learned not to go it alone. Since learning that lesson, I have worked to become a safe space for others exploring this line. To say I would change would undermine the words I give people who come out to me: That we are important, that our lives matter, that we have something special to contribute.

“And then there are the first kisses, the late nights talking and laughing, the hard-fought expressions of love and admiration, the arguments and the silences and the making up after. We fought for these. The thought of losing those moments, of the people on the other side of them becoming like strangers, rips at me.

“This is who I am. It took wild courage, stubborn persistence, and remarkable strength to turn that question mark into a period. So, you’ll have to excuse my absoluteness, but I’m not asking to be changed.

– M

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