michael king

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

when i knew #37.

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“I always felt nervous around girls; unsure of myself even more than I was around boys. I didn’t understand why, and then Jane moved into the house down the street from me. She had honey blonde hair, was all limbs, olive skin sprinkled with freckles, and the biggest eyes that were never quite brown or green. Her toothy smile lit up her entire face, and her laugh always chimed high and clear. For two years we were inseparable, spending summer afternoons together and weekends during the school year. When I couldn’t see her, I missed her.

“During the third summer, she told me she was moving down south. I wouldn’t see her anymore. My heart ached. We were lying on her deep red carpet in her bedroom, the midday sunlight streaming in from her windows. I felt cemented into the floor, immobile. I was watching her. Her gaze was up, her eyes following the reflections play on the ceiling, her chest gently rising and falling. Both of us silent. I wanted to reach out, touch her, hold her hand. More than that, I wanted to kiss her. Just once. It was consuming and paralyzing, and stronger than any whim I had towards a boy.

“It made sense in that moment. I made sense in that moment. I hated holding hand with my friends, who were all female. It meant something different to them. She was different for me. But I didn’t kiss her, and I didn’t reach out to her, hold her hand, or even speak a word. I laid there in the painful knowledge of recognizing oneself as different, as ‘other,’ for the first time. I was seven.

“Years passed, Jane and I lost touch, partly because of distance, partly because of my crippling fear of her knowing something about me that I barely understood myself. Confusion was my constant companion. I was different, yet not so different. I found boys could make my heart race, but so did girls. And I was terrified. I dreaded gym classes and slumber parties. Both promised an uncomfortable proximity or near nakedness to friends and classmates who were female and carried that certain something that made my heart feel like it was in my throat. I felt unsafe, tortured in moments that seemed so innocent and mundane to everyone around me.

“It wasn’t until college I had a name for it. It was amazing how my life felt after a word finally helped me understand who I was. Understanding I’m bi was, and still is, the best thing to ever happen to me. Yet that moment, lying in perfect stillness with my childhood friend, that’s when I knew.

– S

if i could change #6.

green

“I’m not sure how to categorize my story. I saw the ‘when I knew’ posts and I found myself getting choked up at so many stories that sounded like my own. I decided to participate in the ‘if I could change’ project, but I guess this can go either way.

“I first realized I was attracted to men in the fourth grade. I remember an ad popping up on the computer for some kind of underwear company, and it was a muscular man. I was amazed at his body and how tight and strong he looked. It was the first time I ever found myself thinking a man was ‘cute.’ I then decided to look up pictures of men in underwear. My dad came home that night from work and looked at the browsing history and was stunned by what he saw. At dinner that night, he sat my sister and me down and had a talk with us. I admitted to being the one looking at the pictures, but I played it off as me being innocent and confused.

“As I grew up, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get pictures of men out of my head. I had a few girlfriends and eventually lost my virginity to a girl. My parents found out, and I knew I finally had them believing I was straight, even though I still had thoughts of men in my head.

“I went to work correcting my ‘orientation.’ I began watching porn with threesomes, which I reasoned was ‘straight’ because a woman was involved. In high school, as a freshman, I admitted to myself that I was into guys, but I started to feel ‘wrong’ about it again by my junior year. I started watching lesbian porn, trying to make myself straight. While I watched the porn, I found myself opening tabs to look at guys too. I Googled ways to act straight and to think straight. I started lying to people and telling them I was hooking up with girls from other schools so that they thought I wasn’t gay. High school was hell for me.

“Eventually, I met a man on Grindr, and we had sex. I felt absolutely disgusting. I told myself I would never do it again and that it wasn’t for me. However, a week or two later, I began watching gay porn again. I graduated high school as a liar. I told so many people so many lies to try to cover my true identity.

“Coming to college, I began to find more people like me: people who loved people for who they are. I have only told a few close friends, so sharing this is a huge step for me, but I can say for sure that I would never change myself. I tried so hard to do that in high school, and it was so much added stress.

“The one thing I am jealous of completely straight people is that they don’t have to explain themselves to anyone. They are ‘normal.’ They don’t have to worry about laws to get married. They can – besides a few barriers for some – have kids whenever they want. If I end up marrying a man, we will need to adopt or find a wiling surrogate. Straight people don’t have to worry if their parents will still love them for being with who their heart wants. They don’t have to participate in blogs explaining when they first realized they were straight. It’s hard being a part of the LGBT+ community, but I feel it makes me stronger as a person, and it teaches me that no matter what happens, I will have someone there to turn to.”

– W

if i could change #5.

orange

“The process of discovering that you are different is always masked with the comfort of the status quo. You’ve always done something this way. You’ve always felt this way. It’s always been normal to you until someone puts doubt into your head.

“The moment I realized I may be different was some time in middle school when the word ‘fag’ was presented smack-dab to my face. The word stung the very bottom of my soul, the vehemence and malicious intent behind it bringing forth many emotions: anger, fear, sadness, doubt. That very word spiraled an analysis of all my past behaviors; it shook the very foundation of who I was. So much that I had an existential crisis at the age of thirteen. Is there something wrong with me? Am I normal? Are other people feeling this? Why wasn’t this a problem before? Can I change this? Hide this? Why me?

“I played it off like I assume many other gay men in their formative teenage years probably do: I bantered back with other slurs, shamed the gay community, and tried my best to be heterosexual in a world that demanded it. The heteronormative pull connected strongly to my cultural roots. As a Mexican-American young man, I was expected to be the utmost machista.

“When my parents saw my Internet browsing history, they brought me immediately to church. ‘You’re confused.’It’s the things you see on television that are making you this way.’ ‘Pray to God to fix you and take these evil thoughts of your head.’

“When I presented myself in front of the altar, I was an absolute mess. There I was, fourteen, thinking I was going to die and burn in hell for the rest of eternity. Didn’t God make me like this? I didn’t wake up and decide to be gay; it just happened.

“When I finally took communion, a wave of relief flushed over me. I would not call myself a spiritual person, but something spiritual told me everything was going to be all right. From this moment forward, I just took deep breaths and let happen whatever was to happen.

“As I reflect on the years of my life thus far, I’m filled with nothing but happiness. Being a gay man wasn’t too hard of a battle once I accepted it. I quickly learned that surrounding myself with people who love me for who I am was more beneficial to my well-being. I would never want to change who am I, nor the way I came to accept it, because my experiences made me who I am today. If I wasn’t gay, I’d be an altogether different man that may or may not be so willing to accept things out of the ‘norm.’ Sure, some people got hurt in the process, many were taken aback, many left my side, and many more held my hands through the journey. It all comes down to the quote that ‘those who mind don’t matter; and those who matter don’t mind.'”

– J

if i could change #4.

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“Okay. So I sealed the deal with my homosexuality by having sex at 15. The thing was that it wasn’t that big of a deal to me when it happened. It felt good, and I had something to brag about. I didn’t care that I lost my virginity, but I was scared by the fact that it was with a man. I remember spending nights locked in my room yelling at God for making me gay in a world that would never fully love me for the person I am. I didn’t want to be straight; I just wanted it to be okay with everyone else that I was gay. Dealing with the fact that this wasn’t going to happen (and still hasn’t) was the thing I struggled with the most.

I guess I didn’t make any huge attempts to be straight or ‘straight-acting.’ I was on dance team and was a manager for the volleyball team. I had a few girlfriends in middle school, my only period of dating females, and the most I ever did was kiss someone on the cheek. I dated during that age mainly because everyone else was, but I never felt attracted to the girls I dated. If anything, I am happy I did, because the girls I gay-dated ended up being good friends.

“The only thing I envy about the heterosexual life is the established societal roles and the resulting simplicity. I want kids more than anything else in my life. If I was straight, it would be as simple as deciding with a woman to get pregnant. Instead, I have to find someone willing to put forth the money, commitment, and effort to adopt or find a surrogate. That’s the only thing I envy of any heterosexual person. Besides that, I absolutely love and adore my sexuality and what it means for me, including the bad.

– T

if i could change #3.

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“I developed a crush on my best friend my first year in high school. Every chance we got to be alone, we would be making out. My heart would flutter, and it felt so natural to kiss her. My mother walked in on us one day, and I distinctly remember the look on her face. Shock, horror, silence. I wished, in that moment, I could just melt into the walls and disappear forever. I wished I could change that moment, all the moments leading up to it. I wondered what would have happened if it was a boy instead of a girl I had been kissing. I would have given anything not to have my mother look at me like she did. That look is forever etched into my memory. That was the moment I realized I was different.

“Coming to grips with my fluid identity has been a constant back-and-forth since I was a child, a perpetual struggle between how I feel about my sexuality and the expectations of my family or the tenets of my faith. My father once said to me, ‘If you’re bisexual, why can’t you just ignore your feelings about other girls? Your life will be easier if you date men.’ I can see why he asked this question, but it still makes me angry. If it was that simple, I think, don’t you think that is what I would do?

“I have dated both men and women since high school, and I think my family does a secret little celebration every time I introduce them to a new boyfriend. I know it is disappointing to them when I’m dating a woman. I feel that my attraction to a person is based on more than just their physical characteristics, but I believe, to my family, a relationship with another woman is less valid. So what happens if I fall in love with a woman? If I want to marry and have my children with another woman? And I tend to have more fulfilling relationships with women, so what does that mean for my relationships with my family?

“If I could wave a magic wand and just be completely and authentically heterosexual? Absolutely. 100%. YES. I whole-heartedly applaud LGBT-spectrum identified folks who can say they honestly accept their sexual- or gender-identity, but I also know I’m not in that place. I don’t know how to get to that place. I want ‘normal.’ I want a partner who I can introduce to my family and to my faith community and to my friends without that constant nagging voice in the back of my head asking if I am ‘less than’ because of my partner. And most of all, I want to erase the memory of my mother’s horrified, shocked face.”

– H

if i could change #2.

green

“When I came out to my parents, I told them I was sorry for being gay. I told them that I tried not to be gay. I really did try.

“Throughout middle school and high school, I – no question – wanted to be heterosexual. I come from a relatively traditional household and, while I have very accepting parents and siblings now, I never used to think they would accept me for being gay. Many have tried to pray the gay away, and I was no different. I remember nightly getting on my knees to pray and truly begging God for me to wake up the next morning and be infatuated with women, just like my brother. I remember bargaining with God and promising ‘I would do anything not to be gay.’ I’m disappointed, looking back, on how much I wanted to fit the social norm.

“The worst decision my parents could have made was allowing me to have a computer in my room and a lock on my door. Of my own volition, I decided I would engage in a gay conversion therapy that I created for myself. I came to the conclusion that, if I watched and masturbated to enough straight porn or pictures of naked women, and terminated my viewing of any gay porn, I could definitely turn myself straight. I remember thinking, ‘THIS IS IT! I FIGURED IT OUT!’ I truly thought this was genius and wondered why no one had thought of this. Despite my clearly flawless therapeutic technique, my feelings were not muted.

“Throughout high school, the only conclusion I could wrap my head around was that I would settle on being with women or I would never have a sexual experience with anyone. Of course, there’s a limit to how much a person can ignore his or her true needs. The first time I ever had a sexual experience with a guy was with a close friend during my high school senior year spring break. I was drunk when it happened, but not drunk enough to forget it the next day. When I woke up in the morning, I was overcome with guilt and shame. I had indescribable anxiety and fear of what my life would become. For so long, I had been fully in the closet, and this was the first time another individual had proof of something I was ashamed to admit.

“I was overwhelmingly distraught and fearful immediately following that first sexual encounter, and only one thing brought me peace: I decided to kill myself. A sense of true resolve came over me once I looked over our spring break condo balcony to the concrete below. I remember thinking, ‘This is just how life goes. If you act on those feelings, you have to kill yourself. And that’s okay.’ I didn’t remotely care about my future or myself; I cared about my family, friends, and God, the ones who would be affected by me being gay. People say suicide is a selfish act, but mine would have been completely for the benefit of others. Of course, this wouldn’t have benefited others, but my tainted mind honestly felt that it was the most admirable course of action. Standing there, on the balcony, I looked down and considered my life.

“I was so close to doing it. I did not jump, but it scares me still to think that I was so at peace with losing my life. The mentality that evolved from growing up in a traditional church, in a traditional family, with the absence of any homosexual role model, made me believe to commit suicide would truly be for the better. This is why overtly close-minded traditional households and churches are dangerous and an inarguable factor in many gay teen suicides. Teens are just so impressionable and my impression was that the world would rather have a dead gay man than an honest one.

“It baffles me that some people still think it is a choice to be gay. Look at all of the times I chose not to be gay, begged not to be gay, and tried not to be gay, but didn’t succeed. Of course, today, I love myself and I love everything that has become of me. I confidently feel that my family and friends love me for everything that I am. I am incredibly lucky, blessed, and privileged in so many ways. I don’t want to be all ‘woe is me’ when so many have gone through worse heartache. I wouldn’t change who I am and wouldn’t change the winding road that got me to where I am today, but I wouldn’t necessarily wish such a road on anyone else.”

– J