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The Spectrum: Before coming out, I have to learn to accept myself

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This essay is part of The Spectrum, a forum in our Opinion section for marginalized voices to share their perspectives. To submit a piece for The Spectrum or discuss story ideas, please email spectrum@dailynorthwestern.com.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first started to realize I was attracted to other guys. But I remember exactly how I felt when I did.

When I was younger, I always had a feeling I was different in some way. While everything else around me made me think I should be attracted to girls, I wasn’t. Whenever my elementary school friends would sit around and talk about how attractive they thought celebrities like Megan Fox, Rihanna or Miley Cyrus were, I wouldn’t have anything to say. I just didn’t feel the same way. I’d make vague comments trying to come off as straight, but made sure it didn’t look like I was “trying too hard” so attention stayed off me. My classmates would make comments like “you’re so gay” to each other when I was in middle school, like 12-year-old boys often immaturely do, and every time they would, I’d tense up a little bit. I’d just think: Act cool, don’t give it away and every time someone even looked at me when doing so, I was sure they knew.

At holiday get-togethers my family members and relatives would playfully ask if I had a girlfriend yet. My honest answer would always be “no.” Meanwhile, in high school, my friends often questioned why I wouldn’t go after girls who were interested in me. I wanted to say I didn’t even want a girlfriend.

I remember getting back home from school one day and looking up “what to do if I like guys?” One website suggested it was only temporary and claimed it’s just a typical phase everyone goes through during high school. By the time I was a junior or senior, my hormones would calm down and it’d pass. I didn’t even believe it was true as I read it. But to be honest, a huge part of me hoped it was; that it’d just be a phase and things could be “easier.” Deep down, I knew it wasn’t.

To this day, no one knows I’m gay. And a big part of why I’ve been so worried about coming out has been my parents. It’s not even necessarily that I think they’ll react negatively or want nothing to do with me. But I know, even if they don’t show it, they’ll be disappointed. My mom has always dreamed about meeting my “future wife” and her grandchildren — and I’ve honestly thought about it just as often as she brings it up. So maybe it’s not that I’m worried my mom would be disappointed. Maybe it’s that I don’t want to disappoint myself. For so long, I’ve envisioned my “ideal life” — having a wife, two kids and a traditional family. Even now, I still sometimes find myself imagining it. But I know I wouldn’t really be happy.

I actually have thought about coming out before. What’s been difficult is that no one in my life even thinks I might be gay and I’m terrified of how they might react. I was so afraid of people figuring it out when I was a kid and now I wish they had a clue. One of my friends literally told me “I knew you were straight from the moment I met you.” Coming out might change their views over what boxes gay, bisexual and straight men should fit into. But even still, I don’t know how. I don’t know what I’d do if they thought it was just a joke. I don’t even really know what I would say.

But maybe writing this is a first step for me. Maybe one day, I’ll send this to my friends, text a link to my family members and drop the mic. But for now, I just have to learn how to accept who I am, and it’s been a process. I have to realize there’s nothing wrong with me; not having a traditional family is completely fine. Last Wednesday was National Coming Out Day. And while I didn’t come out, I made a more personal commitment to stop feeling ashamed and running away from my identity. Other people might be disappointed or surprised, but I have to put my happiness first. I shouldn’t feel like I need to hide.

I have to learn how to love myself for who I am. And I’m a gay man who isn’t ready to come out just yet.

The author of this story is a SESP sophomore who would like to remain anonymous. He can be reached through spectrum@dailynorthwestern.com. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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