It’s Your Journey, But You Don't Have to Make It Alone

Posted May 24, 2018 by James Peale

I knew right from childhood that I was different and it was the last thing I wanted. When you are an overweight boy, good in school, and a bit on the effeminate side, the last thing you want to do is stand out any more. However, despite my best efforts, stand out I did. It wasn’t enough that I had a last name that was easy to make fun of, I also got branded a “fag” by kids who probably had little idea of what that meant.

I didn’t really know either. Being born into a Catholic family in the 1960s, I encountered little discussion of gay people. When they did come up, it was always as "queers," perverts who were probably also preying on children.

Oddly enough, this all came to mind recently because of an article in the Huffington Post that would periodically appear on my Facebook feed. It celebrated the incredible achievements that queer people have made throughout history. Its message: we should be proud of ourselves and what we have done. Of course, loving one's self is a crucial milestone that allows a person to ascend and truly achieve their goals in life. But why do so many of us have trouble with this? Survey after survey reports that LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to have mental health struggles, and bisexual and transgender people even more so.

Knowing and accepting yourself is very important, but it was a struggle for me in the early years. Sex education was minimal, so I mostly learned about how things worked when we got a VCR, and I started getting access to then-elicit hardcore sex videos at age 16. I was self-aware enough to know that these were not realistic depictions of sex for most people. What I didn’t fully understand, however, was my reaction to them. Yes, the women were often highly desirable, but I found myself looking at the men with similar feelings. There was no one to discuss this within my family or social circle; indeed, most of my male friends displayed the usual exaggerated horror when encountering anything or anyone perceived to be gay. I decided that this was not a good sign and did my best to dismiss these thoughts and longings. My only understanding of bisexuality at the time was from those movies and only applied to the women. As it turned out, I locked those feelings of attraction away so thoroughly, my bisexuality rarely even surfaced in my sexual fantasies for years to come.

You probably know where this is going. It is ultimately fruitless to deny who you are because something will inevitably cause that reality to surface. For me, it happened in my early 40s. After a long stint with depression and anxiety disorder, I joined a cognitive therapy group. Among the members were an out gay man and a lesbian. After denying myself a sense of community for so long, here were two people that were not only queer but also suffering from similar mental health challenges.

I became friends with Anthony and Alexandra (not their real names). Anthony seemed especially enthusiastic at first to make my acquaintance because this was "the first time in a long time I've had a straight friend." I felt genuinely guilty to admit to him that I wasn’t straight and he quickly realized that what I was looking for was mentorship. Anthony wasn’t bisexual, though he had told his family he was because that seemed like the easiest way to break the news. A religious man at one time, he had done stints in gay conversion therapy that had proven quite traumatic and was still dealing with those wounds. We spent some time together but eventually drifted apart because Anthony finally misinterpreted our interactions as being something more. When he brought this up, I agreed with that perception even though it wasn’t true because I didn’t wish to hurt his feelings. It’s something that still bothers me, and I have never dared to talk to him about it. At the very least, I’d like to thank him for the advice he gave.

Alexandra identified as lesbian but quickly told me that she, too, was bisexual but didn’t say so because “it was easier.” One of the smartest and most enviable people I have ever met, Alex had gone through some terrible experiences but was soldiering on with her life. That ability to bounce back inspired me even as the tribulations she relayed filled me with remorse. If she could continue to move forward, there was no reason I couldn’t, right?

The trouble with playing it safe means that you are also limiting the good experiences that can prove so essential in achieving personal and emotional milestones. After getting to know Anthony and Alex, I experienced a deepening need to come out. This development truly surprised me because it had never seemed like a plausible option.

When I locked myself down and went with the crowd upon entering junior high school, no one called me fag anymore, but I didn’t realize just how effective that cover had been. When I finally did come out to my parents and friends all those years later, I asked them whether they had ever suspected. Not one of them answered yes. That actually made me feel sad. In trying to protect myself from emotional pain, I had also been hiding from the very people who would probably have been willing to accept this part of me. And outside of some brief, silly reservations from my mother (the old nature vs. nurture canard) and my father wondering why I wouldn’t just keep this to myself, they have accepted me, though mom still doesn’t seem to know the difference between gay and bi. Or maybe she buys into the myth that the bi is just a waystation. If that’s true, my train to Gayland is now about 40 years late.

Of course, things are dramatically different now. Those who are queer or questioning have a multitude of resources available. However, depending on where you are in your journey or even where you are literally, a lot of doubt can remain.

The answer ultimately lies within each person and is unique to them, though let me offer this advice. It seems simplistic, but the best solutions are sometimes the ones right in front of us that seem too obvious to work: Don’t be afraid to reach out and take risks because the rewards can significantly aid you in becoming the person you are truly meant to be. Even if your immediate family cannot or will not help you, I promise that there is another family out there. You just need to find them.

 

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