The first time I heard the word homosexuality, it was said with disdain. It was a Sunday morning, and it came from a man behind a pulpit whose bigotry was spouted under the guise of religion.
It was a pretty confusing message that was only compounded by living an hour from a church that was infamous for protesting at soldier’s funerals, concerts, and most of the major events of my young adult life with signs promising eternal damnation.
I’ve always felt different
I’ve known that I was gay for as long as I can remember. I felt different than the other kids long before I even knew what gay was.
Those early messages were such a departure from the thought that God didn’t make mistakes, that I didn’t know what to think. The only thing I knew was that the truth was something to be ashamed of and locked away in a proverbial closet.
Meeting someone who was openly gay
It felt like I held my breath for years until I met an openly gay person at my first job. They didn’t know it, but hearing them say they were gay out loud felt like I could exhale for the first time in my life.
It would less than a year later that a woman who went to our church would walk into my mother's work and out me.
I found myself suddenly free and an outsider at the same time. Although my family did not disown me, I became very aware that the world around me did not accept me purely for who I was attracted to.
Acceptance from other LGBTQIA+ people
I was working at the mall at the time of my outing. In juxtaposition of no longer belonging in the world I grew up in, I found myself surrounded by other LGBTQIA+ people who chose me.
There was something magic about being with others who were outliers, something almost rebellious about people who were rejected by society, choosing each other.
That magic continued throughout most of my young adult life. Moments of love and acceptance that would shape me in every way.
What exactly am I proud of?
Years flew by, marriage equality came and I found myself, in 2019, standing on a balcony with my friends overlooking pride fest. In the sweltering heat of pride month, full of drag shows and chosen family, I found myself wondering: What exactly am I proud of?
I had no idea that, a year later, there would be no pride celebrations. No late nights with friends at drag shows. Nearly an entire year separated from the people I choose as not only friends but family. It provided me the time to not only ponder that question but to have a kind of awakening to the answer.
I am an out and proud gay man
Today, I have been an out, proud gay man for longer than I was that scared little gay boy in Kansas who was so fearful of the truth. So afraid of himself, afraid that he was broken and there was no fixing it.
Be proud every month of the year
I know if my younger self could see me today, he would look in wonder of seeing the man that I have grown into because of the love and inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community. All these years later, what I know for sure is that my truth and the incredible community that has embraced me time and again is what set me free.
Learning to love myself and to be loved in a world that tells you that you don't deserve to experience that is something to be proud of this and every month of the year.
Do you live in the Southern US?