FEATURE

Finding My Stride

A gay student takes the bold step of being true to himself

Feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, legs and hips relaxed, arms firmed up … I was ready to walk "straight" to my next class. I don't mean walking in a straight line to get from one classroom to the next; instead, I was focusing on walking in a manner that I perceived to be "heterosexual." For many years of middle school and high school, the concept that I was gay daunted me all hours of the day, in every room I would enter, with every stride I would take.

As early as elementary school, I can recall feeling different from the other boys, and, at times, even being fond of boys. I didn't know this difference was attributable to what would later be called my sexual identity, but for some untraceable reason I was under the impression that I was inherently bad. I remember the looks that would shoot my way when I preferred playing hopscotch over basketball. Learning to pretend to conform, I would comment about how good-looking Sarah was, when it was Bobby I had a crush on.

In 3rd or 4th grade, the odious words fag, queer and homo were born into my peers' vocabulary. Granted, at the time no one really knew what they literally meant, nor did they really care. But those words were a fantastic vehicle for making atypical boys like me feel extremely insecure about themselves. The lack of positive gay role models in my life only reinforced the messages I received. The stereotypical media image of a gay man misled me to believe that I was doomed to be an effeminate hairdresser. I just wanted to be me. Feeling a need to prove myself to the world, I decided to pave my own road to success. On the outside, I was an academically focused, highly active and visible student, but on the inside I was empty.

Making friends in middle school proved to be especially challenging for a gay preteen. I longed to be close to people my age and to establish friendships with both my male and female peers, but a lingering voice in my mind warned me to keep my distance: If I get too close to somebody, they might figure out who I am. I wasn't ready for that. In fact, I thought I'd never be ready.

So it was in middle school that I made plans for my life. Although in the back of my mind I knew I was only kidding myself, my first plan was to try to change my homosexuality: I've got it! If I do straight things and think straight and hang out with straight people, I'll be straight. That didn't work. My second plan, then, was that I would never tell anyone, not even my parents. Imagine that -- here I was in the 7th grade, and I thought I could be my own best friend forever.

I also had my marriage plans laid out: When I found the person I wanted to spend my life with, I would look for a lesbian who also could never tell anyone that she was gay. We'd get married, buy houses next to our partners, and just switch houses whenever the parents came over for dinner. Lies are what I lived and thought I would always have to live. Unless …

During my pre-driving days in high school, while I waited in the parked car in our garage for my mother to drive me somewhere, I often just wished it would all end there. I'd wonder if everything would be better if I could just sit in the garage with the car running for just a little while and then … and then what, Brian?! Then I would not be a problem to anyone. Then I would never have to worry about telling everyone. Then I finally wouldn't have to lie.

The summer before my junior year, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend six weeks in Israel on a youth-group trip. In that spiritual and breathtaking place, I acquired a new sense of self-confidence that I never before was willing or able to assert. I finally embraced myself to the extent where I was no longer going to live someone else's expectations, deny myself the opportunity to be happy, or reject the person I was made to be. I came back from Israel with a new sense of self and one great tan -- and, with that, I came out of the closet.

Although I'm not a strong proponent of fate, I frequently feel that I was made gay for a reason. My coming out at school gave other closeted gay teenagers the courage and validation to come out, too.

Telling my parents that I was gay was analogous to taking a sledgehammer and crushing the fragile portrait of how they had envisioned my future. But I was privileged to have loving and supportive parents who were able to uphold their promise to me as a child: "Brian, we will always love you -- no matter what." Rebuilding their vision for my future has brought us closer together as a family and has made them notably more open-minded as individuals.

Although I'm not a strong proponent of fate, I frequently feel that I was made gay for a reason. My coming out at school gave other closeted gay teenagers the courage and validation to come out, too. I've encountered a general sense of acceptance since I came out. The experience marks the beginning of a new life that I can honestly call my own. No longer do I walk "straight" or sport a false pretense when I interact with others. I've found the self-contentment that I sought for years. But, most of all, I've found my stride -- because now I can walk proud.