When I was in the ninth grade, I realized that I was gay. No, that opening line was not my memory failing me on a Macklemore song lyric. It was a genuine turning point in my life.
Growing up, I had always looked at the boys at school in a different light then what was expected of me. I did not tease the girls at school because I harbored a secret crush on them. Rather, I idolized the female role models that were featured on the TV screen and felt the way towards boys that I thought was the ‘normal’ feeling towards girls.
When I had the epiphany that the word ‘gay’ was not an insult, but was instead a possible part of one’s identity, I realized that the feelings I had been so confused about actually had a name, and were not as abnormal as I thought they were.
Once I fully realized that I was indeed a gay man, I went through the relatively painless process of coming out to my friends and my mother. Of course, I knew that the course of my life would soon be changing, but what I had not expected was the essence of my friendships taking a turn for both the better and the worse.
There tends to be a certain expectation attached to being friends with an out gay man, especially in the high school environment. On our television screens and in movies, we often see gay men as exuberant, fashion forward, musical loving, and a little bit catty, especially when they are surrounded by a group of their girlfriends. While I am a pretty outward person when it comes to my attitude and humor, and I certainly have my catty moments, I did not, and still do not feel as if I line up with each stereotype that is commonly associated with the gay male.
It became challenging to navigate the rough waters of high school with this new identity that everyone seemed to want a piece of, all while I was still trying to figure out what this identity meant to me.
What was even harder to deal with, however, was the friends that I had prior to coming out, who now wanted nothing to do with me.
Just as there were certain expectations to having a friendship with a gay man, there is also a certain stigma attached to it. Almost all of the heterosexual male friends that I had established relationships with now wanted to keep me at an arm’s length. In addition to their own social pressures, they did not want to be seen hanging around with the ‘gay kid,’ in fear that they too would be classified as gay, which in my high school was still as much of an insult as it was in middle school.
This did not do wonders to my mental health. I pondered stopping my behaviors that could be classified as stereotypical, or even rejecting my identity as a gay man altogether. That was the best course of action to survive high school.
But there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I graduated, moved out of the country bumpkin town, and enrolled in a college that has thus far been nothing but nurturing to my identity as a gay man.
I have true friends that do not hold me to any expectations. I am happily ‘married’ to one of my closest heterosexual male friends. As I look back, I realize that no, I can’t change.
And that’s ok.