I grew up in a small, conservative Mississippi town, but it wasn’t until years after leaving that I realized I was gay. So, this is not a dramatic coming out story; I have no anguished cries of persecution, no angry parents or friends, no secret crushes that I hid away in my teenage years. I was not abused or homeless. I know much more about what my story isn’t than what it is. It’s not at all new, but of course it seems new to me. I guess it’s a story of putting myself back together from pieces I never knew I had.
Like I said, I didn’t spend my childhood longing for the boys around me, but I do vaguely remember what you could call a crush on David Hasselhoff. What can I say, Knight Rider was a helluva show. Anyway, the truth is, I’ve never felt like I belonged. I was a strange, awkward kid, my parents both worked long hours and my earliest years were split between my grandmother’s farm and my parents’ home, and both had few neighbors, so I had few friends. My grandfather’s death led my grandmother to move into a smaller house in town when I was eight or so, and from then on I was around more kids, although I never fit in. There seemed to be few kindred spirits, or at least I wasn’t able to find them. Sure, I got called “fag” here and there because I didn’t play sports and I was a fat kid, and that was painful, but I don’t remember it feeling deeply personal. I’ve tried to remember if I hid myself consciously, but I honestly don’t know. Sometimes, I remember small details, like once coloring my toenails with a magic marker after I must’ve seen my mother or aunt do it. I remember how angry my father was, how he yanked me up out of my grandmother’s house, and how I was confused and scared by his reaction to something so silly. I have only clues like that one to go by. The silent hole in my mind is the hardest thing to accept.
Over time, I hated my hometown more and more. Whenever we traveled I wondered aloud to my parents why they moved from Memphis back to Corinth before my brother and I were born. I spent a lot of time to myself, I was a big science fiction fan, I played around with computers, I drew, I imagined. Fitting in didn’t get easier as I got older, and my desire to leave only grew stronger. After graduation, the few friends I had in Corinth began to scatter, so I moved to Memphis myself with hardly a plan as to how I’d stay or even what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t interested in college, I was burned out by the dull “learning” “experiences” of high school, so I just showed up. Thirteen years later, here I am.
It’s only in the past couple of years that I figured out I was gay. Sure, there were signs, I was never very satisfied by girls, and there were plenty of friends and acquaintances who suspected I was gay, even when I didn’t see it myself. But the worst part of that time in my life was simply not knowing what was missing, why I never felt content. I had no idea, and I never even bothered to figure out why. Looking back on it all, I’m amazed by the depths of my ignorance and self-deception. I’ve spent much of my life in a nightmare fog of unhappiness, anger, disconnection, sometime depression, and inability to accomplish anything real, although I knew full well how capable I was of accomplishment. I’m ashamed of that wasted time. I’m ashamed that I haven’t accomplished more. I’m ashamed that I didn’t recognize myself, that I was a passenger in my life, that I forced myself into a small, dark corner of a body shared with someone I never knew, never touched.
I don’t mean to say that I’ve been totally miserable, not at all. I am more or less a positive person, so I’ve tried to do the best I could with my strange little life. I’ve had a career and taken care of myself, and I’m working on finishing college with the goal of doing something more with my life. I’m active in the community, and I have friends all over. I’m not exactly seeing anyone, and dating is still kind of a pain, although at least there’s definitely someone I’m interested in. All in all, I’m far closer to living a real life than I’ve ever been. It’s taken me this long to find some semblance of truth to myself.
The only advice I have for anyone reading this is to take hold of yourself NOW and look deeply into the places that you dare not. The time you lose is just gone, it slips away silently and leaves little trace except regret. I know that I could have paid more attention to myself, been braver, been stronger, and discovered that my isolation arose from more than being stuck in a small Mississippi town. I know that I could have made better choices, that I could have enjoyed my 20s, that I could have spent more time as a teenager BEING a teenager instead of always hungering for the future. I know I have to forgive myself for these mistakes, and I’m working on it, but it’s a difficult thing to look back at your life and realize you spent your youngest years not even living it.
Like I said, this story isn’t new, and I don’t pretend to be unique. Sometimes, I’m embarrassed when I think of the thousands of kids living on streets all over America who’ve experienced far worse than I have. But, no matter how awful the place you are forced into or that you’ve forced yourself into has become, it cannot contain the potential of the moment you’re in right now. There’s amazing freedom in that realization. Pay attention to the things about yourself that don’t make sense. If you feel different, then you probably are, so accept your differences, don’t just acknowledge them in passing. Own them. Love them. They are the things that make you who you are, the things that make your life separate from any life before or after. When you’re alone, or sad, or in pain, they can be the candle in the darkness. My knowledge came at a price, and I only hope I can ease that burden a little for someone else. This is my story, or at least whatever part of it I can make sense of. It’s a mystery I still only partially understand, but I’m gonna keep on trying. I don’t know anything else to do.