There is power in truth. That power introduced me to something I never knew was possible, Freedom. It is after all, what is responsible for allowing me to begin speaking on all aspects of my life with family and friends. It also gave me the courage to be vocal about inequality not only in the African American community, but also in matters that impact me as an openly gay man of color. More importantly, I gave myself the freedom to forgive myself for the excess alcohol, meaningless sexual encounters, and the harsh treatment of others who were brave enough to do what for many years, I could not. With all of the major life changes, positive affirmations, and risks taken, I write this blog entry to say to all of you with complete and brutal honesty, I AM NOT FIXED!
It is imperative to let all of you know, that my decision to launch Ruelon.com as a lifestyle blog of love and support, was not to imply that I’ve gotten it all figured out. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are moments where I’ve blended in with many diverse circles and found myself in scenarios in which I’ll hear a disparaging remark about Gay people. Fortunately, I’m in a space now in which I’m compelled to shut that down immediately! I can no longer sit quietly by when someone is ignorant enough to assume that everyone they know is straight, or that off color homophobic jokes are a welcome icebreaker in any social conversation.
“ I went from the guy who had to de-gay his apartment before his family came to visit, to preparing thanksgiving dinner with my sister while exchanging “men are dogs” dating horror stories.”
As most of us who are same gender loving already know, there is not a group of individuals in which we are not present. Family reunions, the boardroom, sports teams (both professional and recreational), I promise you we are there! My commitment to myself and to those around me, is to live a life that will allow me to be happy, even at the expense of the comfort level of others. I’ve done my time in support of so many who at times, openly opposed who I authentically was placed on this planet to be. It’s now my time- our time to live freely without shame, regret, and societal limitations.
In venturing out into my new world of self –awareness, I realized that despite all the fear, hardships, and lessons learned, I’ve come to a place in which I am more confident, risk-taking, and much to my surprise, full of hope. This hope is rooted in my reality that I have a strong family unit that loves me unconditionally. I know that my experience may be rare for a man such as myself, so there is not a day that goes by that I’m not grateful for them. I went from the guy who had to de-gay his apartment before his family came to visit, to preparing thanksgiving dinner with my sister while exchanging “men are dogs” dating horror stories. In what universe does that happen? Oh yes, that’s right; mine.
I am still relishing in the notion that the pressure of pivoting in conversations with family regarding my personal life is a thing of the past. I can now simply be myself. As easy as it sounds, that’s all I’ve ever wanted. I needed to just be a son, a brother, an uncle, and friend who happens to be same gender loving. I love the openness that has developed between my sister and I that was a result of me following her lead. It was after all, her that I came out to first.
It happened during a phone call (yeah again with the phone calls) in which she was upset at homophobic comments that were said by a family member when I was not around. I was so shocked that my sister, who knew nothing about my secret life, was so visibly upset at the blatant ignorance of another human being. The fact that she took the time to call and vent her frustration, gave me the courage to tell her that I was gay. Every now and then, I still enjoy recalling that day, and will smile uncontrollably at the compassion and love she showered upon me. I was reminded once again my big sister still had my back.
“My confidence level dipped faster than Arsenio Hall’s ratings after Louis Farrakhan appeared on his late night talk show. Then on a day that is etched in my brain forever, it happened!”
Another perk of me being on this journey of truth is being able to truly understand and be capable of loving another man. I am a firm believer that if anyone hates any part of who they are based on their sexual orientation, they should not be looking for a relationship. Love every part yourself first, even if you have to distance yourself from others to do it. You’ve lived a life of exhausting experiences that were at times, extremely painful. You need time to heal and take your time doing so. It was when I practiced self-care that I embraced my vulnerability. Something I’ve learned was needed when that one special man captured my heart and soul. I don’t pretend to be good at love and relationships. I’ve got plenty of work to do. I am however, discovering now at this stage of my life that I am a hopeful romantic. I had to get ugly and truthful with myself before that was possible. More importantly I had to love me. That can be a daunting task when you’ve felt unlovable despite a great family and comfortable upbringing.
So what is the origin of my belief of not being worthy of love? Picture it, Sicily 1922; ok it was more like Long Island 1987. I was in my first year of high school and I was beyond excited. It would be the first time since the first grade that I did not have to wear a school uniform. I was officially a cool ass public school student.
“Up until this moment in my life, I had only been afraid two times, once when my father was having an allergic reaction to shell fish and now.”
With all of my new school clothes and fantasies of having a television sitcom high school experience like Theo Huxtable, I was blind sighted by several incidents of being made brutally aware that I was different on so many levels. For starters, I had spent most of my education in predominantly white schools. Entering 9th grade in my new and majority black and brown environment made me aware that I was (as I was told) really white, didn’t dress fly enough, and that hockey (a sport I enjoyed playing) was not cool by any means. Yeah my confidence level dipped faster than Arsenio Hall’s ratings after Louis Farrakhan appeared on his late night talk show. Then on a day that is etched in my brain forever, it happened!
It was during earth science and the first class of the day. My teacher, Mr. C, was also the coach of the football team. Since many of my classmates were players, the room was a petri dish of hyper-masculine cultures in the form of adolescent men. They would eventually infect my psyche with bacteria that would follow and cripple me for years to come.
“I responded to that experience by working out, becoming obsessed with sports, dated women, all to prove to those young idiots in my 9th grade earth science class that I was anything but a faggot.”
As Mr. C was suddenly called outside of the classroom to speak with a colleague, the young man I shared a desk with became engaged in a conversation with about four other young men who sat directly behind us. I don’t remember what the conversation was about exactly, but one of the guy’s attempts to ask me a question to bring me into the discussion. He didn’t know my name, and I didn’t want to turn around to acknowledge him for fear he was not referring to me. He was however, and then lowers his voice to ask his friend sitting next to him, my name. That friend responded by loudly saying, “I don’t know his name but he looks like a faggot!” Up until this moment of my life, I had only been afraid at two times, once when my father was having an allergic reaction to shell fish and now.
I felt my arms and legs go limp, my heart was racing so fast that I could barely catch my breath. There was nowhere to escape. All I could do is pretend I didn’t hear that I just heard. My desk partner in the midst of the boisterous laughter that followed the remark that was nail in my social coffin responded, “nah he’s cool man.” This same young man would eventually speak to me for the remainder of the year, even after my very manhood and reputation was destroyed in all of five minutes. As I look back now, I’m grateful that he was there and stood up for me. Unfortunately, I then purposely made myself invisible and plunged into a depression that no child at the age of fourteen should have to endure.
So there you have it, my origin or seed of negative self-identification if you will. What I didn’t know then, that I do now, is that it was the beginning of a long journey of believing I was less than. I responded to that experience by working out, becoming obsessed with sports, dated women, all to prove to those young idiots in my 9th grade earth science class that I was anything but a faggot. Today, after my coming to terms with who I am, I know proudly and definitively that I’m still not one. I’ve adopted a mantra that no one has the right to determine who I am or my self worth but me.
My being a man is woven into the fabric of who I am. It is the lessons of responsibility and accountability that I’ve learned from my father. It was the visuals of seeing him soar above adversity and instilling within me the definition of true manhood. It would however, take me many years to tap into that strength. My father was also the man that learned to cook after my mother died, cleaned the house better than young Celie in The Color Purple, and embraced his youngest child, a son, as being gay. If that isn’t manhood I don’t know what is. I know what I was taught. All of these lessons made me who I am today and no one would reduce me to a derogatory word, sexual act, or label me loving someone as a sexual preference.
It would take a lifetime of combining the love of my family, lessons from a near death experience, and transforming my life to define it on my terms. I now love the swagger of my walk that suggests no one can use my sexual orientation to hurt me. It’s not a dirty little secret that only exists in bedrooms or when someone is sliding into my DM. It’s a part of me that I embrace, come to love, and embodies the complex beauty of the man I’ve become.
I stand presently in my light now because of my past but to get to a place of truth and happiness; I now know that I am not my past! The demons I’ve battled made me proud of the life I am designing for myself. I’m not expecting smooth sailing from this point, but I am committed to authentically living my life with the intention of it going in whatever direction I choose. There is still fear, but there is so much love, hope, and support at my disposal. I’m going to claim my peace in this life and know that I am often awkward, yet worthy of love. I am beautifully flawed and know that with all that is right with my coming out journey, I am not fixed. I am however, proudly wearing an armor built to endure a life living boldly and #outfront.