Growing up, I realized I was gay at about 13 years old. I can’t really say there was a period of confusion or even one notable epiphany I had. I just remember, in 7th grade having crushes on girls and then, in 8th grade having crushes on the guys the girls had crushes on. There was very little internal turmoil because, at the time, I’m not really sure I knew what being gay meant. I just knew that, at least for the moment, I was for the dudes. It was as simple as that.
This carried on into Catholic high school where I spent four years developing a deeper understanding of who I was. I was generally quiet and heavily involved in our theatre community. While, yes, a great many people assumed I was gay because of the crowd I ran with and my chosen extracurricular activities, my sexuality wasn’t something I openly discussed.
Not because I was uncomfortable with my orientation but because I saw what happened to the few who were “out.” Unsurprisingly, there was the occasional whispered slur but, what was far more damning to me was how being gay became that person’s defining quality. They were placed in a box and it was checked off. People knew what they needed to know and everything else became secondary.
I didn’t want to be placed in a box. So, I took my orientation off the table. As comfortable as I was with myself, if people were going to have an opinion of me, they were going to have to put in the work of actually getting to know me.
Years later, I found myself moving more than one thousand miles away from home to live out my dream of interning for a company I’d loved my whole life. Not only was I embarking on a remarkable adventure, I also had the opportunity to establish myself among new friends and colleagues who bore no preconceived notions of who I was.
Upon my arrival I met a fellow intern who was openly gay and very comfortable discussing his sexuality in the work place. Personally, I make it a point not to discuss my orientation in the workplace, but he just wasn’t having it.
He found that my interest in the Yankees and The Office over things like RuPaul’s Drag Race and the latest Rihanna song meant that I was a “closet case” who had “no business identifying as gay.” All because I didn’t fit into his box of what it meant to be gay.
I began to hear that I was a topic of discussion behind closed doors.
But, when I started to befriend co-workers, they eventually gleaned that little tidbit about my personal life through friendship. Little by little, the small-minded were replaced by something solid and substantial: friends and allies who were there to support me.
From this, I learned that we always encounter adversity and that there are those who will try to usurp your moment through fear, shame or alienation. And, it can come just as easily from strangers as it can from those we trust most.
But, at the end of the day, you choose who has an impact. You choose who gets included. I wound up having one of the most momentous experiences of my life and walked away with some enduring friendships and an anthology of life-defining memories.
Share your moments with those who want to understand you, not undermine you. Share your journey with those who aren’t afraid to take the scenic route. Share your life with those who elevate you, who challenge you and who don’t seek to define you.
You don’t belong in a box.
Interested on how modern-day couples are dealing with interfaith, interracial or same-sex issues? Check out the new series Bride & Prejudice, premiering Tuesday, March 15 at 9/8c on FYI to see how three couples face adversity from family as they get ready for marriage.