Self esteem story about a boy coming out of the closet and fighting for his parents acceptance
My first attempt at coming out of the closet was traumatic. My mother overheard me talking on the phone with a guy and told my dad about it. That night, my parents made one of my biggest life decisions: I was not going to be gay. I wrote my dad a letter to help him understand. He ripped it up and said, “Let’s forget about this and pretend it never happened”. From that moment on, I fought the most important battle of my life; my fight for self-acceptance; my war against depression.
In retrospect, I am sure my parents always knew about my orientation from a young age. I remember they took me to therapy when I was about 8 years old. However, the psychologist looked obviously gay, so that only lasted a couple of sessions. Also, I recall having blood tests every now and then for apparently no reason. I’ve since learned these were hormone tests, which my parents and doctor ordered in an attempt to figure out what was going on with me even before I had any clue I was ‘different’.
And me? Well, by the time it hit me, I was already a very awkward and very sad 12-year-old boy. My years in middle school were surrounded by constant bullying because of, well … a lot of things. My skin, my weight, my awkwardness, and, starting in tenth grade, my sexual orientation.
In response, I ate. I could spend a whole day eating because food was comforting and made me feel better. I was judged for being fat. So I felt worse and ate more. I hated being fat, but I didn’t see an alternative way to protect myself. Food gave me comfort, a form of love and acceptance; I found shelter in it.
My parents tried everything they could to help me with my ‘problem’. They tried to change the way I dressed, the music I liked and the people I hung out with. They transferred me to a private school just to be away from a couple of gay kids at my old school.
During this time, I developed my first boyhood crush. I fell for an older guy, who lived a few doors down. I don’t know if he noticed, but I think it’s hard for a boy to hide his infatuation when you’re just entering puberty. I never told anyone about my feelings. As it happened, as fast as I fell in, I fell out of love with him. Even though I realized I was attracted to a man, the thought of being gay never crossed my mind. Maybe it was because I didn’t know any gay people to that point, or at least I didn’t pay that much attention to them.
Growing up in the 90’s in rural Mexico, a gay man was pretty much a stereotype and I didn’t really identify with that—I still don’t. My parents, on the other hand, saw these flamboyant men and thought that was what was in store for me, a life of ridiculous behavior, sexual depravation and probably AIDS. That is what they knew of gay people and they were scared of having a son like this.
Unfortunately for them, I always preferred arts over sports. My dad had this saying: “A man has to be ugly, strong and formal”, and even though I didn’t know what he meant by ‘formal’, I certainly qualified as ugly, as those around me would reminded me. My dad insisted on me doing manly stuff (which I did, and some of it I actually enjoyed), while my mom’s heart was slowly crushed by fear. Seeing my mother cry, I compartmentalized the pain and tried to change. I tried to be attracted to girls but it didn’t work. I just hated myself more. I hated myself for being fat, for being lonely, for making my mom cry, for not standing up to my dad, and for not having a single redeeming quality. I was a bag of flaws, a pile of nothing. Sadly, no one appeared to notice how miserable I was. I was the little, chubby, ugly, gay boy who would not talk to people. I had arrived at a truly dark, depressed place in life.
With all these things going on at home, I managed to finish middle school (barely, I must say), and when I entered high school, I knew something had to change. In the beginning, it was just introducing myself by my middle name instead of my first. I don’t know if this triggered everything else, but high school was definitely a big transition for me. I was being liked by my schoolmates and even by the teachers for the first time.
Not everything was perfect: one of the bullies from middle school was in my class again, but I developed a way to keep her at bay. First, I discovered that I could fight back. But that didn’t feel right; why would I want to say something hurtful when I very well knew how it felt to be bullied? So I found a new strategy: compliments. I realized that when you say nice things to others, they are more likely to like and trust you; so I learned how to be a good friend. I founded my school’s theater company, I was part of the band and I represented the school in regional science contests. My life was turning around and a lot of it happened because I decided the challenging things I had endured before wouldn’t define me. I could be happy, I could be proactive and I could create beauty. I discovered I wasn’t dumb as I had previously been led to believe. And while I am still clumsy when compared to a jock, I like to think this is just part of my charm. In my dark days of middle school, I couldn’t conceive of any of this.
Things at home, however, were not going as well. My parents were still trying hard to change me and introducing me to girls. I could barely talk to either the girls or my parents before I had to escape, locking myself in my room. And when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was flaws. My skin was too dark, my body was too big and fat and my face was too ugly. On top of that, I felt really guilty for caring about such things because they were ‘girly’ worries. Why would a man care about how he looks? But how I looked was important to me. I wanted to be attractive and I thought that if I could just change my appearance, then everything in my life would find its proper place.
I started to write. I created songs, poems, stories, all to express myself and what I thought about the world. I was very political for a 15 year old. I guess, my ideas were something I could rely on and that could keep me away from feelings. Even when I liked art, I was more interested in the intellectual part of it, rather than the emotions within it. Ideas were safe, whereas feelings made me feel vulnerable.
I developed a good sense of humor and I found I could sing. I was, you may say, blooming. But all this growth was completely hidden from my parents. The moment I re-entered our home each day, I went back to being quiet and miserable. I knew my parents would not like who I was becoming, so not telling them seemed like the best choice.
High school was almost over when I first kissed another teenager. And it was a game changer. Not because of the guy, but because it made me feel powerful as opposed to powerless. I was, for the first time, in touch with my sexuality after years of watching other people trying to define it for me. I now had the first taste of really living my own life; finally I was the protagonist. From that moment on, I started to believe I could be the one who defined my life. Before that, I found comfort in being the listener, because I assumed I had nothing interesting to say. Now it was about finding someone who’d listen.
With time I found my first boyfriend. We were two sad people, desperate to be held by someone else. But it was deeply validating for me. I thought that if I could be attractive to one person, then it was not that crazy to think other people may like me also. My idea that I was unlovable was uplifting. My parents found out (I’ve never been good with lies) and stopped talking to me for a short while. I was scared to become someone they would not recognize. I feared becoming a stranger to my own parents, and that was very painful. When they finally spoke to me again, all my mom said was “be discrete”. Apparently, being gay was O.K. now as long as no one knew. Later, my dad told me we needed to talk. When I approached him he asked, “Are you still my son?” I said, “yes.” He paused and my heart raced a million miles an hour. “Then I love you,” he finally said, no big displays of affection, just the right words at the right moment. That is all we each needed to know at the end of the day, that is all that mattered.
From then on, my parents started to accept me rather than trying to change me. Looking back, I realize what they did was because they love me and they thought it was the right thing to do at the time; they just wanted me to have a normal and happy life, how could I reproach that? Today, my mom is very open and supportive of my lifestyle, while my dad tries to not talk about it yet still shows me his love and supports me. And I am conscious I have been lucky. I have a wonderful family and now, an amazing boyfriend whom they also love.
I now know I have the right to be loved and some people actually love me for who I am, despite my differences. And most important of all, I have learned how to love myself, beyond looks, ideas and abilities. I love myself because I choose to, and that power has pushed me forward ever since. I am now also capable of loving someone else, accepting them for who they are, differences and all. My dad was right, love is all that matters.