“Silence the angry man with love.Dhammapada, Verse 223
Silence the ill-natured man with kindness.
Silence the miser with generosity.
Silence the liar with truth.”
I remember growing up and feeling different. My differentness felt so profound that I longed for nothing more than invisibility, but different kids are never invisible. Looking back on it now, it’s heartbreaking to realize that even as a child I had already been forced to learn to survive a society that didn’t think I should exist. One of the survival tools I employed is familiar to many people who identify as some version of “other”. Not only did I have to learn to look and behave like someone I wasn’t, I had to become a world-class actor to make sure my role was convincing enough to keep me from being harassed, bullied, abused, or kicked out of my home.
To be a well-adjusted, loving, nurturing adult who falls under the LGBTQ+ umbrella defies everything I was taught growing up. It took years of self-destructive behavior, near-death experiences, failed relationships, and blaming everyone other than the person in the mirror for my troubles before I finally accepted myself without reservation. It was that day that I made the conscious decision that I was going to devote the rest of my life to being what I was denied as a child so that I might keep others from going through what I did. Part of that process is sharing my life, my experience, and my insights with you in the hope that something you read here may help you feel less alone.
When we grow up knowing that we’re other, we have to instinctively hone a specific set of skills out of self-preservation. I didn’t know what a faggot was when I was young, but I knew it was something terrible that would send you to h-e-double-hockey-sticks. I learned to be extra careful when I played in my grandmother’s jewelry box. Thankfully I was saved from the requirement to focus on sports at a young age due to a heart murmur, otherwise my tiny, clumsy frame would have been beaten down even more than it was.
When other people hit puberty and their teens, our acting skills are really put to the test. We start to feel things for the first time that aren’t supposed to feel as good and right as they do. That’s when the definition of words like faggot and dyke becomes a lot clearer, and you’re looking at one in the mirror. We become the jokesters or the wallflowers, or we get a girlfriend and put on the best straight relationship show ever, getting the wink from dad when he says “just don’t get her pregnant, son.”
We don’t know who we are because we have spent our entire lives being someone other than who we are. We don’t know who we are because we’ve been hurt, harmed, bruised, beaten, because it’s easier to be someone else than to face the ridicule. We don’t know who we are because that person has never been allowed to live.
When I joined the Air Force, the Core Values were drilled into my head:
- INTEGRITY First
- SERVICE Before Self
- EXCELLENCE In All We Do
While absorbing those values, I was also keenly aware of the newly-enacted Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy under which I had entered the military. At the time I made the decision to enter the USAF, I had been in a same-sex relationship for two years. I chose to go back into the closet to serve my country, and by doing so I had to live a lie to stay alive and not be dishonorably discharged. It was ironic to me that there was a policy in place that forced me to violate the first core value by which I was supposed to live; I couldn’t put integrity first if I was not allowed to be honest about who I was.
We don’t know who we are because we weren’t allowed to date in the open. We weren’t able to have normal sexual experimentation and experiences. To experience any intimacy at all, gay men had to tap their feet at faceless strangers in mall restrooms, and the extent of those intimate connections took place in the 16″ gap between the bathroom stalls. We would end those encounters with a flush and a hasty return to shopping as usual.
The simple act of survival made us such expert actors/liars, that we lost touch with the parts of us that were real. Instead of healing from our traumas, we stuffed them down until they became part of us. We embraced toxic behaviors, endured abuse (or became an abuser), overindulged in alcohol or drugs, became depressed. Some could no longer manage the pain and made choices that stole them from the world.
Despite the scary times in which we live, there’s a glimmer of hope for me these days. I was able to turn my personal military experience around when I challenged Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and testified against the policy that was eventually overturned. Younger people are living out loud now. Visibility among the LGBTQ+ community is increasing and the support of our allies is doing the same.
More of us are recognizing our damage and seeking the help of counselors, therapists, maybe even medication. We’re getting help with our substance misuse. We’re finding genuine, lasting love and acceptance in friends and chosen family.
We are learning who are are and we’re learning to love them.