Like many of you, I was once confused about my sexual orientation. There were times as a teenager that I would stand in front of my bathroom mirror, staring into my own eyes, and cry, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Why did I feel so different? Why wasn’t I like the other boys? Even after I came out in my early 20s, despite having mostly come to terms with being gay, I sometimes wished I were straight. Life would be so much easier that way.
But as you know, with age comes wisdom … and self-acceptance. Now, in my mid-30s, I look back on that time and reflect on just how wrong I was. Because I’ve learned over the years that being gay is a blessing, even when it was in disguise.
As the holidays approach and we express gratitude for all that we have, I give thanks that I’m a proud, out adult. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. Compassion and empathy come naturally. Being picked on, called a “faggot” by your classmates, and physically and emotionally abused by your family aren’t easy things to reconcile as a gay adolescent and young adult — especially when I felt completely alone in the world — but there was a silver lining: Instead of letting those circumstances undermine who I am, I turned the pain into something positive.
I know what it feels like to be called names and spat on and beaten for being different, and every day those memories inform how I treat others. In hindsight, I’ve realized that many people lack compassion and empathy because they’ve never known what it feels like to need and want it. Which sort of makes you wonder, doesn’t it? If we all started beating the bigots’ asses, maybe they’d start to recognize how just a little kindness goes a long way. Santa, if you’re listening…
2. No accidental babies. There’s a slang term you may know called “gold star gay.” Its definition is somewhat loose. Some define it as a gay person never having intercourse with the opposite sex while others tighten the criteria to include ever being in a romantic relationship with the opposite sex. I’ve had girlfriends in the past — and we’ve done things, however begrudgingly on my part — but I’ve never had penetrative sex with a woman (even though I still consider the prospect from time to time, but I’ll save that for a future column). Does this make me a gold star gay? That’s debatable, I suppose, but I’m certain I’m not a daddy. To biological offspring, anyway.
3. I wouldn’t know half the people I love. People come into our lives for all kinds of reasons, but when you’re gay you meet and befriend people on a regular basis just because you’re gay. As I try to quantify the relationships that I have, I realize that I wouldn’t know half my friends and acquaintances (and former lovers, of course) if I weren’t attracted to the same sex. Putting that alone into perspective satisfies my soul.
4. I’ve helped change people’s minds about the LGBT community. I grew up in a family and in a town and in an era that had rarely, if ever, seen a gay person who wasn’t a drag queen or a pedophile or dying of AIDS, which, to be honest, has helped me forgive a lot of people for their ignorance. They didn’t know any better because they didn’t have personal experience with our kind. I like to think that’s why the universe gave me to them. Not to put me through years of angst and duress, but rather to open their closed minds and hearts to that which was unfamiliar — and I think I’ve done a good job so far.
5. Naked men. I can appreciate the human body in all its form — being gay doesn’t exempt me from recognizing a beautiful woman when I see one — but the naked, medium-hairy, reasonably fit man, according to my own bias, is the greatest gift. For which I will never need a receipt.
6. I live by my own rules. I spent my entire life up to the day I no longer had to rely on my parents for financial support apologizing for being gay and trying to appease those who didn’t understand what that means. A decade-plus later I’ve come a long way. Today, I don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks about my sexual orientation. This is my life. Come along or don’t, but this ride isn’t stopping for anybody.
7. My open-mindedness grants me access to experiences that many people are afraid of. From sexual exploration to building a life in New York City (the heart of Harlem, in fact) to marching in pride parades, being gay has opened up the world wider to me, and I’m better for it. I’m living my truth and learning every day about all the different people with whom I share this planet. So many cisgender men and women don’t or (most often) won’t allow themselves to experience what they’re unfamiliar with or undereducated about, and thus spend their entire lives scared and defensive and bitter. And then they die. Despite never having lived in the first place.
8. My humor, even as a defense mechanism, makes me more attractive. Attractiveness is relative. I’m not classically good-looking nor am I genetically predisposed to being physically fit. I have to work hard at it, and most of the time I just feel cute — to some people. I am funny though. My sense of humor was equally established as a result of my own intelligence — wit is not a learnable characteristic — and being forced to find a way to responsibly deal with all the shit life threw my way. I’m not alone either. So many of us are hilarious because we have to be. Which is OK with me. I’d rather gossip with the girls than ugly-cry over the Super Bowl any day.
9. I wouldn’t have such a satisfying career. A lot of gay writers don’t like to be called “gay writer.” But that’s what I am. I’m a gay writer, and I have been for the past 15 years. This career has afforded me opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and, frankly, I can’t imagine what else I’d being doing or what other turn my life would’ve taken if I wasn’t able to cathartically express my thoughts and frustrations and joys in print on a regular basis and get paid for it. It’s the best job in the world for me, and it only exists for me because I’m gay.
10. My life would be completely different… and I love it just the way it is. Who knows where I’d be if I were straight. Married with kids? Single and feeling sorry for myself? Watching SportsCenter while stuffing my face with pepperoni Hot Pockets and masturbating to lesbian porn? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.) The point is, my life would be different. It would’ve been different from the time I was a toddler, and I don’t like that idea. Everything I’ve ever said and done, all the people I’ve met along the way, the amazing relationship I’m in now has everything to do with me being gay, and I’m proud of it.
Early on if you’d have asked me to make a choice, I would’ve chosen to not feel different, to be like the other boys. But that’s not what the world needed; there are plenty of “other” boys. There’s only one me though — and for that I’m thankful.
— Mikey Rox