Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Journey to Self-Acceptance as a Gay Man

Since early last week, when I received a comment from Aries Boy in Indonesia, on how difficult accepting himself as a young, gay man has been, I've had time to reflect on my own journey to self-acceptance, which, for the most part, happened over two decades ago.  

As I think back, the biggest issues I had with accepting myself fall roughly under two headings:

1).  What would people think of me when they knew I was gay?
2).  What would I think of myself as someone who was gay?

What would people think of me when they knew I was gay?

Make no mistake, for as long as I remember, people knew I was gay just by looking at me (although, of course, I didn't believe it to be true or I denied it).  If my appearance alone didn't tell them, then, surely, my voice inflections or my mannerisms did.  I didn't go out of my way to be effeminate, I just was, partly because I was born that way and partly because I was raised with an absent or aloof father (not enough positive masculine influence) and an domineering mother (too much feminine influence).

There's a difference between suspecting someone is gay and having it confirmed.  As long as people speculated I was but I didn't address it or kept denying it, there was always the chance I wasn't.  And, despite all the indications to the contrary, people would give me the benefit of a doubt.  On the other hand, when I confirmed it, then there'd be no doubt left in their minds, and, as a result, I'd have no choice but to accept whatever consequences came my way--mostly bad, I expected, based on people's opinions and feelings regarding gay men in general.

When I use the generic term "people," naturally, I refer to those nearest and dearest to me. I had only a few friends at school (mostly girls who were unattractive, overweight, or odd in some way that made them outcasts, too).  So I could hardly afford to lose anyone within my immediate family who was the least bit close to me.  Which, as I write this, seems strange now because I wasn't particularly close to any of my family members either (except, perhaps, my mother).  But what I had was still something I needed to hold on to, since, without it, I'd have nothing at all.

A piece of this process for me was finally admitting to myself I really was gay.  By the time I got to my early twenties, I knew I could no longer hold on to the hope I'd one day be interested in girls in the same way most other young men were.  I just didn't look at girls, or young women, that way.  While I could admire an attractive female for her beauty--and had for most of my life--I wasn't the least bit sexually turned-on by them.  So, step one for me was, I knew once and for all I was gay and could no longer deny it.  But that doesn't mean I accepted myself as a young, gay man--not yet anyway.      

I'm getting a little ahead of myself in the story now--which I'll address in the second section of this post--but I got to the point, some time after acknowledging I was definitely gay, where I could no longer reconcile all the negative opinions and views and ideas people, or society, or our culture, held about gay people, now including me, with who I knew I was inside as a human being.  I remember the exact time I woke up, not from sleep but from accepting all the crap I'd been led to believe about gay people.  I remember saying out loud, I'm not like that.  I'm not like that, and I don't deserve to be thought of or treated like that.

This awakening was a revelation to me, and it would change my life forever.  Don't ask me, after years and years of being treated like crap and thinking of myself in the same way, where I found the internal strength to turn that around, but I did.  Of course, the transformation didn't happen overnight.  I still had some work to do to compare the widespread negative views held about homosexual men with the person I was, and to realize, little by little, I was better than all that. But, in my heart, I knew I was a kind and decent and good person, and, for the first time in my life, I began to stand up a little straighter (no pun intended) and to lift my head a little higher. 

What would I think of myself as someone who was gay?

Perhaps the biggest obstacle I had to face, on the journey to self-acceptance, was overcoming my perceptions of gay men in general, based on what I'd gathered and experienced firsthand.

What did I know about gay men to that point?  In addition to what I'd learned being gay supposedly was from my school classmates--all of which was negative and cringe-worthy--as well as the media, neighborhood gossip, and the like, my own experience with gay men was no better.  Many had leered at me on the street, like dirty, old men lurking in the bushes; one freaky-looking one had told me point-blank he had a great, big hard-on for me; and another forty-something one from Vancouver had tried, when I was just thirteen-years-old, to pick me up so he could "show me a few things."  Understandably, if this is what being gay was--that is, if there was even the chance I might turn out like any of these men--I wanted no part of it.

For many years, until well into my twenties, this was the perception I had of all gay men, whether it was true or not.  I can't think of a single positive experience I'd had with anyone who was gay until I attended my first gay dance, which also happened to be a 1986 New Year's Eve party.  There, I saw a variety of gay people, men and women, many familiar to me from the community, some who I imagined were probably similar to the ones I'd had experiences with previously, but many more who were just like me--good, kind, and decent people.  In that regard, the dance was a pleasant, eye-opening experience.

In particular, I met a young man from Vancouver, who took a liking to me.  Yes, I could have taken him home following the dance, we'd gotten along that well, but I didn't.  Instead, what I took home was a lot of great memories of the time I'd spent with him, talking, dancing, enjoying each other's company.  In many respects, that young man played an instrumental role in helping to change my opinion of gay men in general.  No longer did I think they were all old and dirty with only one thing on their minds.  Rather, I knew there were all kinds of gay men, many of them just like me.

That was one liberating experience.  I came away from the dance not only feeling better about being gay--not nearly as riddled with shame as I had been before--but also knowing I could be whatever kind of gay person I wanted to be.  I could define what being gay meant to me and not allow myself to be defined by what my misperceptions of it were, or what others's misperceptions of it were.

As I walked out of the basement of the old church on the corner of Ethel and Bernard early on January 1, 1986, where the New Year's dance had been held, I felt as though the weight I'd carried for over two decades had been lifted.  I had yet to come out, which would unexpectedly happen in just a few hours, and which I knew would be one of the most difficult things I'd ever done, despite feeling so much better about myself, but I'd taken an enormous step toward self-acceptance.  And I knew, whether or not my family accepted me as a gay man, I would somehow make it through.  Somehow.


  1. i remember when i came out to my brother last year, i was being lectured for hours and he gave me tonnes of religious talk about being gay is a sin and all.. he insists on sending me to a psychiatrist because he said i have a mental problem. when i came out to my best friend, she was in denial and said that i just haven't met the right girl yet. i am 23 and it took along time for me to accept the fact that i am attracted to boys. i have lots of girl friends and i thought most of them are smart and beautiful, but girls and me can only be friends. i was in denial too. my self hating and self punishing lasted for quite some time. living in a narrow-minded and conservative environment (like my country, malaysia) makes it harder. in malaysia, being gay is big no-no and is a crime punishable by law up to 20 years in jail. the society are encouraged to discriminate, and shun the homosexuals in the meanest way possible. knowing that you are able to happily and openly living with the person you love, i am so happy for you, because i know it'll be almost impossible for me. it's literally me against the world.

  2. Lilphant, I've read your comment many times now, as I gave some thought to how I wanted to respond. And, every time I read it, my heart breaks for you. I cannot imagine what it must be like to live in such a conservative, intolerant country.

    I have a tendency of wanting to fix the situations people find themselves in, particularly when their circumstances are as difficult as yours. So here are a few suggestions. But, remember, you must do what's right for you. Do not allow me or anyone to steer you in the wrong direction.

    You are now old enough to make the decision to move somewhere else. If your country will not allow you to be what you are, to love someone of the same gender, perhaps moving away is an option (although I understand how difficult that would be, leaving family and friends behind).

    When I think about how difficult it must be for you to live in Malaysia, I'm reminded of what it was like to live in Canada not so long ago, and gay people were not accepted either (of course, being gay hasn't been illegal in Canada for many decades, but it was still very difficult).

    Believe me, there are ways to be with other young, gay men, and to find someone to love. You don't have to parade yourself in public and let everyone know what your sexual orientation is, but you can go "underground," so to speak. You can still connect with those who are like you.

    Even when circumstances were tough for homosexuals in Canada, there were places where they could meet (bars, clubs, etc.). Proportionately, there are as many gay people in your country as anywhere, so keep your eyes open. Be discreet. Don't get yourself into trouble.

    And there is nothing preventing you from bringing another young man home, providing you live by yourself. If you meet someone and you want to be together, be careful, don't draw attention to yourself, act like friends going to each other's place. You should be able to do at least that.

    Like I said, only you can decide what's right for you, what you're prepared to do. But, as I see it, you must find some way to be what you are. You must find some way to not be alone and lonely. You must find some way to connect with another young man on an emotional and physical level.

    And, remember, if you ever want to talk to someone who understands what you're going through, I'm here for you. I'm only an email away. Sometimes, that's all we need–to share our thoughts and difficulties. You do not need to be alone.

    Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. I believe you will find a way out of your situation, you will experience the freedom to be yourself, and you will find that love of your life. Be open to the possibility. If you feel as you do, so does someone else in your country and elsewhere.

    All the very best. My thoughts and prayers are with you.