|Image from rodale.com|
In his email, he said he needed to take a break from being gay, that his focus had to be on the demands of his challenging studies so as to earn high marks.
Then, last weekend, I received a comment on the "Barbra Streisand" blog post from another reader, who shared the following quote with me:
It is often a case of being neither glad nor proud to be gay, but finding the honesty and courage to bear its disadvantages. (The quote is from Janet Watts, "Domestic Allsorts," The Tablet, November 21, 1998.)
Further, this reader wrote: "Those words rang true for me. I suppose that I couldn't embrace the reality of being gay as something that was cause for rejoicing. I thought, though, that I could maybe move to accept the fact that this is who I am and get on with it. Even to do that would be a way forward from where I was (a place of having to cover [it] up...).
When I read the comment from the latter reader, I was reminded of the one from the former, and it seemed to me their messages shared common ground. In them, I heard these two readers say that being gay was something extra they had to deal with, something they had to tolerate, something they had no choice but to put on and wear, like an oppressive garment.
Learning how being gay is for these two readers, and I'm sure countless others like them, makes me sad. Sad, even though I understand.
Before I came out, being gay felt like an enormous burden. For many years, little else occupied my mind, I was so obsessed with it. Not a day went by that I wasn't in some way reminded of what I was, and what I had yet to deal with fully–accepting myself and revealing what I was to those who were most important to me.
I managed the burden better some days than others, but, make no mistake, the anguish was always there. And I remember literally praying–"Dear God, please don't let me be gay"–that the weight of being gay, threatening my very existence, would lift. I wasn't sure how much more I could take. I needed to be set free, and I couldn't imagine how that would ever happen.
All these years later, I know now how it would happen. The answer was always there, even if I refused to see it, even if it was arguably one of the most difficult things I would ever have to go through (but, I hasten to add, one of the most necessary).
So listen up, anyone who feels like my two readers: The burden of being gay will never be lifted until you come to terms with it yourself. One more time. You must come to terms with being gay yourself, before the weight of being gay is lifted.
This doesn't mean you must rejoice that you're gay, or celebrate it, or feel glad or proud or whatever (although, if you wish to, the choice is yours). But it does mean you have to accept it. It means you must say to yourself, "I'm gay"–two of the most difficult words you will ever utter.
Further, you have to say to yourself "I'm gay" and "It's all right to be gay." And you have to believe in your heart that it's okay to be gay, because it is okay to be gay. Take it from someone who's been gay probably a lot longer than you have. It's all right to be gay. I know what I'm talking about, as do all those who have also come out and gotten on with the job of living their lives. And, one day, you will know it too.
The beauty of accepting that you're gay is that it's the beginning of a new life. Getting to that point can take a long, long time–many years even–and it involves a lot of reasoning and soul searching and reconciling. But it also gives you the strength and the courage to take the next steps to freedom. And, if you're lucky, it gives you a glimpse of your self-worth and human dignity, both of which as necessary on your journey.
Being gay isn't something you should be forced to deal with, tolerate, or wear. It's a part of you. An integral part of you. You would not be you unless you were gay. And the only thing holding you back from accepting this part of you is your perception of it. No one can help you make peace with being gay. Only you can do that for yourself.
All of us are different in one way or another, and in our differences are the gifts we have to offer the world around us. Did I ever think, back in the 1970s and '80s, when I was suffering through the torment of being gay and taking my sweet time coming to terms with it, I would write, thirty-plus years later, a blog that would help people just like you understand, accept, and love themselves? Not a chance. (There were no computers or blogs then, and I was in a pretty messed up place.)
Yet, writing this blog–and having my life blessed by all the people who have connected with me through it–has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And I would not trade that for anything.
From the feedback I continue to receive, I know what I write inspires gay and lesbian people around the world, and it gives them hope that they will come through this difficult time. I could not ask for anything more, and the fact that I'm able to do that because I'm gay, and have been on my own journey to self-acceptance, makes me happy to be gay.
I pray you will accept yourself, recognize the role being gay can play in your life, and find in your struggle the gifts you have to offer others.
My thanks to the two readers who inspired me to write this post. You are already making a difference.