Last month, I received the following email from Ed, a young reader. He didn't specify where he's from. I've made minor edits for clarity.
I'm the guy who made a comment anonymously on the post titled "I've Earned the Right" [see also this].
First of all, I apologize for any kind of grammar mistake I make here. English is not my native language, and I've been learning it for only a few years.
Second, I did see your post some time ago. I didn't reply to it before because I've been going through another tough time, and there was no motivation for me to answer. Please accept my apology if you thought I had no consideration for what you wrote. I just couldn't.
And third, I've only decided to write this because I made the decision to completely open myself to someone. I always felt I needed to do that, and yesterday, after having a terrible day, I decided this someone would be you. This text will probably be long, and you don't need to read if you don't want to. Writing, printing, and making this the first page of my personal journal (just as you advise) will help me anyway. Here we go then.
I was always a really shy guy. Since the very beginning I knew I was gay. I can perfectly picture my childhood days, when I would steal my sisters' dolls and have lots of fun with them. Since that time, I had an idea that being gay was not something people would accept.
I was born in a small town, being me the youngest of the family, which was formed by my parents and my two older sisters. At 10, I lost my mother from complications in surgery. As many gay kids, I was extremely attached to her. I remember this being one of my toughest times. I grew up being a creative and smart kid, always drawing and painting. My oldest sister sort of became my second mother and my relationship with my father was nice as well. The other sister... Let's just say we don't get along well.
Things started to get really complicated when I became a teenager (what a surprise, right?!). I was often bullied at school. I didn't go to parties, nor had dates or a kiss at least. I was stuck being affected by all the hate coming at me. I lost that time and sometimes I catch myself regretting it. To make things even worse, my first, and only "love" at that time, was a good friend of mine, a straight one.
When I finished high school, I thought I would finally start being happy as I moved to another city. But my perspective of being happy at that time ( I was 17) was being accepted. I went to a college and even had some girlfriends, trying to fit in. The feeling of being accepted was actually good and I could live like that for a whole year. I was studying something that pleased my family (even though I always wanted to become an illustrator) and dating girls.
By the end of that year, I had became something I never thought I would: an extremely depressed person. Retracting the true side of me made sad and anxious. It also brought me to something I'm really ashamed of: I became addicted to gay pornography. After 11 months living like this I decided to quit college and move to a different city.
I am living by myself now. My family still helps me because I'm in the capital trying to get into the best art school of the country. It was only last year I could finally have my first gay experiences. I was extremely released because of it and for a moment I thought I had finally found happiness. After one year dating boys and having done things I never thought I would, I find myself feeling empty and sad again.
I'm not an open gay person and I avoid letting people know about me, probably because I am too afraid that my father will find out. He's 70 and really conservative. I know he won't deal well with it. So I prefer to hide it from him. What makes me feel even worse is that in all the hard times I have, I turn to the addiction I mentioned before. I feel so bad when I do it that I even thought of harming myself...
I'm 21 now, and I came out to a couple of friends and to my mom-sister. I started feeling more pleased with myself and in peace for the first time. I even found someone I really like and we've been having the best times together for the last 5 months.
Still, once in a while I found myself feeling just like the way I used to when I was depressed. Sometimes because of a mean look, a disrespectful word or even without any reason... I just feel I'm not worthy. In the country where I live, we have to take an exam to get into college, no matter which subject you want to study. I already did the exam twice and, after failing both times, I started going through a really depressive phase.
Art has been the only thing that kept me moving forward. In every stage of my life, even in the worst ones, I always felt it's the only thing I was born for. It's the only place I feel I can be myself. The only moment I can completely express myself. It's probably the only reason I'm trying to overcome all this struggle. But with all this trouble to get into art school, creating art has become insufficient to keep me positive.
I completely understand Loretta's email. She's right in part. By everything I learned this far, the best way is to ignore judgmental people. I relate to her story because I was also overweight when I was a teenager, and the comments about me would always be about my sexuality, and not my body shape. I'm not trying to say that it is harder, when you're bullied, to be gay, but in a catholic country, where gay couples get killed on the streets by homophobic groups, being fat is the last thing you have to worry about. Closing my eyes here to only enjoy the moment can also put my life at risk.
I would be lying if I said I don't get angry/sad when people look at me differently or when they call me names. I support the kind of genuineness you showed in your post because that's exactly how I feel. Pretending I'm not bothered by it won't make me feel better than the person who did something bad to me. I learned the hard way that retracting my feelings will only get me sadness. I agree with the fact that we should ignore them, but we shouldn't ignore the way we feel about it.
I found your blog in the end of last year. Everything you write there helps me. In your words, I found a place where I feel safe and accepted. I found the strength to carry on and the hope that better days will come. Thank you for being such a great positive source for gay people out there. In the name of everybody who has ever found strength in your words, I thank you.
Please feel free to share this on your blog if want to. Any advice would be helpful. I'm already glad I was able to sit and write this. I've avoided it for so long... Thanks for inspiring me to be happy.
With love, Ed.
A powerful and poignant letter from Ed. Here was my two-part response to him:
What a beautiful email. I just received it and read it all the way through.
What you shared with me was deeply moving. I cried when I got to the end and read that my words make you feel safe and accepted. That’s so much why I write my blog, why it’s so important to me to continue working on it. I want young people just like you to know you are not alone, because you aren’t.
I know how you feel, I really do. The circumstances in your life may be different from mine when I was your age, but we have more in common than you realize. I feel your pain, and I want you to know you must hang in there and never do anything to harm yourself, okay? Promise me you won’t. Because you are so important, and so special, and have so much to offer the world by being who and what you are. You may not see that now, but you will. I promise. It may not be easy, but you’ll get there, if you stick around.
You took an important step today in understanding and accepting yourself by writing this email and using it as the first entry in your new journal. New journal, new life, right? You know from my blog how I feel about journalling, and I know you will feel the same way if you stay with it. Not only will it help you with your English (which is already better than you think it is), but also it will help you sort out a lot of what you’re going through. It will only work, however, if you’re completely honest. Don't hide anything from your journal. Tell it anything and everything. And you’ll see, over time, how it will help you put into perspective how you feel and what happens to you. I promise it will. Just stay with it, okay?
What a privilege it is for me to read your words, to learn about you, and to know you felt comfortable enough to share with me when you thought there was no one else you could turn to. I’m here for you, Ed, I really am. And, if you ever want to talk to me, just email me, okay? I promise I’ll respond to you.
Anyway, this was supposed to be a short email. I’d planned to write something a little longer in a day or so. So I’ll tell you what. I’ll read your email again, and, if there’s something more I want to respond to, I’ll be in touch. How does that sound?
Take good care of yourself, Ed. Hang in there. Don’t give up. It really does get better, so much better. Just give it time, okay? (And keep writing your journal.)
All the very best,
Hi again, Ed.
So I just read your email one more time, and I thought I’d thank you again for sharing with me things you’ve never been able to say to anyone else. I feel so fortunate to receive your email, to get to know you, and to be in a position to help, if I can.
Just a few quick comments:
Don’t be so hard on yourself regarding looking at gay pornography. I know you’ve probably been taught it’s not good for you, and you shouldn’t look at it. But you’re not the first person to look at gay porn. It has it’s place, and, as long as it doesn’t take control of your life, I think you’ll find it may even be beneficial. So stop beating yourself up over it, okay?
It occurs to me that you’re very much the way I was at your age. I had so many questions about my life and myself, and I was desperate for answers. I nearly drove myself crazy, trying to figure it all out–who I was, what I should do with my life, how I should go about doing it. Well, I need you to take a deep breath. The answers you need will come to you when they’re meant to. Just take life one day at a time. And if even that’s too hard, then take it one hour at a time, or even one minute at a time.
Sometimes, all we can do is breathe, because we’re so uptight or upset about something. So, when you get frustrated and anxious and don’t know what to do, sit in a chair, settle yourself down, and breathe. Take deep breaths, and focus on the life-giving air going in and out of your body. Take a few minutes to do that. Clear your head. Then, when you get back up, put one foot in front of the other and go about your day. We all feel the same at one time or another, and I’ve found this is the best formula for getting grounded again, and for being able to move forward. Try it. I think you’ll find it works.
A little story. Perhaps you’ve already read in my blog that I always wanted to be a writer, since I was a little boy. But, when I graduated from high school and college, I also realized I needed to earn a living somehow, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t earn it as a writer (because, I’m told, writers don’t make much money). So I got into something I never believed I would. Instead of dealing with words (which I was always good at), I dealt with numbers (which I was always bad at).
Through a high school friend, I got a job at a bank, and I was sure that’s all it would be, a job, until I something better came along. Well, nothing better came along for nearly thirty years. In the meantime, I tried to write, but I couldn’t. Too busy, too little time, no energy, etc. Then, when I was forty-seven, I was able to leave my job. My partner supports the two of us now, and I look after our house and write. I’ve never written more in my life–over six hundred posts on my blog, a memoir (of sorts) in excess of eight hundred pages, and a novel I continue to struggle with.
Ed, the moral of this story is, hang on to your dream to be an artist, whatever type of artist that is. It may not happen right away. You may have do the earn-a-living thing for a while, to get money so you can support yourself. But keep your dream alive in your head and in your heart. And if it’s truly important to you, if you’re really meant to do it, it’ll happen. And if you have to earn an income at something you never thought you’d do, always do the best you can, and do your art on the side. And keep getting better at it. Let your soul soar as you draw or paint. Feel your connection to that which is greater than all of us when you do it. Never let it go. Never.
I waited many years to become the writer I always wanted to be, and I’m still not there yet. But I’m moving in the right direction now. Hopefully, you won’t have to wait as many years to become an artist. But, remember, everything happens when it’s meant to. If it doesn’t happen, it wasn’t meant to. And you can’t rush it. Be present, be ready, be prepared to move in different directions and take risks, but don’t try to orchestrate your life. You have no control over that. Just let your life unfold the way it’s meant to, and I think you’ll find it will all work out. In fact, it’ll probably be better than you could ever have imagined. Mine is. Just be patient, okay?
I think that’s it for now. Once again, thanks for contacting me. I’m here for you if you want to “talk” again.
Hang in there. Everything will be all right. You’ll see.
Take good care of yourself,