Before coming out as gay in 2014 I was plagued with a myriad of self-esteem problems.
I had stumbled out of high school having had no romantic relationships (guess why), underachieving grades, and a general air of hopelessness. My best friends were not only effortlessly the top students at our school, but also incredibly talented in music and social skills, and because I had no confidence to do things on my own, I wasn’t able to go out and discover the things I actually was good at. Ergo, I endlessly competed with my friends in what they were best at, and (surprise surprise) came up short every time.
But then I left my sleepy suburb of chain restaurants and John Boehner yard signs and started classes at a liberal college in a liberal city. After one year there, I finally coughed out the words “I think I am gay” to my sophomore year roommate and BFF.
And coming out was hard. Like, really hard. Saddled with years of self-loathing and religion I had a very difficult time admitting that I liked shopping more that sports and didn’t give a damn about a girl’s boobs unless she was offering to guard my credit card in her bra during a night out. But, like so many of my rainbow contemporaries who have come before, I did it.
And it changed everything. I left a world where I was undesirable, under-confidant, and entered one where my Grindr account was flooded with messages and I was approached at almost every party. And it felt good. Not necessarily because I was doing anything (I almost always exaggerate my sex life, don’t trust anything I say), but because I could be.
In the time since, I took a new job that separated me from my high school friends, gained the confidence to cut toxic people out of my life, became president of a campus organization, and have left the demons of depression somewhere back in 2012.
But sometimes I worry that my mental health transformation is not quite as permanent as I wish it were. I am still an incredibly anxious person. On any given Saturday night you are more likely to find me watching Netflix than hitting up the bars, and if you want to know the number of times I’ve experienced true love with someone, the precise digit resembles my unfortunate emoji pillow (see above).
And the truth is, I think that much of my self esteem improvement might be superficial. Boosted by compliments from faceless strangers on hookup apps as much as my genuine accomplishments. And that’s problematic because any attractiveness I do currently have is derivative of my youth, and my youth won’t last forever.
I turned 22 just a few days ago, and while completing two years of one’s 20’s usually doesn’t trigger panic, in the weeks leading up to my birthday I began to feel tinges of fear. Not for the ever-so-slight aging itself, but for everything that comes with it. I’m not getting any younger, and someday, maybe soon, some official gay agency will come and collect my twink card and my life will be over, AMIRITE?!? (ok, bear with me, I know i’m being a little facetious here).
But I am afraid. I’m afraid that growing up, and thereby growing older, will force me out of this cushy equilibrium I’ve found for myself these past two years. I’m afraid that I will be called to reinvent my identity into something more profound than just another bleach blonde gay kid in jean shorts, and come up short. I am afraid that my fleeting youth is the only thing warding off a lurking depression, and that I will be called to fight a battle for my mental health once more.