On September 8th, 1986 I was born a beautiful heterosexual boy.
Though my genetic code would hide a different tale, I am one of millions of gay people who enter this world under the umbrella of presumption.
Beside my crib lay blue paint swatches nearly identical to the shade swaddling my 9-pound frame. A smattering of sports symbolism adorned the walls. As a society we offer so little options for a world of people brimming with differences.
By age 3, I was a most garrulous one toeing the line between extreme extroversion and flamboyance.
It was obvious I had strayed from the mold. A chorus of onlookers who were all sure I would “break a lot of girls’ hearts someday” successfully drowned out my exaggerated movements. We are creatures of habit and differences make people uncomfortable.
By age 11, my body had started to betray me. I so wanted to gain control over what everything else around me could see. The predilection toward female friendships, gesticulating hand movements or a lisp that was emulated in chorus by my classmates.
My Mom made countless visits to the school in an attempt to shield me from what lay ahead. She loved me and knew what was happening. I salvaged pieces of my self-esteem though academic achievements and hobbled into high school. One of my neighbours Jeff was without such a reserve chute. Seeing no finish line he took his life before his 14th birthday.
You would be hard pressed to find a gay man with a memorable high school experience. Sexual experiences are often transient and with male classmates whose one- off curiosity wanes in minutes. Our crushes and sexual experiences are often hidden, like the parts of ourselves we’ve learned to hate. We learn love late, if at all.
There are little tales of prom photos and first loves juxtaposed beside a limo. We faked it or didn’t attend events at all. We were onlookers to a life that wasn’t ours for the taking.
To be a gay man is to conquer a series of battles with the world but the greatest one we wage is a fight to love ourselves.
Even at 30, labelled “fearless” by everyone in my life, it can take the littlest of moments to send me spinning back into a world of pain.
Like last spring at the Raptors game, when the famous “kiss cam” came on the screen. 15,000 cheered on heterosexual couples and two females as the camera panned across the stadium. The camera stopped on two males, in their mid 40s, donning sports memorabilia. Suddenly a group of people that was filled with cheers erupted into laughter.
I told my friend I needed to get a drink and left my seat. My face was hot and my head was spinning. This single moment taught me everything I needed to know about how society viewed gay male love. The notion that two men would express love was so absurd to the crowd, is was deserving of laughter. I wondered if these two men were partners and how much my own pain would pale in comparison to their distress.
Just last month on the search for a new doctor a walk in clinic in Toronto told me to come back on a Thursday as that’s when their “LGBT friendly Doctor” was in. I guess the 8 others on the roster didn’t qualify.
Twice in my life, I’ve visited a doctor with a cough only to have an HIV test expedited, over every other treatment option, in less than a minute.
Vowing to venture outside my shadow I corrected two Uber drivers in a weekend who presumed I was straight and wanted to partake in the objectification of Women. “Sorry man, I’m gay,” I said apologizing for their presumption. The once lively car rides gradually grew silent. I watched my Uber rating drop the next day.
I want to believe everything is a coincidence but ask a Gay man you know and they’ll have a story. Our paranoia may not always be accurate, but it’s borne out of years of society’s onslaught.
To be a gay man can be a rapid moving Stairmaster. Every time we surmount, we are pulled back.
To be a gay man is to be a chameleon, shapeshifting across corporate boardrooms knowing your financial livelihood is on the line.
To be a gay man is to lower your voice on business phone calls knowing masculinity is a virtue.
To be a gay man there are parts of the world you may never visit and that millions of people in this world want you dead.
To be a gay man is to lower family expectations, accepting that Dad really is OK with you being gay, when he asks you not to mention it to anyone at Christmas.
We take the descriptor “straight acting” in our community and hold it up like a holy grail. If we can achieve this goal, we will finally be able to hide through camouflage.
We are the beautifully broken, a cast of misfits simultaneously fighting ourselves, each other and society in a quest for survival. We cannibalize our own in a desperate effort to standout and be loved for any version of ourselves.
Because we’re all on a journey to get back to the unbridled 3-year-old self, full of love and inhibition.
As a gay man, I’ve learned what it means to struggle and have developed empathy for the downtrodden in society.
As a gay man I’ve learned to forge friendships in the form of new families. I’m grateful to be around men who appreciate the sunny after living in the storm.
To be a gay man, is to finally find a place where you belong. It’s not perfect but it’s our new home where we can begin to live in peace.
And for all of this, I wouldn’t trade who I am for anything.