I have been struggling since June to put words to my feelings about Pride. It’s taken me a while to get where I am with my sexuality, contrary to the idea I had when I was younger where I would come out, maybe get gay married, and that would be it. Turns out there’s a lot more to the story!
My most significant coming out was a few weeks shy of my sixteenth birthday. I spent the day with my girlfriend of nine months, Whitney. This was a rare treat for us; we lived 45 minutes apart by car, and neither of us had one. I have very fond memories of that day, but when I came to my realization, I felt I had to tell her. I’d been a shitty boyfriend and kept things from her before, I wanted to be honest.
It was a relief to say the words out loud, but I felt so guilty for disappointing her.
One thing I would like straight people to know is that you never stop coming out. New acquaintances, managers and colleagues in the workplace, complete strangers even. You get better at it, but there’s always that moment of hesitation before you say it because you wonder how that person will react. Will it change the relationship that you have? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter; you need to be true to yourself. But we always fear that change, or the idea of losing someone who cannot accept who we are.
I moved to Quebec, where coming out was part of my backstory: “I moved here to be with my husband,” I would say. I almost came out during a job interview when the recruiter was talking about diversity and acceptance being company values, but a small voice stopped me. A voice of shame that has been with me since before I knew I was gay.
I was raised in rural Louisiana, I grew up attending mass on Sundays, I have even had to listen to teachers denounce the effects of homosexuality on the sanctity of the nuclear family (nevermind that I am a child of divorce, like many of my friends growing up). There was nothing to be proud of, only a label that meant I could never fit in. How could these people really love the sinner when they hated the sin so much?
I went into university leaning into my gayness. I started my first semester with purple hair; I am so upset there is no photographic evidence of this. I spoke in a very animated fashion with lots of hand movements. Before long, I was being introduced the same way to new people: “Have you met my gay friend Lukas?”
Oh. Two months into a new and exciting phase of my life and I’m the Gay Guy. Still clinging to my shame, I didn’t want my sexuality to be the thing I was known for. I wanted to be that nerdy guy, or the fantasy buff, or, “Hey, he’s got great taste in music!” I got hung up on my identifier like I was in a cheesy high school movie. Picture a scene of me listening to Dashboard Confessional while crying over a boy and cutting my hair into a garbage bin. My stylist at the time loved that.
I was already trying to “tone it down” by the time I met Mathieu online. You may have seen the story at Confabulation: boy meets boy, boys get married, boy moves to Canada. Now I was a Responsible Young Adult, with a Husband, so I needed to work on a House with a Picket Fence and two-point-whatever kids. I decided to put away childish things, while my husband decorated our home with Hello Kitty clocks and posters and waffle irons.
Without understanding at all what I was doing, I began to emulate the image of married men I had known. Men who do not show emotions other than anger. They certainly don’t get teary-eyed during emotional scenes of animated films, or even watch cartoons in the first place. They don’t have stuffed animals decorating bookshelves. They don’t express affection, and even when their homosexuality is tolerated, they shouldn’t push it by ever kissing a man in front of someone else. Not even a peck on the lips is allowed.
The marriage ended for many reasons, but the biggest culprit in my mind is this false image I was trying to realize. I was trying to act out what I thought our marriage should be instead of understanding that it could have been whatever we wanted it to be. There was a lot going on that I didn’t have the vocabulary for: toxic masculinity, intimacy issues, and the growing notion of polyamory.
Freshly divorced, I moved from Blainville to Sainte-Rose. Now most interactions seemed to take place on the apps: Grindr, Growlr, Scruff. Ostensibly for meeting people, but everyone calls them the hookup apps. I learned how boredom can turn into an hours-long quest for sex, how validation can become addictive, and how awful it feels to be ghosted after making what feels like a genuine connection. I would delete the apps out of frustration, or because I’d agreed to be exclusive with a new boyfriend, only to come back weeks or months later, single and hungry to connect again.
After a few cycles of this, I started therapy. I learned how to talk about what I really want, how to manage my expectations, how to use the apps as the tools they are instead of getting pulled into long nights and disappointing encounters. I started embracing this idea of being who I am without a care for what people think, and being rewarded for this in encounters with new people. Now when some guy ghosts me, I only spend a moment wondering if I did something wrong before moving on. Why should I spare a thought for someone who decided I wasn’t someone they want around?
This process of learning to celebrate who I am has helped me understand that I want to emphasize what makes me different. I will be that gay guy, the guy who watches cartoons, the guy who uses stuffed animals as home decor. I have seen children looking at the bright and colourful buttons on the shoulder strap of my bag and I have thought, Yes! You can decorate your life like this, too! Be weird, now and in your thirties!
In short, I have found pride. It has been a struggle, and it continues to be a fight in a world that seems to prefer that we sit down and shut up. I’ve started to say I’m done being polite, because I feel like I’ve held my tongue for too long while people say and do hateful things. By being silent, I stifle my own self-expression, and that only leads to more doubt and anxiety.
Do not apologize for who you are, do not let anyone tell you who you are, and do not let anyone try to change who you are ❤