By Chris Heide
“Chris is gay.”
I remember hearing those words like they were yesterday. Walking through the retro-colored halls of my high school, I felt all eyes on me. I felt sick to my stomach as I hurried to my next class. Those gazes seemed to pierce right through me. My peers no longer saw me; they saw what they think they knew about me. A loaded word. A label. A marker.
A rumor had been floating around that I had messed around with another boy who was in the drama club with me. No one said anything to my face, but I knew that they knew. I had been forced out of the closet years before I had even come to terms with my identity. Only one friend ever asked me about the rumor- a simple, yet fear-inducing statement that I vehemently denied.
For the next several years, I tried to convince myself that I was straight. I desperately clung to the feeling that I didn’t want to be gay. I made the decision to bury the inevitable deep within me. I had girlfriend, I joined a fraternity- I did everything I could think of to connect to people in an effort to fit in and engage the life experiences that I assumed I was supposed to have.
Of course, my sexuality was not a choice. Repressing my identity only delayed the inevitable. Once I opened the door to that metaphorical closet, I came screaming out. I embraced my newly self-actualized sexuality at an accelerated pace. I have lost time to make up for, after all. Unfortunately, life did not suddenly come easy.
As far back as I can remember, I have had a difficult time connecting with other men. Like every single other human being, I crave connection and unwavering acceptance of my true self. Often, I desperately wanted to be one of the boys. I was a victim of crushing bullying and gossip. I was verbally and emotionally emasculated.
After I came out, I still had a hard time finding my purpose and place within the world. I have always had friends, yet felt disconnected and disjointed from genuine relationships with other men. Substance abuse and mental health issues compounded by feelings of disconnection and isolation made it extremely difficult.. Even after I entered recovery from substance abuse, I often found myself as the token gay friend of the many wonderfully strong women in my life. While these female dominated friendships have had an absolutely positive force in my life, something was still missing.
Deep down I have always craved intimate connections with other men- a brotherhood, if you will. This desire for male bonding transcends my sexuality. Ideally, my sexuality should not be a hindrance to the development of these kinds of bonds. Too many times, I have been deemed the token gay friend by my male friends. Both through what they say and how they act. This is not to say that the men I have in my life don’t accept me. I am fortunate that after years of struggle I do have a band of brothers who accept me unconditionally. Even so, they still sometimes see me as the gay one. Therefore, I am different. And that difference can become a barrier rather than a celebrated part of my identity.
So what is the point? Straight privilege very much exists. My straight friends will never know what it's like to be a member of the LGBT community. They will never have to face discrimination or the lifelong struggles that can come with being gay. What can straight people do? Accept and acknowledge our differences, while still remembering that we are the same. We are brothers. We are family. I have been liberated from the struggles, labels, and shame of my past. I have grown into self-acceptance and actualization. I am a proud gay man. I am a recovering addict. I am human.