By Jacob Miller
Nobody really tells you what it’s like to be a gay man. There isn’t really a guide or any type of manual, you are just thrust into living and told to do your best. As a gay man, I’ve found that doing my best is not always what is best for me or all that it is cracked up to be. My best doesn’t always translate to “the best” according to other people, either. Sometimes, it doesn’t even translate to a positive notion for some people; some people may find your “best” to be mediocre or lackluster. How would you even know, though, if nobody ever tells you? I’m writing this in hopes that it may reach some that need to hear it. In hopes that it may change or even brighten someone’s day. I am hoping that it may even change a life or two. With that, let’s begin.
Nobody tells you how to be gay
As I said above, there is no guide or manual telling you how to live your life. So, why would there be any such manual or guide to tell you how to be gay? Yes, some people are fortunate enough to have mentors and people that take them under their wing to guide and teach them. But, what about the rest of us? What about those of us that are not fortunate enough to have people like this in our lives? Some people, such as myself, have to learn about the pleasantries of our community through experience. Some have to learn through trial and error. There are also some that don’t even learn at all and can’t even tap into the wealth of knowledge that others have access to.
In my life, I have had to work hard for everything I know. I grew up in the Midwest under a very conservative, Christian household. We moved to South Dakota after my freshman year of high school; we moved to South Dakota after I was forced to break up with my first-ever boyfriend. Starting at a new high school my sophomore year was scary, to say the least. I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know where I would fit in, didn’t know if I would be accepted. Like any other angsty teenager would do at this stage in their lives, I found a creative outlet. I started acting in the school plays. Fast-forward to college where I am majoring in theatre. I have found my niche, these are my people. They are weird and creative, just like me and I actually feel like I can be myself around them and not give a f***. Something is missing, though. I still can’t pinpoint what is missing in my life at this point, but I know I’m not quite fulfilled. Looking back at this time in my life, I now realize that I was searching for a mentor, a guide, someone just like me that could help me navigate the problems I was experiencing in life. What I didn’t know then that I know now: There is no such thing. I was never going to find my older doppelgänger to help me through my problems because he isn’t real. Instead, I had my best friend. She was the best, and we did everything together. Trying to substitute her for the mentor that I was desperately seeking, though, was not a good choice. She couldn’t help me to be the gayest I could be. She didn’t even really know the mechanics of how two men had sex, let alone how to navigate douching beforehand.
So, what does any of this have to do with being gay? Well, here’s my take on it and the things I would have told myself at a younger age:
Stop trying to look for someone that can answer all of your questions. The answers are inside of you and you’ve known that all along.
Stop comparing yourself to other gays, you are you. You are unique and beautiful in your own ways. Your gay card won’t get taken away if your brows aren’t “on fleek” or if your outfits aren’t “on point”.
Stop hiding who you are from the loved ones in your life. If they truly love you, they will understand. If they don’t understand, explain it to them. If they still don’t get it, move on because there isn’t enough time for ignorant people in your life.
Nobody tells you about craving acceptance
When you grow up in a household like mine, there are a lot of things that are off-limits. I went through high school being a goody-goody two shoes. I didn’t drink, smoke, or even swear. When rebellion settled in during my first year of college, I let loose. The first time I drank, I was mesmerized. Picture a college house party and I’m walking in with a 750 ml bottle of UV Blue. The next morning, I was late to work and questioning my decisions the night before as I take a 5 min break to go puke my guts out in the employee bathroom. That same week, I smoked pot for the first time. Some of the seniors in my theatre company invited me over to their place for a “theatre party”. I had told them beforehand that I had never smoked before and would maybe be willing to try it. Four bongs later, I was melted into the couch engulfed in an episode of “The Universe narrated by Neil DeGrasse Tyson”. At this point, I finally felt like I belonged. I opened my mind and experienced things that were never available to me before. I finally felt accepted by my peers. But, it wasn’t enough. I wanted more acceptance. Because of my new found love for weed and alcohol, my grades and schoolwork began to slip. Que the scene where my best friend offers me an Adderall to help me study for finals. I didn’t know what to think; I had never come across prescription drugs before and was always told that you can’t take them unless they are prescribed to you. What a crock of s***. I started taking them once a day to help me focus and power through papers and projects. She was charging me $10 a pop. I thought that it was worth it, at the time, and continued buying them from her for quite some time. We also started smoking together a lot more, both cigarettes and weed. If I was feeling to up because of the uppers, I would smoke a bowl to calm myself down. If I needed to pull an all-nighter to finish a paper, we would stay up together and chain-smoke cigarettes throughout the night. The next year, I tried Acid for the first time. I was with my best friend and we wandered around campus. It was truly a life-changing experience, and I wouldn’t have done it had it not been for her. But, it still wasn’t enough. She and I moved to New York City together. I thought for sure that this would be where I could shine; where I could let loose and find people just like myself who would love me for who I was. I met up with a grindr hook-up who was super attractive a couple months later. I smoked meth for the first time. Looking back, I realize that I did this because I wanted him to like me and think I’m cool. I wanted him to accept me. What I didn’t realize is that I shouldn’t have cared about his acceptance or feelings for me, he was a rent-boy that took a call in the middle of our fondling and left me high and dry, literally. It was at that point, on the train home still high from smoking meth, when I realized I needed to stop doing drugs for other people and start living and moving more towards accepting myself.
When I moved back home after three years of living in New York, having parted ways with my best friend of six years, I realized a lot about myself. The amount of money I spent on countless drugs and bottles of alcohol instead of paying rent and utilities. The amount of guys I slept with to try and make me feel whole which actually led to me feel emptiness like never before. The amount of pain I caused my parents by not communicating with them unless I needed money because of the resentment I felt towards them for never accepting me. Moral of the story: I was going about acceptance in all of the wrong ways. I equated acceptance with admiration and love from others. What I didn’t know then, that I know now, is that acceptance starts within. Acceptance is not complacency; it isn’t settling for the body that you are in and saying “Well, this is the best it’s going to get.” Acceptance is knowing yourself, what you are capable of doing, and what to hold onto in life that will better you throughout the years.
Nobody tells you how to love
Love is one of the most foreign, persnickety ideas ever imagined by mankind. It has no bounds, but it can be spiteful and hurtful as well as beautiful and all-powerful. With growing divorce rates, growing numbers of homeless youth, and murders within love triangles, is it any wonder that nobody in this world can really say they have a firm grip on the concept of love? I’m not trying to say that I understand EVERYTHING about love, far from it in fact. I don’t really know anything at all. What I do know, though, I am willing to share. So, here goes nothing.
I used to keep a list filled with the names of my sexual conquests. I did it as a sort of way to keep track of the number of men I had slept with and also as a competition with myself. Trying to add more names to the list was the only thing on my mind for quite some time. I didn’t care about love or being romantic, I only cared about sex. To me, the physical touch of another man against my skin was better than romanticism any day of the week. Not knowing at the time that this was a notion caused by the toxic masculinity prevalent in my life, I continued sleeping with random men I didn’t know for quite some time. When I did actually manage to get a boyfriend, id find myself doing everything to not mess it up only to have the entire relationship blow up in my face. One break-up in particular was hard to swallow because it was the best sex that I had ever experienced. We were together for about three months before he sent me a text essentially saying “I can’t do this anymore”. Being at work when I received the text, I couldn’t fully wrap my head around what I had done wrong. Every time he wanted to hang out, wasn’t I always the one that came to his place? Did I not bring him enough gifts or buy him enough weed? Did I not show his dog enough love? Did I not attempt to cook him dinner enough? All of these thoughts swirling through my brain as I called him on my break to only get his voicemail. When that didn’t work, I tried contacting him on other social media platforms to get an answer, but come to find out he blocked me…everywhere. I couldn’t get ahold of him, and it was killing me inside. What I didn’t know then that I know now is that it wasn’t me at all. I didn’t do anything to ruin the relationship, but neither did he. We just weren’t compatible, that was all. It takes two to make a relationship work; two people giving their all and putting forth the effort is what will ignite the flame of love. But, you first have to ignite the flame within yourself before you can even think about trying to spark that flame to life within someone else. Self-loathing and self-deprecation are not going to get someone to love you. I’ve also learned that patience won’t, either. This whole “Someday my prince will come” bull isn’t real. It may seem that way flipping through profiles of your friends who have found love and post about it every chance they get, but it’s not. You don’t find the love of your life sitting and waiting for it to come to you. One might be able to find love by putting themselves out there, being vulnerable and open, and maybe going to a bar or two with some friends who support you. Even if you still don’t end up finding your version of “Prince Charming”, maybe you end up finding a guy who thinks you’re his and will treat you as such. My advice: Just open your eyes, ears, and mind, to the love that is all around you. Love comes in all different shapes and sizes, whether you are happily taken, a seeking single, or a father with the love for your child/ren filling your heart, love is all around, you just have to know how to look for it.
Nobody tells you how to stand up in the face of bigotry
Bigots are everywhere, it comes with the territory of people having different ideas and opinions. But, nobody tells you what to do when someone calls you a faggot. There isn’t a five-step guide on how to handle bullies beating up on you because you prefer ballet over basketball. There isn’t a booklet to tell you how to feel when the government passes laws infringing on your rights as a human-being. This whole societal construct of one man and one woman, boys play with trucks and nerf guns, girls play with barbies and easy-bake ovens is outdated and overrated…in my opinion. To others, it is the thing they clutch so closely to their heart. It is their livelihood and their daily mantra which they hold above all else, even the healthy mentality of their children.
I mentioned earlier that I was raised in a very conservative, Christian housel hold. This had detrimental effects on me growing up as a teenager and young adult. I always found myself questioning my attractions and thinking that I was wrong. I prayed and prayed, waiting for an answer or some kind of miracle that would make me straight. But, that never came. Not because I wasn’t trying hard enough, but because (as I came to find out later in life) that’s not how sexuality works. My parents are still under the guise that being gay is a choice. This notion is what fueled my thoughts of self-deprecation and, ultimately, led to my thoughts of self-harm and depression. It wasn’t until my first year of college and, afterwards, moving to New York that eventually led me to explore myself, others, and the city that opened up my eyes to the possibility that I wasn’t a misfit or dysfunctional. Finding that the city was filled with people who were just like me gave me light in my heart and hope in my brain. But, there were still some people in that city who didn’t want me to be myself. People that will look at you and your friends stumbling home from the bar and start yelling “Faggots. God hates Gays! Burn in hell!” Luckily, my life up to that point had taught me to just walk away and not engage with people like that. But, what do you do when you are faced with adversity and you can’t walk away? One such event comes to mind when I ask myself this question. In high school, I volunteered at the church a lot. I was on the worship team and I helped out with the youth program and babysitting in the nursery. I love children and know that someday, whether I am married or not, I will have a child. Anyways, I was signed up to be a counselor at the kids’ camp for the summer. Word had gotten out that I was gay at my church because the daughter of the youth pastor had seen a post of mine on Instagram about a “man crush Monday” or something along those lines. She called me into her office about a week before the kids were supposed to leave for the camp. I sat down and she said something along the lines of “We can’t have someone like you sleeping in the same room or in the showers with the kids. The parents don’t feel safe about it.” I was shocked and dumbfounded; I had no idea what to say so I just politely nodded my head and walked out. Looking back, this is the exact moment I stopped believing in God. I was so angry and frustrated when something that brought me such immense joy was taken away from me. All because of what? Because these parents thought I was a pedophile? I’m not a pedophile, I’m just gay, there’s a difference. But, I didn’t say that. I didn’t believe it at the time, either. If anything, I thought I was more wrong and f****d up because of it. I shouldn’t have. You should never let anyone tell you what is wrong about you or what they don’t like about you. Why? Because it doesn’t f*****g matter. What someone else thinks about me or my lifestyle is none of my business. If it is made my business, I just brush it off and move on like nothing happened. I don’t take advice or guff from anyone, especially those who choose to close their mind off from what is happening in the rest of the world and those who need to make you feel little so they can make themselves feel taller. Don’t you ever let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough, you are and you always have been. Needing a reminder every now and again isn’t showing weakness, it’s showing your humanity.
Nobody tells you how to navigate depression
Depression is a very odd, mystifying topic to talk about. It seems to be running rampant in this country, affecting everyone from youth to elderly, male and female, gay and straight, etc. But, if you are like me, you’ve gone a long time without really knowing that depression is affecting you. You’ve often wondered what life would be like if you had gone to see a therapist and been prescribed medication by a psychopharmacologist. Would you be “normal”? Would you be living the life you always thought you could? Would things be different? Maybe they would be, but maybe they wouldn’t be. Who can really say? What I know is this: Depression is almost like an inner demon that you have to battle every day at any given time. It can creep up in the early morning or at the darkest hour of the night. Whisper in your ear “You aren’t good enough.” Claw internal pain into your body that makes you ache and weep even though there is no actual physical pain present. It is the most evil of things that everyone has to figure out how to battle on their own. Nobody can fight that battle for you.
The thing that helps me fight this daily battle and continue living my best life? Weed. I have found, for myself, that weed lifts my mood and my confidence. I’ve battled depression a lot longer than I’ve been toking the reefer, though. I had no idea that this herb would help me, mentally, get to where I needed to be. Now, in no way am I condoning the recreational use of pot (even though I do think people should be able to smoke freely). I am merely saying that I have found what works for me. For others, it may be pills prescribed to them by a professional. For others still, it may just be talking to a therapist or confidante. I’ve never had access to those things. My parents 1) don’t have the best healthcare coverage and 2) don’t really believe in pill popping. So, I got creative and resourceful and continue doing what works for me in my life. I recommend that, if this is what works for you, you move to a state where medical marijuana is legalized, but no judgement here.
Anyways, as gay men, we are constantly being told we are wrong. What we do is wrong, what we say is wrong, what we wear is wrong, the list goes on and on. With all of this wrong being shoved into our thought process, why has nobody come up with the RIGHT things that gays, especially LGBT youth, should be hearing. Why doesn’t every city, big and small, have counseling center/homeless shelter for the LGBTQ+ community, young and old? Why aren’t we all standing on the streets, handing out pamphlets and offering guidance to those who need it most? After all, we could be saving lives if we did so. My dream goal is to open up a center that would do just that. One is needed, especially in the city that I live in.
Nobody tells you because nobody really knows themselves
Nobody really tells you anything about being gay because nobody really knows how to be gay themselves. All of us own being gay in our own way, but it took us all a very unique, individualistic journey to get to that point. So, if you are sitting here, reading this, asking yourself what the point of this article was, I implore you to think deeper. Think not about what this article is, but instead what it could become. There isn’t a manual on being gay, why? Because it hasn’t been written yet. There isn’t a system that matches older, seasoned gays with younger gays just coming out of the closet for mentorship purposes why? Because it hasn’t been invented yet. There isn’t a better, updated version of grindr that isn’t all about hooking up yet, why? Because it hasn’t been coded yet. My hope is that this article will reach out to young gay men all over the country and inspire them, give them hope, give them advice even. But, even if it does reach them, I know that their future accomplishments will not be because of me, it will be because of them. Point being, I don’t really know what advice to give or what even to say about being gay because I haven’t fully experienced that life entirely for myself, yet. What I do know is that I have hope for my future and love in my heart to spread as far and wide as I possibly can.