It’s hard to pick where to start…Of course there is the obvious moment of declaration to another living person be it a friend or family member, where the words come out, “I think I am gay”. But really…Coming out is just the beginning of a journey of self discovery and learning how to love oneself.
This is my story…
I was born in Greenock, Scotland in the middle of winter in January ‘89, and spent my formative years there until moving to San Diego, California with my mum, dad and older brother, right in time to start kindergarten. When we got to San Diego the school I attended didn’t have room in the English speaking class, so I was placed in an ESL (English as a Second Language) kindergarten class.
I made friends with whoever was willing, which most often happened to be girls, and that worked for me because I was fascinated by them. I loved their colorful clothes, toys, and long hair. I much preferred their games of house/family and playing hopscotch far more than I enjoyed rough housing with the boys.
And when it came to “Cooties” (you know…the kind of germs kids talk about when they have a crush on someone), I knew I was supposed to think girls had them…But I didn’t. I ran from the boys along with the girls. Some of the kids didn’t seem to care, and others made it clear that I was doing something weird. That my gender role was out of character, and that I should be joining the boys…At least, that is what they had been taught.
You see, I have almost always felt different.
As long as I can remember having cognitive thoughts of my own, a sense of attraction to others, I have been aware that my orientation sat towards being attracted to male bodied individuals. Though I never had the words, confidence, or security to express it.
Don’t get me wrong…I grew up in a loving home and my family never wanted anything but the best for me. It’s just that their idea of what was best for me, who I was to become and the life I would build, was a little off from what I wanted for myself. Being raised Catholic and having a traditional understanding that only a man and woman should be together most definitely only made the vision they had for my life, and that of my own that much further from each other.
After a few years of living in the states we moved back home to Greenock, where I spent the next 3 years. I attended Catholic Primary school and remember feeling it that much harder to fit in. Break time involved the classes being released to the school grounds, the boys would run to play football (soccer in America) on the pitch, while the girls would play Curby (a Scottish game where 2 people stand on opposing curbs and throw a ball amongst them) and Spice Girls. There was less running from cooties, and more pretending to be boyfriend/girlfriend.
There were feelings coming up for all of us, and extremely complicated feelings for some of us. I personally wanted to be Ginger Spice, or Sandy from Grease (a deep obsession I shared at the time with my best friend Emma). When we played family I fought hard to be mum and when I lost settled for little sister. And I desperately hoped that someday the cutest boy in class that all the girls swooned over, would leave them all for the dust to be the ‘Aladdin to my Jasmine’.
Though around that time, it wasn’t only other kids telling me about how my behaviors were strange, it was my teachers and the adults around me. I was often told to play specifically with the boys, or to stop speaking to the girls so much. I was told that my mannerisms were considered feminine and was taught how to ‘behave like a boy’, ‘stand like a boy’ (without crossing my legs!?), etc… Thankfully so I suppose, because their definition of behaving like a boy was far different from mine, and in assimilation it took a lot of the socially difficult interactions from me. But not all…
It was harder and harder to make friends, let alone keep them.
Back then Greenock was known for being a rough town. Boys had to learn how to handle themselves and if they didn’t there would surely be a time where someone else would get the better of them. For myself, I learned to run. I would dash past streets I knew bullies lived on, jump neighboring fences, and even at times hide at the park if they showed up, until mustering the courage to make my way past them to run home to my uncle Terry‘s house. Though one day when I was about 9, I distinctly recall not running away from one of my bullies. Instead as we were at our local playground and I was playing with my new pocket knife, a boy named Michael started picking on me. He spat at me and called me names. I remember him kicking me a few times as hard as he could up my back side and pushing me into the wall at the top of the playground, before I lost it and saw red.
Overpowered and feeling the pent up rage of years of humiliation, I chased him with that pocket knife, screaming it was his last time. Thankfully a friend of my uncles heard me, intervened and sent me home. I was grounded and had my pocket knife confiscated. Michael never picked on me after that day, though it honestly wasn’t all too long before younger brother and sister were born and we were moving back to California. This time to a town called Temecula.
Temecula is known for being the wine country of Southern California, it is also well known for being an integral hub for the commuters and religious folks alike, centered in the bible belt of California between San Diego & Los Angeles. Moving back to the states was rough. I attended a public school and without the commonality of Catholicism in the classroom I didn’t know how to fit in. I became a bit of a class clown, and amongst my peers was known for being outspoken. I eventually made a number of friends who I stuck with through most of high school until around the time I began coming to terms with my sexuality.
As that time of reckoning in my life came, my feelings became more and more complex. I tried dating girls, one in particular for over a year which was a long time for us in our youth. I also however, had my first ‘experience’ with a boy that became a lengthy entanglement of hurt and betrayal, as he happened to be my best friends boyfriend. As we discovered our sexual identities and tried to hide them at the same time, things grew more complicated, until the lid was off the pot. The news spread like wild fire, and before we knew it the whole school seemed to know not only of our indiscretions but of our hidden identities that we tried so hard to conceal.
I had been dealing with feelings of depression and disassociation for some time at that point in my life, but the guttural pain of everything that transpired around that relationship sent me to a really dark place. Before I knew it, I was self harming and doing everything I could to internalize my emotions. I would spend hours upon hours in the bathroom looking in the mirror questioning myself, my decisions, my sexuality, my identity, etc…
I remember in one of these sessions with myself in the mirror, taunting myself with the names others had called me for years, and when I angrily said “Your Gay!”, something resonated deep within me…I said it again…And again…Until I was sobbing in the mirror, no longer saying “Your gay” but weeping “I’m Gay”.
It took me a long time to let those words sink in. In fact, I think to this day they are still sinking in, in the sense that being gay has changed the way in which I experience this world every single day of my life.
Shortly after coming to terms with my sexuality for what I could with myself, I told some close friends. Then some not so close, trying to get more comfortable with the idea of simply expressing it before I disclosed it to my family. Eventually I worked up the courage and after many attempts to find the ‘right’ moment, it just came out in amidst an argument with my dad, and before I knew it my immediate family.
The news was hard on everyone and our emotions varied. It truly shook our household and had all of us questioning all kinds of stuff. What did this mean for my future? How could I live a life hidden behind so many lies when I was such an honest kid? Would I ever have the chance to have a family? Would I ever be happy? What did this mean for us as a family? How would this change how other people viewed us? We decided it best to keep it private until we figured everything out.
Around this same time I met another boy through the after school diving program at my school. I thought he was the most attractive boy ever and though he didn’t want much of anything to do with me, I wanted nothing more than to figure out how to change that. After many attempts of giving him my number, we eventually hung out, and soon after started dating. We fell quickly for each other and as fast as we fell for one another, our lives fell out of control. We were young, lost, and ultimately seeking anything exciting that took us from the pain we were carrying.
Times grew tough for both of our families as we turned to drugs. What started with alcohol and a ‘little weed’ while we lived at home, turned into being high 24/7 on anything we could get our hands on from ecstasy to heroin. After a few years together, running ourselves and each other to the ground, things came to a crashing halt when he had to go away to rehab. I was lost without him.
We spent the next year going in and out of each others lives, until eventually we had our last big fight and went our separate ways. During this time my relationship was really distant with my family, even though I was back living at home. As I continued to grapple with the loss of his love, I found myself in a state of despair. I picked up using again, only this time often on my own.
They say you know when you have hit rock bottom when you are all alone, with no alternative but to build your way back up. For myself, it was at the expense of my health, sanity, and relationships with loved ones. After an ‘accidental’ overdose on alcohol, pills, and amphetamines, I found myself in a treatment center for the first time. I remember the feelings of hopelessness, wanting to die, and feeling like I simply didn’t have it in me to face one more day. While there my parents visited me and told me how much they loved me but that things had to change. They reminded me I had a family who cared for me and wanted to see me well. That I had to find it somewhere inside myself to pick myself up and put myself together, and that they would be there to help.
I left the treatment center filled with hope and a combination of prescribed anti-depressants and sedatives. It took about a year of ups and downs, trying different medications before everything came crashing down again and I found myself in a psychiatric facility for suicidal ideation. I remember when I finally came to about 2 days in to my stay when I looked around and thought, “Omg, everybody here is legitimately crazy” then looked down and realized I had rubber bands for shoe laces because I was on suicide watch. I woke from my haze and realized, “I am just as crazy as the rest of them.”
A few days later I was released, my parents came to pick me up, and on the way home my dad told me not to speak, just to listen to a song he had grown fond of and found relative to the moment in our lives. It was a young Irish woman singing sweet stories of home to Celtic melodies, it brought me comfort as I rest my head against the window and watched the arid hills pass by.
I managed to stay on the straight and narrow for sometime after that. I pursued new hobbies, made new friends, and eventually found myself in a ‘healthy’ relationship with another guy. We were together for almost 2 years before things dissolved. I decided I would be single for sometime and do some soul searching. It was working out until the first time we saw each other in months. We went out with a couple of friends to a show at a local casino, and that night changed my life forever.
No, not in the happy ending kind of way…
Rather, by wrapping my car around a tree at 2 in the morning after taking nothing more than a few sips from a friends drink hours earlier that unknown to us, had been spiked. I almost lost my life that night and likely would have lost my legs in the event I was wearing my seatbelt, due to the impact bringing the pedals of the car to the steering wheel. Instead I broke the drivers window and windshield with my head, before being knocked out on the dashboard and waking up to my head on the passenger floor and my feet aiming out the window. I stumbled from the vehicle while my cries were silenced by the sound of my car alarm blaring. As I came to, I heard my name and looked over to see a car stopped behind mine, and a friend from high school saying,
“Vince! Dude! We have to get you out of here.”
Incoherent and concussed, I kept crying, “I could have killed someone. I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life. I am so sorry. I don’t know what happened.” He repeated himself, “Vince! Dude! We have to get you out of here.” I got into his car and we drove to a friends house to figure out what to do. Immediately upon arrival a police officer called because they had found my cellphone in my vehicle and went through the last people I had contacted until getting a hold of me through my friends parent. They instructed me that if I did not return to the site of the accident they would send a warrant for my arrest and that I needed to perform a sobriety test. Upon arrival I performed the test and failed miserably. I kept explaining that I only had a few sips from my friends drink, and that I was not intoxicated. The police officers stated it could be because I may be concussed from the accident that I failed the cognitive tests, and had me blow a breathalyzer that came out lower than a single beer in my system. They looked at each other puzzled and told me we will give you the best of two values if you blow again for us. The second time my results were lower in value again.
They put me in the back of their car, drove me home, and when the officer opened the door to the back seat as I exited in my parents driveway he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I have never in my life seen someone walk away from an accident like that unscathed like you just did. I don’t know who or what is looking out for you, but I believe you have a guardian angel that saved your life tonight. Don’t let it go to waste. This town isn’t right for you. You can make something of your life…”
I don’t know what that police officer saw in me that night, but it had me packing my life into hefty bags and moving with a friend to San Francisco only a few weeks later in search of what he was talking about. Only a year later I was introduced to Zee through some mutual friends, and after only 2 months of keeping a long distance relationship going between San Francisco and Flagstaff, he made the move to San Francisco and we got a tiny studio together.
It was in that studio that for the first time in my entire life I felt completely comfortable to be myself. We made 4 walls a home, and I began truly learning what it means to love oneself. As my journey to self love unfolded I found myself becoming more open to finding what makes me feel happy. I decided at some point that I absolutely had to do drag and maybe even someday become a real queen who entertains and performs for a living.
But the first time I found myself looking in the mirror with that make up on my face, wig on my head, heels on my feet, and an outfit I had searched weeks for…I saw my mothers resemblance in my face, and was floored when I came to terms that I was not seeing a drag queen looking back at me.
Instead I was seeing my authentic self for the first time.Tweet
I have come to learn that people come and go in our lives, but the relationship we have with ourselves is forever. Not forever in the sense of permanent, but ever changing and growing deeper over time. It can be hard to love the parts of ourselves that others find difficult to love for one reason or another, but the truth is, we have to learn to start somewhere if we are ever to heal.