Opinion: The art of being gay

Andrew Atkins

“So, how do you know you’re gay?”

It’s never quite the surprise you’d think it would be. There’s comfortable small-talk, and then they’re straight to the point – vetting into your very identity.

This isn’t the first time, and it’s not the last time.

“How long have you been gay?” “How do you know?” “Don’t you worry about going to hell?”

Every time somebody asks about my sexuality, my heart races. There’s always a sudden realization that they don’t accept me.

Then, it just clicks: they don’t get it. They don’t understand — that’s why they’re asking. What’s worse: My answer is only ever to satisfy their curiosity and not because they genuinely believe in the validity of who I am as a person.

So, I live my life like this. I have always lived my life like this.

I have always lived my life feeling sorry for the space I occupy.

When I visit home, I butch my voice up, dance around political discourse like I’m on stage and minimize who I am.

You see, this is an art.

There is an art to shutting away your identity. When people didn’t think twice about denying who I am, I learned how to shut my feelings away. It’s better to be numb than hurt — or so I thought.

Because, let’s be honest: life isn’t a fairy tale. I’ve tried coming out at least three separate times to some of my family members. And, don’t get me wrong, it’s been getting better. They used to call me “disgusting,” but now they just tell me I’m “confused” and “need to explore.” 

But is that really better? At least when they called me “disgusting,” it implied some sort of basic acknowledgement of my identity. The label of “confused” is softer on the surface, but harder at its core. It implies a fundamental refusal to accept who I am.

To be honest, when you grow up so close to these daily denials, you start ignoring these things. Each time I’m questioned, I respond automatically. A joke, a smile, a sarcastic eye-roll. I don’t let them see that I’m hurt.

And you know what? I got away from that. At least, I thought I did.

I came to Kent State. I came to a liberal school and started unpacking my identity from the boxes I’d long ago crammed it into. I finally began accepting who I was.

In the background of all of this, then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump began his campaign for presidency. 

It was a joke. Funny – simply not possible. I made fun of him on my social media, typically with no response. But slowly, Trump support crept into my feeds.

I didn’t take it seriously. I thought most were jokes. I didn’t even want to bother starting the conversation. This was a mistake.

I was alarmed at first. As a liberal person, Trump was against everything I stand for. He was sexist, xenophobic, ableist and racist. And while I knew he wasn’t exactly a champion of gay rights, he wasn’t explicitly homophobic.

And then he selected Mike Pence as his running mate.

Pence has expressed unfavorable viewpoints concerning the LGBT community Trump had gone down the list of things I oppose and checked every single box.

Despite my best efforts, I lived in an ideological echo chamber. I truly thought none of my closest friends and family supported him. I thought he had no chance of winning. But then he did.

I’m not going to pretend that everybody who supports Trump is as hateful as his platform. Some supporters simply did not like Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Some felt forgotten.

One of my friends asked me if voting for Trump was racist, xenophobic, ableist and sexist. The answer: explicitly, no – implicitly, all of the above.

The thing about voting is that you don’t get to pick which parts of the candidate’s platform your vote goes to. You vote for the whole platform. So when you vote for a party whose platform consists of all of these terrible attitudes and ideologies, that’s what you vote for.

I don’t expect some of my friends and family to understand. They will never understand the complex nature of the hatred they voted into office, if they never even bothered to understand me.

I’m so tired. I’m tired of apologizing for the space I occupy. I’m tired of watching the smile creep out of somebody’s eyes, of watching their grin freeze on their faces when they realize: “Oh. He’s gay.” I’m tired of being untrue to myself.

I’m tired, but I won’t give up.

I may lose my right to marry. I may be discriminated against. But I will not falter. I will answer hatred exclusively with love, kindness and compassion.

Andrew Atkins is a guest columnist, contact him at [email protected]