I don’t think there was a time that I didn’t know I was gay. I just didn’t have the words to talk about who and what I was.
When I was eight years old, I knew that I was not like other boys around me. I knew that I wasn’t what people considered “normal”. Growing up, I was constantly reminded that it wasn’t okay to be gay. My father would often make derogatory remarks or comments about gay people, about fags and dykes and would rail on what would happen to me I turned out to be one of them. I just pushed myself further into my closet, not wanting my sparkle to show. However, glitter tends to leave a trail.
I remember taking sex education when I was in elementary school and I crawled further into my closet when the teacher told us that sex could happen between only men and woman. That stayed with me for a long time. I think it shaped a lot of the shame that I carried with me along with the sparkle. It was another confirmation that I wasn’t normal, that I didn’t deserve love. If sex could only be between a man and a woman, where did that leave me?
All through high school, I wasn’t popular but I wanted to be. I craved it like every other person who wanted validation from others. Looking back at it, I think I mostly wanted to be accepted for who I was completely, even if I couldn’t put a name or voice to what I was and what was different about me.
Even though I tried to keep the sparkles in the closet and tried so hard at keeping the glitter off of my hands, my natural sparkle would always end up showing. With the benefit of hindsight, I know that I was the last person to fully understand what I was and give voice to it. I was afraid to be gay and terrified to be myself.
There was a point during the end of high school where I tried to slit my wrists, I was so afraid to be gay. It came after my group of friends shunned me. They kept asking me “Don’t you know what you are?” and “How can we be friends with someone like you? I don’t want to catch it.” I took a knife to bed with me that night. I had thought about how I would do it. I couldn’t see myself taking pills. If I was going to do it, I wanted to feel something, anything but the void I felt within me. Though I hacked at my wrists, I couldn’t cut deeply enough, the knife that I used was blunt and not as sharp as I hoped and I didn’t dare find another one and risk being seen. Even now, when I’m writing this, I can still look down at my wrist and see a tiny white scar, a reminder of that time and the fear and self-loathing that filled me.
It would take moving away from everyone I knew to reinvent myself; more, to just be who I was all along. My coming out was certainly unconventional. I was in university and I was sitting with a group of friends. My best friend at the time, Sheenagh, was watching me with knowing eyes. She saw, you know? She could see into you and pull out the words that you were too afraid to utter except in your dreams.
She leaned into me and whispered, “What’s wrong, little Wolf?”
Sheenagh waited patiently for me to answer, the noise around us like a kind of animal music. “I think I’m gay.” I told her quietly.
She let out a soft laugh. “Oh, I don’t think your gay honey. I know you are. Am I the first person you’ve told?”
I nodded and tried to hide my face in shame, but Sheenagh took hold of my chin and pulled my face up so that I was looking at her. “Never be ashamed of who you are, Jamieson. You have to own it. Stand up and shout out loud, let people hear you!”
She stood on one of the cafeteria chairs and shouted “I am a bisexual moose!”
Now, Sheenagh was just one of those people that attracted others. They weren’t afraid to follow her lead. Others stood up on their chairs.
“I am a gay porpoise!” one person shouted.
“I am a lesbian chimpanzee!” One man said.
“I am a bisexual walrus!” said another.
“I am an asexual horse!”
Soon, the cafeteria was filled with people that claimed they were every kind of animal, from gay giraffes to lesbian gazelles. It was a zoo of people that were comfortable enough with their sexual identity to proclaim it to the world. Sheenagh looked down at me from her perch. “Your turn, little Wolf.”
I nodded and stood shakily on my chair. “I am a gay Wolf.” I said quietly in a voice that was almost a whisper.
She shook her head. “You have to shout it.” She said. “You have to own it!”
I nodded and took a breath in. “I AM A GAY WOLF!” I yelled. Everyone around me clapped and Sheengah smiled.
“See, I knew you could do it.”
I called my parents soon after. My mother had the best response. “Oh sweetheart, I’ve always known you were gay. How was class?”
I tried dating a few times and got hurt badly. I hit a downward spiral and couldn’t find my way out. I was young and sexually confused and pulled myself back into my closet. I kept the door open, but it was more comfortable here and denying who I really was and lying to myself were comfortable hairshirts. Though my glitter wanted me to be completely fine with who I was, I dated two other women after coming out of the closet. I tried to tell myself that I was bisexual, that I was attracted to both sexes, but it wasn’t true. I wasn’t being honest with myself and I was not honouring the light within me. I didn’t want to hide anymore, not even a small part of myself. I wanted to be completely me and to shine as brightly as possible. It was what I had been trying to do all along.
I stepped out of the closet for the last time. Looking back at it, the closet looked to small to hold all of me. A journey that had begun when I was as young as eight until I was nineteen was finally over. I looked at the glitter that covered everything and made me shine so brightly. Walking away from it, I knew that it would be a hard journey, but every step would lead me to who I was supposed to be.
However, even if I was comfortable with who I was, it didn’t mean that society was. I remember when gay marriage was legalized in 2005. It honestly felt like something was in the air and that change was coming. I looked out the window and expected the sky to be filled with rainbows. It remained stubbornly blue.
A neighbour across the street called me over. “Hey Danny.” I said. He was pretty backwards in his way of thinking and I never knew what he was going to say when he spoke to me.
“Did you hear?”
“Your kind can get married now.” He shook his head.
“Yeah, you know, fags and fudge packers.”
When he said this, I was reminded strongly of my father. “You mean gay or queer.”
“I don’t know about happy, but you are strange. You must be happy now that they can’t kill you for being what you are.”
This wasn’t the first time that people felt comfortable sharing such a negative world view with me. Around the same time, a co-worker said “I just can’t understand why your mother lets you be gay.”
I looked at him with shock. “I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Well, your mom is Lebanese, right? How can she let you be gay.”
“My mother has always encouraged me to be exactly who I am.” I told him. We drifted apart after that.
A few years ago when I was at work, a co-worker found out I was gay and said “If you came to my country, they would kill you.” Needless to say, we didn’t become best of friends after that.
Three years ago now, when my now husband and I were out to buy wedding rings, we were walking down the street holding hands. Behind us we could hear a man yelling. We didn’t pay him any mind. He could be yelling at any number of people. As he got closer to us though, it became clear that he was yelling at us.
“Hey!” He yelled. “Hey!”
He reached for us and almost pulled our hands apart.
“My son shouldn’t have to see filth like that.” He said. “So unnatural. You shouldn’t do that kind of filth in public!”
To calm him and the situation, we stopped holding hands and walked into a store. It shook me to the core that someone had almost assaulted us for the simple act of holding hands. I think of that moment when we let each other’s hands go, where we felt unsafe because we were doing what everyone else is allowed to do. I remember the look on the shopkeepers face when we walked into her store. “I’m sorry that happened to you.” Her eyes were filled with pity.
I seem to have had a lifelong relationship with sparkles. I often wonder if I am just made of wishes and stardust given shape. When I need to, I sparkle as brightly as I can, if only to ward off negativity. As I look back my journey with my sexuality, I can only think that I’m lucky that I’m here. I’m lucky that I’m still sparkling. I still struggle with self-love and self-compassion, but thankfully, my being gay has nothing to do with that. It’s just trying to undo many years of negative thinking. Thankfully, I have sparkle to spare. I just have to sparkle all the brighter.
I’m proud of myself for being able to live my truth. I love that part of me that shines like a star from within. Have sparkle, will travel and what a journey I’ve been on already. I can hardly wait for the next one.
Happy Pride Month everyone!