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A FEAR OF 

STICKING OUT

Jack Kelly

June 25, 2020

For most of my life, I hated to draw attention to myself. I kept the same haircut for so long because I was scared of having to deal with the fact that someone may make a comment on it. I hated dressing up for school picture day or even worse, school elections, because I stood out compared to my friends. The thought of a teacher endearingly complimenting me for simply looking nice made me anxious.

Now, this is a weird thing for a kid to worry about. Generally, kids more than anyone are completely unconcerned with doing things like fitting in because they haven’t even begun to understand social status. It’s quite often a very pure time.

I was not so lucky as to have blissful ignorance. I was always very conscious of myself because I preferred to interact with adults. My fear of judgment was much stronger and much earlier developed than my peers because I feared being seen as immature or not deserving of respect.

So now imagine this judgment-fearing people-pleasing mindset in the mind of a gay kid. 

I know. It’s basically a recipe for not good things. 

It’s because of this fear of judgment that I quickly started masking in middle school. As I realized that my voice had a slightly affected tone I began to consciously talk deeper. As I would answer personal questions, I would never say I liked listening to Britney Spears or Glee (I of course would always say I liked the *very* macho Beethoven). I luckily had the title of Resident Nerd to explain my inability at anything in PE, and so I like to think I hid that little secret very well. And yet I didn’t even realize I was doing this. I didn’t know why I hated my voice or why I knew I couldn’t sing along to my favorite songs, but I still knew I had to do these things. 

Once the notion that I could be gay came to me, I got very nervous. Now for context, my family is very gay-friendly. The man that my parents met because of is happily married to another man. Another of our closest family friends is a very happy gay couple with a beautiful family. They were all like uncles to me. So if I wasn’t scared of being rejected by my family for coming out, why was I so scared of maybe being gay?

"I didn’t know why I hated my voice or why I knew I couldn’t sing along to my favorite songs, but I still knew I had to do these things."

It’s because in affirming that I was gay, I would be affirming that I’m different. I was terrified of becoming “the gay one”. I wanted to be seen for more than just being gay. And so I made sure that wasn’t a problem by hiding. I refused to date because I “needed to focus on my studies”, and I explained away my lack of crushes as introversion at its finest.

"It’s because in affirming that I was gay, I would be affirming that I’m different."

But the secret still weighed on me. I would get moody and depressed because of it. My parents and I have always been very open, so hiding something as fundamental as a core part of my being wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. When I came out to my mom, I couldn’t even say anything other than “I’m not straight” as I went to driver’s ed. And she and my dad were cool about it, but it went undiscussed for 8 months.

It was odd to see how emotional the process left her. As gay-friendly as she is, she still went through a sort of self-described grieving process for the life plan she had envisioned for me. I think it did comfort her as I began to open up about guys I liked. Maybe it reaffirmed to her that I hadn’t been living some secret double life, that I was still me in all ways shapes and forms.

Fast forward to just three months ago, my mom and I finally had a conversation about the giant rainbow elephant in the room. She had seen a text I sent to a friend about a guy I liked, and upon returning home from a conference she hugged me and said “I know, it’s okay”.

(Mind you we had in fact already technically discussed this so I was a bit confused as to why she felt the need to affirm this again. I guess randomly blurting out my queerness 8 months prior and then not discussing it wasn’t exactly a “coming out”. Who knew?)

"I was still me in all ways shapes and forms."

I like to think now that I wear my gayness like a badge of honor. For so long I lived in a sort of self-shaming darkness, so now I just care less about my public perception. I don’t have to worry about secret whispers and ponderings about my sexuality every time I do something slightly effeminate because I can just say “yeah, I am gay. What about it?”. And then I can pop an AirPod back in and resume my Pitch Perfect jam session.

"Not having to wait anymore for the day that I can finally feel comfortable as myself is a really freeing thing. And I think it has given me a sort of strength and resiliency that I may not experience otherwise as a cisgender white man."

Not having to wait anymore for the day that I can finally feel comfortable as myself is a really freeing thing. And I think it has given me a sort of strength and resiliency that I may not experience otherwise as a cisgender white man. I acknowledge just how much privilege I experience, from the most obvious things like the ability to not be endangered because I fit the stereotype of the majority, to the smaller things like how smoothly I was able to come out and face almost no repercussions. The struggles that I faced on my personal journey to self-acceptance represent one of the easiest journeys, meaning I feel an obligation to support those who have less privilege than me because I know that their struggle is magnitudes worse than mine was.

I raise my voice because my privilege allows me to, and I hope that my story allows others to feel comfortable raising their voices as well.