Letting Go of All the Versions of Me to Reveal… Me

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Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

I spent a majority of my life trying to be several different people, all at once. It maybe all started with what I call a success-hybrid I created as a kid. Someone would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I’d say, “A doctor-writer-veterinarian.” As I got older I adored to try new things. I played soccer for a year. I played the clarinet for 3 years. Theater and singing lasted longer, almost 8 years. I took on International Studies as a minor for a semester and dropped it almost immediately. I am a girlfriend, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a best friend, I work during the day, and write at night.

All those years I always compartmentalized who I was. If I was in a relationship but my friends were single, I would insist we not talk about my boyfriend. I didn’t want them to think I was actually that sensitive. (But I am.) I wouldn’t talk about my writing with my friends at the gym. I hardly ever mentioned my outside interests at work. It could seem at times even wrong to do so. I operated each piece of myself on its own.

Which ultimately started to drive me crazy because it was impossible to balance my time. Sometimes being a girlfriend took up three more hours than I had planned for. And so I couldn’t be a writer that day. Or I’d have to work late, and not be a friend that day. I have no idea why I did this, but I did. It wasn’t until the last year, maybe two, that I noticed it and attempted to stop it.

I asked my friends to welcome my boyfriend into our friend circle more fully, I made very close and dear friends at work, I told my superiors when I had work published so we could all celebrate. Instead of one or the other I was getting closer to the idea of me that I had as a child, I could be a couple things and it would be alright.

By removing my own compartments, I am a much happier person. My time doesn’t need to be parceled out hour by hour. My planner has become less precious to me. I write in the same room as my boyfriend. I am writer-girlfriend. I share my poems with my co-workers. I am poet-coworker. I make friends at work and introduce them to my boyfriend. I am coworker-girlfriend-friend. The more I combine my passions closer to one another the more like myself I feel. Every time I do not compromise one part of me for another, I glow. The tighter I wind in, pulling it all back, the more complete and whole I feel.

It turns out that I don’t need to be one person for each scenario. I just need to be me, in my entirety, and I will be happy. The closer I can get to my own core, the closer I get to being truly happy with the life I have built.

 

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Guest Post: Coming Out as Queer after Being Gay for 15 years

 

In Cheap Courage’s continued effort to shine a light on being honest about what scares us, I am still accepting monthly guest posts that explore the meaning of bravery, fear, courage, and honesty. Please reach out if you’re interested in sharing!

This week’s essay, “Coming Out as Queer after Being Gay for 15 Years” comes from one of my closest friends and a recent self discovery he has made. I thank him for his bravery and for your openness and dedication to my little project here.


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Photo by Serrah Galos on Unsplash

I was fifteen and living in Iowa when I first came out as gay. I was young, terrified, and hurting so much emotionally that my only way to control heartache was by cutting myself with a fishing knife.

But I came out. I got help. I got better eventually. And I’ve known love since then.

I think a lot about this time of my life. The scars on my arm won’t let me forget it. And, after 15 years of survival and knowing myself as a gay man, I am now confronted with a new, terrifying realization:

I am not a gay man. I am a queer man.

And that’s hard for me to reconcile. It’s hard for my family and friends to understand. And it’s a hard conversation to have with gay men who view queer men as a threat or unknown they can’t process.

Over the last 18 months I’ve found myself in these moments that feel emotionally similar to those I was having before I came out as a gay man. I noticed increased levels of anxiety as I struggled to resolve a grating tension between my mental and emotional self. Like before, the feeling of heartache and the inevitable loss of control were ever-present and frightening.

It is really hard to look in the mirror and have the thought, “who you project to the world isn’t who you are.”

It’s nearly impossible to look in the mirror at the age of thirty and have the thought; “you can’t possibly do this for the rest of your life.”

Recently, my twin sister came to visit, and I came out to her as queer. I did it very nonchalantly – as I have with most of my friends – because I’m secretly hoping if I’m casual about it they won’t ask me what I mean.

Because if I’m honest. I’m still figuring this out. I’m not sure what it means. But I do know that for the first time in a long time I haven’t felt trapped in a consciousness that wasn’t my own. And that feeling is a sacred space that many LGBTQ folks struggle to find.

During this conversation with my sister she did the most loving thing a person could do at that moment: she was honest, “I don’t know much about this. What does being queer mean?”

I didn’t give her a finite definition. I’m not sure that there is one definition of what it means to be queer – it differs for every person. For queer folks their own identity is a sacred place of understanding.

But I do know what I’ve been reconciling as I’ve navigated this realization:
• It started with my increasing rejection of the binary. I’ve never believed in the binary when regarding sexuality and have always believed that sexuality is an every-moving point on an endless spectrum.

• I’ve also been contemplating how the binary (sexual, gender) has been, is, and will always be used as a means of oppression for one end of the binary.

• And what it mans to be an “other” outside of an accepted binary caste system.

Mostly, though, I’ve felt trapped inside a definition of myself wasn’t me, but rather what I felt was wanted from me.

Looking back, I’ve realized that I was accepted for being gay by many because they could understand what being gay meant in opposition of themselves, or straight. They were comfortable only because they could compare it to themselves, with my sexuality being the abnormal identity.

In the few times I expressed any behavior that crossed any sort of known boundary, it was rejected because they couldn’t place it within their binary understanding. And as such, I too, internalized the idea that a binary look at sexuality and gender was the only correct way to understand these complex identities.

Struggling to be gay for fifteen years has confined the possibility of me being my actual self – whatever or whoever that turns out to be. And if I feel this at thirty in New York, I can only imagine what a scared teenager of 15 in Iowa is feeling. So I’ll leave with this: I’m queer, and if you are too, you have don’t be alone in this.

 

justin

Justin Dewey is a former playwright and current arts marketing professional living in Queens. He currently serves as a Marketing Manager at The Public Theater.

How to Be Happy (Hint: Not with this blog)

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Self Help by Annie Terrazzo

Wouldn’t it be absolutely brilliant if you could Google search or ask Siri “How to Be Happy” and get a bunch of personalized returns? A link to your soulmate, a link to your dream job, and links to fun new hobbies would all pop up and you could save them and file them and never have to think about why these things make you happy. You’d get special websites dedicated to how to deal with your shortcomings, horrible things from you past, and anxieties you picked up along the way.

Sadly, until an algorithm that can calculate each individual’s happiness is created, we’ll have to keep doing it the old school way and just live. (Sounds so tiring, I know.)

The thing is, the internet already tries to do this but in a sloppy, non-mathematical way. Everyday we are bombarded with articles, blog posts, infographics, cartoons, videos, GIFs, and pictures all claiming that they know what it takes to make us happy. They contradict each other, clog up our pages, become mantras we live by, stories that we share with others going through tough times. We consume them as fast as they are written. And I am no less at fault than anyone else.

According to the internet, Happiness, capital H, is achieved by the following:
-Being Alone AND Finding the Perfect Mate
-Finding Your True Passion AND Being Okay With What You Do Now
-Taking on More Responsibility AND Getting Rid of Responsibility
-Binge Watching Jessica Jones AND Leaving Your House

All of them claim to know the real you, what you really need, how the world really works, and then they wrap up by saying something along the lines of “But of course, only you know what’s best for you because I’m a freelance writer who slams out 15 of these a day to feed myself.” They aren’t necessarily wrong in pointing to things that generally make people happy, and I do think their intentions come from a good place, but really, how are we to find our way if we’re willing to let other people tell us what they think is right?

Let’s go back to the part where I said I am a part of the problem. I love sharing this shit. I share one, two, three, eight hundred articles a day on my Facebook page about living a better life, reasons why we all feel like shit all the time, what it’s like living as a Millennial when everyone hates Millennials–even other Millennials. We gasp and delight in the slightest sign that we are not alone, that there are other people out there just like us. Instagram is LITTERED with “This is so us”, “This is me”, “Too real”, “So true”, comments. I use them. You use them. We love them. They ARE us. But why the hell do we delight in this so much?

We think we’re all different and then sh*t bricks when we realize that we’re all the same. Think about it, someone with opposing political views has definitely commented on the same Instagram post saying the same exact shit as you. Your ex is on there too, thinking they’re the wounded ones, your mom thinks anything Rihanna posts is so her. …It goes on and on.

And the number one way we’re all the same? No one knows what the hell they’re doing and we’re letting endless articles and blog posts and stories and songs tell us how we should behave and how we should feel. Just because someone else has also has a tendency to black out on rum (omg, just like you) does not mean that the way they choose to love is the way you should choose to love.

Just like with’slacktivism’, people are emotional slackers too. Instead of genuinely being self-aware, we’re letting all the countless articles we consume daily to do it for us. I do this all the time because I am someone who is constantly studying herself, constantly wanting to do better, and constantly hard on myself. The articles make roughing myself up emotionally much easier. I can even be lazy about it sometimes. I’m sure the desire to find true, unabated happiness is less severe for others, but I think that to varying degrees we all want to find the life we think we want and we think we deserve.

I want to have the key to true happiness for each and every one of you. But I don’t. And most people online don’t either, but it is nice that they want to try. I think the most important thing we can do is really try to learn about ourselves through therapy, through journaling, through meditation, through mistakes, through memory–the list goes on. I guess this is what I meant by saying we were going to have to actually “live.”

I’m not suggesting you stop reading the fun “I found true happiness selling manure and you can to” articles. Actually, I am encouraging you to continue, but while being careful not to fall down the rabbit hole. Take breaks, pay attention to what makes you happy and write it down, notice patterns. Maybe you will see a pattern forming that tells you that really do love manure. Then take that manure article and use it to enhance your new life as a bespoke fertilizer designer.

We need to stop the mindless consumption of “This Is Why You Are Sad”, “This Will Make You Happy” articles and make sure that we are consistently looking inside and taking note of what is actually there, not what we wish was there.

But, of course, only you know what’s best for you.