“Self-love is a continuous manifestation of courage to keep on living as your most authentic self.” -Bernike Effendi
There is an emotional pain that I’ve been feeling more and more as I try my best to embody self-love. I have four tattoos and not one of them hurt. I ran into a pole last week that hit my shin bone and could be heard a mile away, but that still didn’t hurt as much as this emotional pain. It’s a feeling that I’ve felt before, many times before I let go of something huge. Those huge things now feel so small. I know this one will eventually too.
The funny thing is, this is no surprise to many of you. So thanks for reading anyway. But to those of you who do not know, I am gay. It’s not that I feel a need to come out. I feel a need to set myself free and to stop hiding a piece of me that might feel more comfortable in my own skin, in my own home, within my own family.
It’s a risk I’m taking, finally voicing that to the ones who haven’t known. I’ve battled with myself and have gone back and forth with whether I should let this out or not for years. I’ve questioned my safety and self-esteem. I’ve expected the worst, while hoping for the best. And like those other huge things, the pain pushed me over the edge. I don’t want to silently hurt anymore. Not behind the blank face I have when I listen to relatives make unbeknownst homophobic comments or the blatantly rude ones. I won’t bite my lip and run away from the conversation in fear of being ostracized. I’m going to stand up for myself and everyone else who identifies in the queer community. I’m going to bring my whole self to the table and hope I’ll be accepted for who I am. Because of my self-love, I’m going to keep loving myself and staying true to me, even if I’m not accepted.
It takes courage to love yourself in a society that thinks you’re a sin, a disgrace or dishonor. It takes courage to stand up for yourself when you might lose friends and loved ones. It takes courage to speak your truth and not know what will come next. But are they really friends if they don’t love you for who you are? Is family really unconditionally loving if they don’t embrace you for your truth? Is an environment really worth staying in if you can’t be yourself?
My good friend Shay once said, “It’s pretty nice to fly under the radar, but it’ll sure change your world if you let everyone in your life scoop ya up and love you for all you are”. I hope she’s right. It is not fun to feel like an angsty misunderstood teenager for most of your life. I think part of my solution is loving myself enough to open the conversation, to stop flying under the radar. I’m opening the conversation so I don’t feel the load of anxiety in my chest anymore.
Today, I read an article about a 9 year old boy who took his life because he was bullied for coming out at school. 9 years old. He had the bravery to speak his truth and wasn’t shown the love that he deserved. I don’t want to live in a society that teaches tolerance. Tolerance isn’t enough. If 9 year old, Jamel Myles, was shown love and acceptance, he might still be alive.
Sometimes I’m not even afraid for myself. I’m most afraid for children like Jamel. I’m afraid children are not taught to love and accept people as they are. I’m afraid for the children who are struggling to love themselves and the children who are influenced by negative judgments. It all begins with what we teach children. They are open and loving and trusting until they see otherwise in us. Children are curious and trust us for their answers. Somewhere along the way, the children who taunted Jamel learned to bully him for who he was and felt that it was okay. My question to all of you is this, if a 9 year old came to you and said “I’m gay”, what would you do? What would you say?
I hope it would be an answer that makes them feel loved, valued, and worthy of living.
To my 2nd floor & Regina Hall residents of sophomore year – Thank you for being so genuine and authentically yourselves, teaching me that I was always free to be myself.
To SXU Campus Ministry, faculty and staff who have strived to include all members of the LGBTQ+ community – Thank you.
To my closest and dearest friends – This wouldn’t have been written without you. I may not have gotten this far without you. Your endless love and support, near or far, has kept me going, smiling, and bravely shining the real me. Thank you for seeing me for who I am. Thank you for making me feel loved, valued, and worthy of living. Thank you.