It’s no secret that gay rights and marriage equality are dominating our news headlines and mini-feeds more and more often. I myself am very guilty of angry rants, name calling, and finger pointing when it comes to events that directly affect gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals physical, mental, and emotional selves. Lately I have been weighed down by anger, hurt, pain, and fear when it comes to my rights and well-being to simply be myself. I don’t want to feel this way any longer. I don’t want to walk around carrying so much anger and hate, when those are the two very things I am fighting to separate myself and all of my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters from. So instead of continuing to post angry messages about how disgusted I am that a business directly funds organizations whose sole purpose is to take away my rights or attempt to convert me, or distraught commentary when legislation is passed that strips away my own rights, or outcry over headlines where people are losing their lives to either suicide or in many tremendously horrible instances murder simply for loving someone who happens to be their same sex, I am going to share with you my own experiences as a gay man so that you might know a little more of what I face on a regular basis.
I met the love of my life almost three years ago. I have always dreamed of the possibility of “love at first sight” and that’s exactly how it was. Michael and I met through a mutual friend who recommended he add me on Facebook. We started talking on the phone and even though I had never meet him in person, I knew that I was falling in love. We spent anywhere from one to four hours talking on the phone every day for ten days. We talked about our backgrounds, past relationships, morals, ethics, values, career dreams, fears, hopes… Our conversations would last for hours and time would fly. After ten days we decided to have our first date, and since then we have spent almost every day together! We got married on September 9th, 2011 in the County Clerk’s Office in Queens, NY. We spend hours every day laughing, talking about our dreams for the future, and supporting each other through good times and bad. I look at him every day and am so thankful that I found him. I love him more than words can express and I hope that we both live long healthy lives and can have as much time as possible in this lifetime together before one or both of us leave this world. “As long as we both shall live” was the contract we both agreed to when getting married, and I fully intend to stay married to him for that duration. What we have is beautiful. It is a relationship that is founded on a few simple principles: honesty, integrity, and love. I would do anything for Michael, and I know he would do anything for me.
But my journey as a gay man has not always been so positive and beautiful. I am so thankful to be married and have some legal rights and benefits that go along with our marriage, but I really struggled to get where I am today - and to be honest I still struggle on a daily basis.
When I was in middle school I was was frequently bullied by a group of about seven guys that were my year in school. Though it rarely was physical, I have to admit that there were instances of rocks being thrown at me, me being tripped in the halls, and occasional body checks. However, the emotional bullying was frequent and overwhelming. I was called a faggot on several occasions. In gym class I was mocked because I was not athletic enough, and I was almost always picked last when sports teams were created. Snide comments were often made about my participation in drama, chorus, and tap dance activities. The one time I resisted involved grabbing a guy by the neckline of his shirt and demanding that he leave me alone, only to have him chasing me around for weeks asking for money to replace the shirt that I damaged. Very few people ever defended me or said positive things to me when these guys were around, but occasionally people would intervene. I occasionally hinted that these things were going on, but never fully disclosed to my parents or anyone else the full extent to what was going on. Fortunately, I ended up going to a different High School from this group of guys, and while the emotional abuse didn’t ever go away, it was much less frequent and far more tolerable.
But I almost never made it to High School. I was very depressed in Middle School over the bullying, and contemplated my own suicide on more than one occasion. When the name calling got so overwhelming I imagined myself taking a whole bottle of pills, or slitting my wrists just to get away from it. I am so thankful that I never acted on these impulses, but to say they weren’t there would be a lie. There was an extended period of time where I wanted to die.
In college I finally came out of the closet and began living my life as an openly gay man. Coming out was a very painful process because I so desperately wanted to be loved and supported by everyone. But I wasn’t. Many people who I came out to told me I was wrong, or evil, and I lost friendships over it. Towards the end of my college career I was recruited to be part of a fraternity as an openly gay man, and I am so thankful that they reached out to me and wanted me to be part of their group. But once I got into the group, there were members who refused to develop any kind of a friendship with me because I was gay, and I was strongly encouraged (told) that I needed to bring girls as dates to events. I often made jokes about my own sexuality to ease the atmosphere, and I pretended to not care if things were said that were offensive. But so many comments made it very clear to me that I was never going to be considered a true brother to everyone in the organization, and so many friendships that I knew were going to last a lifetime didn’t last even a year outside of the group once I graduated. I must put in a disclaimer that many of the friendships and relationships I made in my fraternity were overwhelmingly positive and many people made it very clear that I was extremely welcome in their books. But it only takes one person to give the opposing viewpoint to make you feel unwelcome, and sadly there was more than one alleged “brother” that made me feel unwelcome.
On another occasion in my undergraduate days I was employed as a section leader in the choir at the church I attended. I sat week after week listening to messages that homosexuality was immoral, and those who practiced such lifestyles would spend an eternity in hell.
In graduate school I met a girl who I became close friends with at the college where I was employed. She had a friend who was gay so I just assumed that I was welcome in her circle. One day she brought up the fact that my sexuality was a sin and I was going to hell for it. This is the same person who frequently talked to me about the married man that she was sleeping with, and how she knew it was wrong but couldn’t stop. Yet the simple act of my being gay was the real sin in her book.
These are just a few of dozens of instances in the course of several years where I was made to feel less than equal to my heterosexual counterparts. And yes, I made it through a very rough patch and came out a stronger and happier person because of it, but that doesn’t mean that I now live my life free of oppression and fear - it’s quite the opposite. Here are some insights into my every day fears as a gay man:
I am afraid of being told that I am not welcome in a store or restaurant simply because I am married to another man.
I am petrified that when I want to have a child I will be told by the government that my marriage deems me unfit to raise a kid. Even worse, I am scared that if I do have a child s/he will be ridiculed by others simply because s/he has two dads.
I am scared of laws being passed that deem me a person who is less deserving of basic human rights simply because I am gay.
I am nervous when I decide to buy a house or move into my next apartment that I might be turned away because I am married to a man.
I sometimes am hesitant to hold my husband’s hand or give him a kiss when we part ways in public because I worry that one or both of us will face verbal or physical abuse over being gay.
I sometimes cross the street to avoid walking past a group of people that I do not know just in case one or more of them could strike up a conversation or physical retaliation towards my identity as a gay man.
I worry about Mike or I being murdered. And I worry that if one of us goes through a terrible accident or injury that the other might be denied visitation rights.
I read a news article about a senseless act towards a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered person and I wonder if it will be me tomorrow.
I am extremely scared that one day the hatred towards gays will be so great that a similar situation that those of Jewish faith faced in the Nazi regime could be a real threat to my own existence.
If you are reading this and happen to be heterosexual many or all of these thoughts might be incomprehensible to you, or they may seem “dramatic”… But I can guarantee you that every single one of these concerns is a reality for any gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered individual you come into contact with.
These concerns, and the unfortunate acts of discrimination from my youth are not a way to live one’s life. Being fearful of persecution, endangerment, and losing civil rights is no way for anyone to have to live. Regardless of your beliefs or experiences I beg you to truly think about what the issues are that are facing our society today. Many of you who read this are at the age where you are either parents already or likely to be parents in the future. What would you do if your own flesh and blood came to you expressing the desire to no longer live because s/he was facing an overwhelming amount of prejudice and persecution because they happen to identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender? Can you honestly tell me that as a parent you would cast your own child away simply because they are not the exact person you had hoped they would be?
I have done my best to present to you a candid glimpse into what my life is like as a gay male in today’s society. I can’t express to you how much it hurts when I see my own friends and family members supporting causes that directly infringe upon my civil rights. Before you are so quick to jump on the bandwagon of “traditional marriage” I ask you why does it really matter? Does the fact that I have found the love of my life who I would willingly die for at any moment of any day simply because the love I have for him has no limits threaten your own definition of marriage simply because my husband is another male? Does the fact that, if I am ever fortunate enough to have a child, s/he will be surrounded by so much love, support, and encouragement threaten your own definition of a family simply because that child has two fathers? I am begging you to take a minute and truly think about everything that I have poured out of my heart before you decide that my fundamental rights as a human being are less than your own rights simply because you were born heterosexual and I was born gay.
If this inspires you, please share my story with whomever you wish. If this discourages you, please strike up a civil conversation with me an let me know why. If my own struggles and challenges in the 30+ years that I have lived on this planet are enough to inspire positive change in one life than I will know that all the struggles were worth it. If I can change one mind than I am happy. I will leave you with these words:
I love my husband more than anything else in this world. I wake up every day and am so thankful that I have found my best friend. I can’t wait for us to be able to laugh together when things are funny. I look forward to growing old together and looking back on a wonderfully positive life that we have shared together. If I am stripped of all my rights as a gay man and not allowed to spend every day with the man that I love then I would rather die tomorrow. That is how much I am passionate about how I feel, and how much love and adoration I have for my best friend. He means everything to me, and I am so sad to think that the simple act of loving another person is so detrimental to the lives of other people.
Thank you for listening. I hope this story helps you to understand better the meaning of love, equality, and progress.
-Josh Giles Alexander Conway