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18 years ago, I saw light for the first time. According to a cursory web search, even before that I tasted something for the first time. Soon after, I spoke my first words, took my first steps, and tried real food for the first time.
Life is a series of firsts. Those new experiences I just mentioned were all preparing me for more firsts—my first day of elementary school, first friendships, and first time taking a bus, for example.
Growing up felt like it took forever. I always just wanted to be older, I thought I would feel different, maybe have a better understanding of myself or the way the world works. Looking back, everything is sort of a blur. Childhood is so full of moments that I wish I could remember forever but already I can't seem to recall some of those important firsts, no matter how many times I watch the home videos.
Somewhat more recently I had another important first. It was an experience that I think shaped the person I am today more than any other.
My parents found out that I'm gay.
I grew up in a strictly catholic society, among friends who had employed the phrase "that's so gay" at least once every single day I spent with them, and living in a family where saying anything even the slightest bit sexual, like "that sucks," would land me a mouthful of soap and double chores for a week. Even before I really understood what my sexuality meant for me, I knew I couldn't tell anyone. I spent the better part of middle school and high school pretending to be straight but really just looking like an awkward teenage loner.
Now, back to my parents' little discovery. As a uneducated child, feelings of sexual attraction towards other boys was confusing to me. My solution was to Google all of my questions on the laptop I shared with my two brothers. Unfortunately, I'm an idiot, and as such forgot to clear my history one day and my dad saw my search. On that specific occasion I had Google'd, "Is there a way to get kids even if you're gay and don't want to marry a girl?"
After I got back from swim practice that night, my parents sat me down and told me what they found. I was crushed. I felt cheated out of my own secret, if that makes sense. They told me everything would be fine and that they would help me to "get better." At the time, I didn't really know what that meant...
My dad scheduled an appointment for me and my mom and him at a "family counseling clinic," which was really just a couple of priests pretending to be therapists, with no qualifications other than God's favor. The man we spoke to said that the best way for me and my family to be healthy and remain happy would be for me to play the role that God had intended for me. This meant meeting a girl, marrying her, having kids, etc. My parents agreed and decided that they would send me to a church a couple towns away for a few hours every Sunday after mass to take a class about chastity, sexuality, marriage, families, and stuff like that.
The first day I went to the class, my parents brought me up to one of the moms who was teaching and told her all about my "condition." She was very understanding and ensured my mom and dad that even I would be so excited to get back on track and start making plans for the future that aligned with God's vision of a perfect family.
At that point, I hadn't really grasped the severity of my situation. It wasn't until a couple months had gone by and the class was over that I finally understood my predicament. Learning that my orientation had not changed, my Dad decided it was time to take extreme steps. He told me that I had to either go to a real conversion camp or change on my own, and until I did I wouldn't be considered a part of his family.
One night of nonstop tears and screaming at light posts in a park later, my best friend agreed to let me stay over at his house for a couple days. I didn't tell him the truth about why, he thought my parents were going out of town for a few days and my brothers and I couldn't stay at the house alone.
Another month later, I had couch surfed my way through a few more friends and finally landed with a girl I had only know for a little over a year. It was around that time that I was really starting to recognize the permanence of my exile.
This has become a lot harder for me to write about, because I know what happens next (no spoilers :P), and it's difficult for me to reflect on it so thoroughly. I was expecting this to help me come to terms with the life I've ended up living, but if I'm being honest, I don't feel very different.
I'll try to continue to share my story, hopefully someone out there will read it someday and learn from my mistakes and pain. It would mean the world to me to know that there are people like me who share my struggles and suffer the same difficulties.