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Telling Myself Who I Am
Mario Sanchez
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“Are you gay?” a short girl wearing jeans asked me. “Not again,” I thought. I instantly got defensive: “Uh, no. I’m not,” and looked around, embarrassed. “Oh, OK.” She walked away. “This always happens,” I thought.

That was in middle school, but ever since I can remember I’ve been asked that question. When they ask, some people have disgusted looks on their faces, some a mischievous smirk, and some honestly want to know. Back then, it hit me like a truck. I was called names and kids made the gesture of a bird flying, which means being gay.

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“Of course I’m not gay!” I’d tell them. My parents and siblings were less direct. “Do you have a girlfriend?” they’d ask. I knew what they were really asking, but it was still better than “Are you gay?”

I knew I was gay because I was attracted to guys and not girls, but I hadn’t consciously acknowledged it to myself yet. Being asked the question often made me cry.

My cousins would sometimes call me a girl or something feminine. I hate being identified as a girl just because I like guys. My sexuality doesn’t define my gender. Only I identify my gender, and I identify as a man.

While I was still in middle school, I decided I’d try to not be gay by trying to imitate how ‘real’ boys acted (that’s how I thought of straight boys at the time). Studying them became my obsession, and I was determined. Maybe if I acted like them, I would become like them.

I watched every single guy in class and they all sat the same: legs spread out, nonchalant. When David, one of my classmates, laughed, he didn’t smile too much, just a smirk. And he never waved, ever. In fact, his arms were almost always folded and he nodded with his head. He never even looked straight at people. Everything about him was so masculine; I didn’t think I could ever carry myself like that.

I was tired of hiding it and wanted to live in truth, but I was aware of the consequences. For example, I’ve noticed that once a guy knows another guy is gay, they often distance themselves because they automatically think he will be into them. (They don’t understand that’s unlikely to happen. Everyone has a type and you, dear straight guy, might not be it.)

In my school, there are people who have told me that, according to their religion, gay people are going to hell. A girl in my class once told me, “My religion won’t allow me to touch gay people because they’re disgusting.” I was taken aback, but I looked at her with a neutral expression. After that, I decided to touch her shoulder every time I saw her. The best part is that we were in the same class all year and she still has no idea I’m gay. She hasn’t gone to hell yet.

During gym when the teacher would say, “Girls on this side, boys on the other side,” my classmates would look at me and I knew what they were thinking: that I should sit with the girls because they assumed I was gay. Sometimes they’d call me by a girl’s name.

image by YC-Art Dept

I would fantasize about having a magical floating chair with a button, so that when a person was mean to me, I could push the button and a black hole would open beneath them. They would fall hard, breaking their bones when they landed.

One day, during my freshman year, I was sitting on the floor against my bed trying to confront the truth. I tried to turn people’s question, “Are you gay?” into the statement: “I’m gay.” Tears rolled down my cheeks.

“I’m …,” I swallowed dry. I couldn’t even think it. It was a hard step. Admitting something so taboo and disgusting was like admitting I was a complete failure and letting everyone know they were right about me. But I gave it another try.

“I’m… I’m… Gay!” I thought to myself, and smiled a little.

I felt something loosen in my chest, a bit freeing. Was it relief? The more I said it, the more I accepted who I was. I walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror.

“Come on say it!” I thought. “You got it.”

I opened my mouth and slowly closed it again. I stared at the mirror and looked into my eyes.

“I’m gay,” I said softly. I decided to say it louder; straighter back, head up, looking right into my eyes. “I’m gay.” “I’m gay.” “You’re gay.” “We’re gay.”

I started laughing then. That was one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt. It was as if I had been hiding my sexuality from myself. But not anymore. I was gay and I was OK with it. I smiled. If I could come out to myself, I could come out to someone else, too. Anyone.

About a month later, I felt a weird longing to come out to my mom. Even so, I feared rejection from her. I went into her bedroom and kicked my little sister out. “Mom, I want to talk to you.”

image by YC-Art Dept

“Sure sweetie. What’s going on?”

“Well, ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of marrying a woman and having kids.” She looked at me with a neutral expression.

“And I used to cry because I knew I could never have kids. I don’t want to marry a woman…” and then I started to cry. She reached for my hands, still looking at me, but I had to look down.

“Honey, you don’t have to say anything else. Ever since you were a kid, your father and I knew you didn’t like girls.” I looked at her then. “We raised you, honey. I know you so well. We both know you’re gay and we’re OK with it.”

“We were just waiting for you to tell us,” she continued. “My goodness, I waited so long for this moment and it’s finally here.” Her voice was soft, like feathers. “I am so glad you told me. I’ve always loved you but now I love you even more because I know you trust me and will talk to me when anything is wrong.”

I felt light and free; it was the best feeling, next to when I came out to myself. I felt as if I could jump from building to building and never fall in the spaces between.

I smiled more and kept on crying, no longer because of shame. We hugged and stayed there for a little while. I wanted her to ask me questions about my sexuality. I wanted, for the first time, to talk about it and go into details. But she didn’t ask much, she just hugged me and reassured me. “Your father and I will always love you. No matter what.” After a while I told her not to tell my siblings and dad yet.

But the next morning, I realized I was ready for the rest of my family to know. I told my mom she could tell Dad whenever she wanted. She told him that night. He didn’t act any different toward me. In fact, a couple of months later he said, “No matter what you choose to do in life, or who you choose to love, I love you the way you are.”

Now that I’m out to my parents and they accept me, I have more confidence. At school I’m not as concerned with what people think of me. I am myself. Not everyone in my school knows my sexuality, not because of fear, but because I believe not everyone deserves to know my journey.

Most of my close friends know I am gay, so I am completely myself with them.

Although I don’t know why, I haven’t had anyone ask me if I am gay in over a year. I am happy the gay question is something I don’t have to deal with anymore—not because I’m afraid of what they’ll think, but because it is none of their business.

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(NYC-2017-01-22)