My journey to love and accept myself was a long one.
I was always different. I was an immigrant, an ESL student, poor, talked differently, short, round, didn’t have a traditional family structure and was not completely what society assumes as “masculine.” I hated it. I just wanted to fit in.
Given my parents were trying to give us the American Dream, they worked a lot and had multiple jobs. As the oldest of four, I was told to take care of my siblings. We had help from my amazing grandma and other family members, but I still felt responsible and didn’t want to let my parents down. Looking back, I think the situation (not my parents) forced me to suppress my insecurities and how much I disliked myself.
Once high school started, my insecurities resurfaced. Did they ever go away? Did they magnify? This was also my earliest memory of questioning my sexuality (how can I like football and Mariah Carey???) I didn’t do anything about it. I had enough things I didn’t like about myself. I kept trying to fit in as a “normal” suburban boy. I played sports. I dated girls. This continued throughout college and into my early 20s.
Fast forward to New York City, when things really started to change. I moved for a job. I had also just gotten out of a serious relationship. I was heartbroken and alone in the biggest city in the country. The timing wasn’t planned or ideal, but it was the best thing that could have happened. It was always a dream to live in NYC so I jumped at the opportunity. I told myself just focus on yourself and your career.
During a business trip to Chicago, I decided to stay the weekend to visit my family. While I was there, I was talking with my youngest brother. He was having a hard time and I remember telling him to just focus on him and to do what makes him happy. Then it hit me — I was not taking my own advice. Towards the end of the chat, I said, “I have to tell you something that I have never told anyone. I’m gay.” His response was, “That’s awesome.” I cried.
That weekend, I told the rest of my siblings and received more love and support. Then I had to tell my parents. I did it on the way to the airport as we were approaching the terminal, towards the end of the ride. I was so afraid of disappointing them that I didn’t want to be in the car too long afterwards. Once I told them, there was a period of silence. It was long and awkward. I was scared. My mom finally asked, “Are you safe? Are you happy?” To which, I responded yes. My dad didn’t say a word. Once we arrived at the airport, my dad got out to help me with my luggage. He gave me a hug and said, “I love you.”
Over the next few months, I started telling friends, who told other friends. Each response was overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Most of them already knew. I was not fooling anyone, only myself.
Throughout this journey, I had to come to terms with my complete self. Being gay is just another layer of complexity and it does not fully define who I am as a person. It took years of self-discovery, experiences, new challenges and exploration. Like most of us, I still have some insecurities, but I have accepted them because they are a part of me and what makes me “different.” I am different and I love it.