By: Brad Turner
I never used to understand why the rainbow flag was a symbol of gay pride. Growing up, seeing that flag was associated with a negative reaction — a slight distaste in my mouth for whatever reason. Maybe it was the fact that the adults that surrounded me treated gay people as outcasts, or because other kids I knew threw around the word “GAY” like it was one of the worst insults they could think of. And I hated it. Probably more than most people, because I knew that there was a part of me that was different. And I desperately didn’t want to be gay, because from what I had learned, that was one of the worst things that I could be.
Looking back on those days, there are so many things I wish I could tell my younger self. I wish I could tell him that embracing who you are is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. I wish I could have told him that it will also be one of the most challenging things to do. That truly being yourself isn’t just a switch you can flip on overnight. It’s this continued process of discovery and acceptance and learning and reflection and growth and LOVE. That being gay wasn’t the worst thing that he could be, but hiding it wasn’t going to make it any better.
Trying to be someone else was holding me back from growing. It was holding me back from becoming better and getting the most out of life. Because no matter where I was or what I was doing I was worried about doing something that might make me seem gay. And I spent so much time and mental energy on trying to be like everyone else: trying to talk like the guys around me, not talk about my love of crafting and watching Grey’s Anatomy, and acting like I didn’t care about my physical appearance, all because in my head, I convinced myself that that’s what straight guys do. It really wasn’t a great way to live.
Things have changed now. This summer I found myself marching alongside thousands of other members of the LGBTQIA+ community in the San Francisco Pride Parade. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to the city to experience this spectacle, and I marched down Market Street surrounded on both sides by people who couldn’t stop smiling and waving and cheering and showing their support and love.
There was so much Love. And not just from the people walking next to me or lining the streets. For the first time, I loved myself for who I am.
For the past 2.5ish years, I’ve been trying to do that. I started dating another guy around that time and admitted to myself that I’m not straight. And since then I’ve been trying to be more open about it. Most of my close friends and family have been very supportive. But not everyone. And the problem is I spent too much time focusing on what those people thought that I wasn’t able to hear and see the support coming from everyone else. Maybe it took the insane amounts of support from the parade for me to finally notice it. I’m not sure why I’m just now noticing it, but to those people who have been there for me — thank you. You have no idea how much I appreciate you.
And to those people who have been struggling with my choice to be open about who I am, thank you too. You have helped me see that love and acceptance is something that takes time and effort.
So this story has 3 lessons.
1. Spend time thinking about what makes you unique. And don’t try to hold it back or push it down or hide it in a closet somewhere. You don’t have to constantly proclaim it to the world. Maybe you won’t have a flag to fly that shows how proud you are to be who you are, but embracing what makes you you and choosing not to hide it from the world can have an amazing impact on all areas of your life.
2. Do your best to appreciate what makes other people different than you. Defer judgement. Practice empathy. The first time you meet someone, seek to understand instead of critique. Do what you can to learn about their story, and how they got to where they are. You’re going to meet some pretty interesting people in your life. They all have a story to tell. Take the time to listen.
3. Be patient. Accepting and embracing who you are doesn’t happen overnight. Accepting and loving other people doesn’t happen right away either. One of my good friends Nadia once inspired a room full of people with a few simple words. “Start with love, inclusion will follow.” I’m going to echo her and say always remember to start with love.
The younger version of me would never believe that I wrote this article to share with the world. Honestly it might have been something I would have had nightmares about back in the day. Well I’m glad those days are in the past.
Whether you are a young student like I was, or have many years of wisdom and experience in this world already, I hope you remember to love. I hope you get to hear plenty of interesting stories and learn more and more about yourself along the way. I hope you can be proud of who you are and share your best self with the world. It took me some time to do it, but it’s been unbelievably worth it.
Be you. Be proud.