June is Pride Month and today I feel compelled to share my journey to self-acceptance.
It’s important for me to share because this process involved more than just “coming out” – it was a true, honest and upfront acceptance of who I was in all areas of my life – and finding the power to be okay with it all.
I find that there’s so much importance put on the moment of “coming out” that many actually forget that there’s a more important journey to self that’s long, difficult and challenging for many of us, for multiple reasons. Opening up on here is my effort to bring attention to the parts of my experience that matter most, and in doing so, have others look at their journey to self a little closer too.
First, a look back into the past
10 years ago, I sprung a sudden surprise on my family. I shared with them an element of my true identity, my sexuality. I told them I was gay.
My mother had an emotional reaction, fearing for my safety and my acceptance by others.
My father objected, but knew he couldn’t change me so he refused to accept me and violently expressed his rage with a series of threats.
My grandmother acknowledged me as a child of God, one of many beautiful creations by the divine holy spirit.
My sister, it was normal for her, there was nothing wrong with being gay – she was just happy that I could accept and love myself and live my life the way I wanted to.
In a nutshell, varied reactions, different perspectives – all in one family.
Sharing Myself, not “Coming Out”
In communicating with my family then I realized that I was really just sharing parts of my life with them in a very open and honest way and not necessarily “coming out”. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to be interviewed and profiled in the media and the most common questions I get asked are: When did you come out? How did you tell your parents? What did they say?
What does “coming out” mean anyway? Growing up, it was always referred to as the most important point of the process; when you tell your parents and extended family that you’re gay. “Coming out” has always been considered the pinnacle moment of self-acceptance when it comes to sexuality; as if the journey ends there and everything is peaches and roses afterward. I have a growing problem with the phrase “coming out” because it draws attention to the wrong thing. I understand that the phrase is so ingrained in everyone’s vocabulary, and its often used without much thought or intention, but by saying “coming out” we consistently reinforce and automatically place the importance and focus on the acceptance by others.
Why is what someone else thinks so important? Why should that part of the process be considered the most important and deemed worthy of celebration? To strive for acceptance based on external factors was the reason I struggled with my sexuality to begin with. Not feeling “normal”, not feeling “manly” enough, being told I should not like the colour pink, being told I could not play with dolls or my mother’s makeup, being told I was “one of them”, bullied for my feminine gestures and the list goes on. Why would I subject myself to another level of that now that I was comfortable with my sexuality? The whole idea of “coming out” was a burden. If only I had the wisdom I have now, I don’t think I would have every been pressured by the thoughts and opinions of others. This is why I am so adamant about talking people out of using the phrase “coming out” as much as possible because it just places the importance on the wrong thing.
The Importance of Self-Acceptance
To me, the most important part is when I accepted myself – looked in the damn mirror, stopped crying in fear, stopped shaking in anxiety and stopped contemplating giving in to what was expected of me culturally, socially and religiously. I was gay, I needed to understand that, be okay with it and accept everything else that came along with it. If I did not accept who I was, how could I ever get to the point of sharing myself with my family or friends?
The importance of self-acceptance is crucial – we strive for it in so many ways today and I want that to be applied to the LGBTQ experience as well – but this process wasn’t so linear for me. I had other battles and hurdles to overcome than just my sexuality. I struggled with my weight, constantly soothing myself through food, getting addicted to laxatives and fluctuating on the scale beyond belief. I hated the way I looked and self-loathed constantly. Connected to that experience was over 7 years of sexual abuse by a close family member, an experience that bled into so many areas of my identity clouding my judgement and opinion of myself. My entire family was sucked into a vortex of abuse, mainly mental and emotional for years – all of us trying to cope in our own ways. I endured physical abuse too. Needless to say, there was a lot for me to work through, come to terms with and move through in order to ever get to a point of proudly accepting my sexuality and that’s the case for many.
This is why the phrase “coming out” can carry many negative connotations and narratives – its not always a positive affair. I know so many people who have not reached the point of self-acceptance, they are so fearful to be who they are and its not fair. I feel its my personal responsibility to do what I can to help people re-direct the focus from going externally, to internally. Once I got candid with myself, it wasn’t just my sexuality I needed to accept, I had to be okay with who I was in a total and complete sense. The way I walked, talked and dressed. The opinions I had and the experiences they stemmed from. I had to be okay with the lessons I learned and the triggers I still had. I had to be okay with being angry, sad, unhappy. I had to be okay with my weight and my body image issues. I had to be okay with my family history; the good, the bad and the ugly. In going through that acceptance, I had to extend grace and compassion to everyone I knew and the opinions and thoughts they had that either held me in a favourable position, or in a position of disgust and hate. I had to know who my tribe was, and who no longer fit the bill. I had to be okay with all of this. Once I got there, sharing myself with the world came naturally. Differing opinions didn’t bother me and nor did offensive humor and perspectives. I reached a point where I loved who I was, therefore anything that didn’t align either needed to fall to the way side or become an opportunity to educate and there were many times I put that into practice.
Erectile Dysfunction: A Funny Story
I remember walking into a room with my parents talking to my grandmother about my sexuality. They were perplexed, they couldn’t understand how I could so suddenly drop a bomb on them and be so sure of myself. As I listened to them, they asked each other a bunch of questions trying to figure it all out. Some questions I overheard were…
How can he just turn gay?
How did he become gay?
Was it me? Was I missing something as a mother?
Was it overnight?
How come at 25 years old? If he was born this way, wouldn’t he have told us a long time ago?
Is someone influencing him to do this?
He cannot have an erection; this is probably why he’s gay. (I’m still confused about this, lol. I am guessing they didn’t know about anal sex, lol. Anyway, another topic.)
It was this last question that got me to storm into that conversation in a dramatic way, in true Daniel style. How could they think I couldn’t get it up? How could they think my penis was the key to the truth of my identity and sexuality? How? I was not willing to let this go – but instead of getting mad, I was calm and took it as an opportunity to educate, as uncomfortable as it was. I recount this experience to exemplify my self-acceptance and confidence. Because I accepted myself in every way that I could, these uncomfortable conversations became possible because they didn’t threaten my core foundation. I understood them as areas for learning for myself, and my parents too.
I use my family as an example here because often its with them that we face the most challenging conversations – but this experience isn’t the same for everyone. I can go on and on about this, but I cannot stress how important it is that we look at our sexuality as just a part of who we are. I had enough conversations around me, books to read, shows to watch and even Oprah to look to, to understand that my own self-worth and value was more than just one part – it was the summation of all the beautiful parts that made me, me.
10 years ago, I proudly accepted a new sense of self and shared myself with the world. Coming out, what’s that?