I was in the sixth grade, I still remember it like it was yesterday. I raised my hand to let my teacher know that I needed to use the restroom. So she quietly excused me and I made my way down the hall. I must have been completely focused on where I was headed with no attention paid to the way in which I was getting there, head down, walking as fast as my feet could take me. The only thing that stopped me was when I nearly ran into the captain of the cheerleading squad, one of my sister’s best friends.
Now, this girl wasn’t your stereotypical cheerleader. She was smart, beautiful and she was charming, all of the guys wanted to date her. Yes, even in middle school. So, when I nearly ran her over in the hallway, I was already feeling quite embarrassed of myself. She didn’t seem to care in the slightest, in fact, she wanted to stay and talk after it had happened. So we chatted for a second, and for what felt like a little flirting. Yes, it felt like flirting. But it was likely just because she was good friends with my sister that she was trying to be extra nice. Whatever the case was, a few other people in the hallway noticed. It wasn’t the first time it had happened and the other guys and even girls in my class were beginning to pay attention. Now it had sort of become a running joke, “all of these girls are after Ben.” Surely they didn’t actually believe that, but of course that’s not even the point.
Every guy in the entire middle school was dying to be me. Just to have this girl say two words to them, they would have died of happiness right then and there. And although I was appreciative of her kindness, inside I was dying. Inside I was dying because I wished so badly that she was the captain of the basketball team instead. The boys basketball team. I didn’t like flirting with her, I wanted to flirt with him. And I wanted it to be okay to flirt with him. I had no interest in this girl, but I knew absolutely no one could ever know that. So I had to try my best to act interested, even if just for ten seconds as we passed each other in that hallway. I had to pretend. I had to put on a mask and tell myself that she was my dream come true. I had to figure out a way to flirt.
That was the first time I can vividly remember making a choice to cover up who I am. And who I liked. But it wouldn’t be the last. Not even close. I became an artist, a very good one at crafting masks. It stayed my trade for the next 10 years. Those first ten seconds in the hallway seemed like 10 years, so you can only imagine that 10 actual years felt more like a lifetime.
Even once I admitted that I was gay to myself at 22, I promised I would never let anyone else know. And that was my plan. Honestly. For a very long time.
Until God had other plans instead. And he placed some amazingly warm individuals in my life that taught me what it really meant to follow Jesus. Not just follow a rulebook or quoting of condemning Scriptures. But who really taught me what love looks like. I learned about Love. Not love like “I love ice cream”. But real love, love that said I’m designed and created exactly as it was intended, and which cared for me unconditionally as is. And eventually, for the first time in my life, I actually felt loved, I felt wanted. Just as I am. It was as if 10,000 pounds had been lifted from my shoulders. And I remember breathing, and crying. And breathing in so deeply, while thinking, I’ve never been alive before this moment.
Since then it’s been a gradual growth. I’d love to say everything was all downhill and a free ride from there. Hands off of the handlebars all coasting, no pedaling. But of course it hasn’t been. There have been big ups and big downs. But the fight is finally worth it now. Because I finally have a life to live, and that has changed everything.
Just this week between meetings at work, I arrived back at my desk to find a text awaiting me on my phone. Within that text was one of my (straight) best friends texting me about Pride this weekend. The first thing she asked is ‘how can I support you?’ and then she went out of her way to make sure I knew she’d be there. She’d be there for me. For me. At Pride.
I know she doesn’t understand why this was such a big deal to me. And to be honest, I can’t even describe the warmth that I felt. Immediately I slumped into my desk chair completely overwhelmed with emotion. There was no way I could even pretend to stop the tears. And why should I? These were tears of joy. Even 5 years ago, I never could have imagined that I would be here. And even when I made it here, I never knew I could make it here. Surrounded by amazing individuals who support and love me for me, who inspire me to help someone else in the way they’ve helped me. I wish I could describe the deep sense of joy that this gives me. But I just don’t have the words right now.
It sounds basic, like that should be expected, but please don’t take it for granted. Appreciate those who support you. And support the people around you in return. If you don’t have the support you’d like, know that there are other people like you, that was me not too many years ago. And the best part is that there are friends out there waiting to meet you, waiting to love you, waiting to support you just the way you are.
No matter what life has served me, I am constantly amazed with how God continues to place people in my life just as I need them. Most of the time I have no idea how someone has impacted my life until months or years after I’ve passed through the moment. I’ve found that the more authentic I am in my life, the more authentic people I draw towards me. And that has made all the difference in the world. Be authentic, and go where authenticity guides you.
This pride month I’m not celebrating drag queens and rainbow parades, as great as they may be. This pride month I’m celebrating just being me. Being a media nerd who works with a bunch of creatives. Being an overly emotional Cancer who loves The Bachelor and other cheesy reality TV. And being that middle school kid who can finally say (even if it is 15 years later now) that I had a crush on the captain of the boys basketball team. It feels good to be me, just me, with no masks, no lies, no flirting with girls anymore. And hopefully to help other people be themselves too.
To all of my amazing friends who help me to do what seems so basic, I say thank you. You are a lifesaver, joy-givers, and the light of my world. I love you all with all of my heart. I dedicate this Pride month to you, because without you - I’d certainly not be celebrating it myself! <3