On September 8, 1986 I was born a beautiful heterosexual boy.
Though my genetic code would hide a different tale, I am one of millions of gay people who enter this world under the umbrella of presumption.
Beside my crib lay blue paint swatches nearly identical to the shade swaddling my nine-pound frame. A smattering of sports symbolism adorned the walls of the hospital. As a society we offer so little options for a world of people brimming with differences.
By age three, I was a most garrulous one, toeing the line between extreme extroversion and flamboyance.
It was obvious I had strayed from the mould. A chorus of onlookers who were all sure I would "break a lot of girls' hearts some day" successfully drowned out my exaggerated movements. We are creatures of habit and differences make people uncomfortable.
By age 11, my body had started to betray me. I so wanted to gain control over what everyone else around me could see. There was the predilection toward female friendships, gesticulating hand movements or a lisp that was emulated in chorus by my classmates.
My mom made countless visits to the school in an attempt to shield me from what lay ahead. She loved me and knew what was happening. I salvaged pieces of my self-esteem though academic achievements and hobbled into high school. One of my neighbours, Jeff, was without such a reserve chute. Seeing no finish line he took his life before his 14th birthday.
We learn love late, if at all.
You would be hard pressed to find a gay man with a memorable high-school experience. Sexual experiences are often transient and with male classmates whose one-off curiosity wanes in minutes. Our crushes and sexual experiences are often hidden, like the parts of ourselves we've learned to hate. We learn love late, if at all.
There are little tales of prom photos and first loves juxtaposed with a limousine. We faked it or didn't attend events at all. We were onlookers to a life that wasn't ours for the taking.
To be a gay man is to conquer a series of battles with the world, but the greatest one we wage is a fight to love ourselves.
Even at 30, labelled "fearless" by everyone in my life, it can take the littlest of moments to send me spinning back into a world of pain.
Like last spring at the Raptors game when the famous "kiss cam" came on the screen. Fifteen thousand people cheered on heterosexual couples and two females as the camera panned to groups across the stadium. The camera stopped on two males, in their mid 40s, donning sports memorabilia. Suddenly a group of people that was filled with cheers erupted into uncontrollable laughter.
I told my friend I needed to get a drink and left my seat. My face was hot and my head was spinning. This single moment taught me everything I needed to know about how society can view gay male love. The notion that two men would express love was so absurd to the crowd that it was deserving of laughter. I wondered if these two men were partners and how much my own pain would pale in comparison to their distress.
Just last month, on the search for a new doctor, a walk-in clinic in Toronto told me to come back on a Thursday as that's when their "LGBTQ friendly doctor" was in. I guess the eight others on the roster didn't qualify.
Twice in my life I've visited a doctor with a cough only to have an HIV test expedited, over every other treatment option, in less than a minute.
Vowing to venture outside my shadow, I once corrected two Uber drivers in a weekend that presumed I was straight and wanted to partake in the objectification of women. "Sorry man, I'm gay," I said apologizing for their presumption. The once-lively car rides gradually grew silent. The next time I logged into my Uber app, my rating had dropped substantially.
I want to believe everything is a coincidence, but ask a gay man you know and they'll all have a story. Our paranoia may not always be accurate, but it's borne out of years of societal onslaught.
Make a gay joke and I'm the first to laugh. Make gay statements that run a replay of life's worst moments, and you've just killed me.
To be a gay man can be a rapid-moving StairMaster. Every time we surmount, we are pulled back.
To be a gay man is to be a chameleon, shapeshifting across corporate boardrooms knowing your financial livelihood is on the line.
To be a gay man is to lower your voice on business phone calls knowing masculinity is a virtue.
To be a gay man is to walk at night with paranoia, suddenly regretting your outfit choice or hairstyle. Because we all know someone who paid the price.
To be a gay man is to know there are parts of the world you may never visit and that millions of people in this world want you dead.
To be a gay man is to lower family expectations, accepting that Dad really is OK with you being gay when he asks you not to mention it to anyone at Christmas.
And for everything I've gained, I wouldn't trade a thing.
We take the descriptor "straight acting" in our community and hold it up like a holy grail. If we can achieve this goal, we will finally be able to hide through camouflage.
We are the beautifully broken, a cast of misfits simultaneously fighting ourselves, other gay men, and society, in a quest for survival. We cannibalize our own in a desperate effort to standout and be loved for any version of ourselves, even the most hateful version.
Deep down, we're all on a journey to get back to the unbridled three-year-old self, full of love and inhibition.
As a gay man I've learned what it means to struggle and have developed empathy for the most downtrodden in society.
As a gay man I've learned to forge friendships in the form of new families.
As a gay man I'm grateful to be around men who appreciate the sunny after living in the storm.
To be a gay man is to finally find a place where you belong.
It's not perfect, but it's our new home where we can begin to live in peace.
And for everything I've gained, I wouldn't trade a thing.
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