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The process of pride

| Thursday, September 3, 2015

Editor’s note: This column was written in the spring of 2015 and is part of a two-part series. The second will be published on Friday, Sept. 4.

My first year at Notre Dame, I had the privilege of writing in this newspaper and sharing my coming out story. In that article I came out as gay, finally accepting the term as a part of my identity. In the year since, I have never regretted my decision nor reverted to rejecting my sexuality. However, it would be a great omission to act as if the story ends there.  Many people do not fully understand the coming out process, and are especially unaware of the process of struggling with sexuality that can begin when one finally comes to term with his or her identity. Please let me explain my story.

The past year featured a struggle to take true pride in my sexuality rather than simply accepting myself as gay. Immediately following the release of my Viewpoint column last year, I was overwhelmed by the responses. I was especially moved by the kind words and emails from students, faculty and members of hall staff who did not even known me.  The column served as a vehicle for coming out to most of my friends and family, and the love I received from the people who mean the most to me touched me in a way I cannot explain. In my column last year, I said I had rarely felt more loved than when I was coming out, but the response to my letter increased the love I felt exponentially. I was supported by so many people and surrounded by positive words as well as lots of hugs. It was easy to be happy with who I was. I was gay, and I was so happy. But that did not translate to being happy that I was gay.

Taking true pride in a part of yourself can come only from within. It does not end with coming out, but is a process. I could finally accept myself as gay, but there were many things I could not do.

I could not share my article, a great point of pride in my life, on Facebook because I did not feel comfortable proclaiming my sexuality to the people I knew. I could not discuss topics related to the LGBTQ community with my (very supportive) family members, and I avoided any discussions of myself or prominent gay figures because I was inexplicably embarrassed. I could not discuss my sexuality with anyone but my closest friends because it just felt wrong. I was uncomfortable despite my acceptance of my sexuality. For me, being gay was like having a mole on my face. I had accepted it, and I would not allow anyone to ridicule it.  However, not seeing it as a negative does not mean that I would not change it if I could.

I worked at a grocery store over the summer, and I saw countless young, happy, straight couples. I wondered why I couldn’t have that. Why could they have biological kids so easily? Why were they so happy together? Why did they get to be so normal when I didn’t? I was not ashamed to be gay, but my sexuality was beginning to feel like a burden. Like poor eyesight or a slow metabolism, it was a part of me that I had come to terms with but was not always happy with. As much as I wanted to be unabashedly myself, I wondered what I would do if I could just wave a wand and be straight.

This odd balance of acceptance and uneasiness with my sexuality continued through the beginning of the next school year. I was lonely. Not in a sexual sense, but in feeling like I was the only person with this difference. I was willing to be different, but it was often difficult. I was happy as a person, having a fantastic time with great friends — and yes, Mom, also learning a lot — but I didn’t see my sexuality as a great benefit in my life.

The spring semester of sophomore year was better. I was able to beat isolation by connecting with more people, but I was also more ready to have the confidence to use words like “proud.” I think things like this take time. It’s difficult to say if I’m really a proud gay man now, but I feel comfortable that I’m on the right path, and I have a great trust in myself to arrive at my destination.

I want to share this story and explain my own struggles to help people unfamiliar with the journey understand that pride is about much more than parades. Too many people lose their lives and even themselves because they cannot be proud. Too many people live in fear because others do not believe that different people have anything to be proud of.

Pride is a necessary human value, and it’s achieved through a great fight. Rainbow flags and even drag shows are much more than pointless symbols or bizarre rituals. They are memorials placed on the battleground after a hard-earned victory. These memorials celebrate ourselves and our society while remembering the people who did not survive to see our triumph, our pride. I hope that the more people understand this fight, the easier pride will be to come by, and the better many people’s lives will be, mine included.

I am a gay man. I am a happy man. I am a flawed man. I am a doubting man. And, despite my name, I am not a particularly fast man. Am I proud? I’ll keep you updated, but I’m working to make it all fit together like any other man.

William is a junior studying political science and economics. He lives in Siegfried Hall and can be contacted at [email protected]

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