Chris, in his own words:“Being gay doesn’t mean a great deal to me. It doesn’t define me nor does it have any present, significant impact in my life. Simply put, being gay only predicts who I am more prone to connect with on an intimate level and who I prefer to spend my life with, nothing more.
The single greatest challenge I have had was maintaining a healthy, optimistic outlook on life while preserving a positive self-esteem and the confidence to succeed in the endeavors I am most passionate.
I think I spent a great deal of my childhood attempting to fit the mold of a typical southern Arkansan and was never taught or encouraged by any of my superiors to maintain a sense of personal identity and to also be proud of it. After I graduated high school, I saw that much of the time spent trying to adhere to others’ expectations prevented me from being who I was meant to be and that years of denial had countless negative effects.
With that being said, one of the greatest successes I had in life was tuning out the negative self-talk that persisted despite countless attempts accepting myself. This didn’t happen until recent years and the fight to balance self-constructive-criticism and positive self-talk is a challenge I still face today.
Other successes in my life are what I consider to be quite generic: I put myself through college with merit-based scholarships and earned two bachelor’s degrees while graduating with honors, have achieved my childhood dream of traveling, studying, and living abroad, earned my master’s degree and law degree, maintained long and healthy relationships with those that are invaluable to me, discovered exactly what it is I want to do with my life and how I want to grow and develop as I mature and grow older, etc. etc. It’s easy to recognize challenges, harder to acknowledge successes.
My coming out story is long and complicated. I “came out” at 16 when close friends were unable to keep a secret and one of the adults in my life who raised me read my journal. Initially, the process was far from ideal. I had grown up as a religious and spiritual individual. I also grew up Southern Baptist.
At 16, I was convinced that my faith and my God would “heal” my “problem” and had no trouble agreeing to reparative therapy. Twice a week, I drove 2 hours to a small city in northern Louisiana to attend an individual therapy session as well as group therapy. The group sessions reminded me of what AA meetings must be like. “Ex-gays” they called themselves despite the inherent characteristics and mannerisms that suggested otherwise. I spent nearly two years praying and attempting to refocus my attraction from men to women. Though I was willing to oblige my therapist when he suggested electroshock therapy, the adults in my life who were raising me at the time did not support my decision. Looking back, I think my willingness to do anything it took to be “normal,” even though it had been suggested by others around me, quite simply became too much for their continued support. My dad suggested I discontinue therapy immediately.
Though it took another four or five years for my family to fully accept me, the small community where I lived in southern Arkansas did so rapidly and with ease. I maintained all of the same friendships, was still elected to student council, on homecoming court, elected editor of yearbook staff senior year, and not once called a derogatory slur or treated differently. Other gay youth in the town were not nearly as lucky and the fact that I received such support still baffles me to this day.
Nearly eleven years later, my friends still support me and my family welcomes me at any time. Lately, I’ve been taking my boyfriend around my father – the most reluctant to accept my sexuality. Though time has eased him into the fact that I date guys, I have also finally found a guy that connects with my dad. I have to hold back smiles as I watch them interact with one another. “I’ve finally made it,” I think to myself.
(Advice I’d give my younger self) Focus on your wants and desires and no one else’s. Focus on what you want to do and not on what others expect you to do. Focus on who you want to be, not who others want you to be.”