Justin, in his own words: “Being gay, at least in my way of thinking, is just another label, one of many that I have. Everyone has different labels that make them up. But actually being gay means that I have different qualities than the norm. It makes me abnormal and unique, and I couldn’t see myself without that label unless I wanted to pretend to be someone I’m not. But who would want to do that? Everyone has amazing qualities that make up the individual, and for me, being gay is just one of them.
One of my biggest challenges in being gay is trying to fit in to what the society (mostly my parents) want me to be. Over the years, my parents have grown to understand who I am in regards to my sexual identity, so I am very proud of them. Trying to fit in to a hetero-normative society is not a simple feat for anyone that is not heterosexual. Myself being a gay black male, I have had many troubles trying to be accepted. Now that I am completely out, I have a very supporting family and group of friends.
Speaking of coming out, that would be one of my greatest accomplishments in regards to being gay. I remember the person I ever “came out” to, and I didn’t officially come out to him. My pre-calculus teacher during my sophomore year of high school helped me figure out what it means to be gay and different and how to turn my struggles into compliments. He himself is gay as well, and to this day, we are great friends. He has helped me tremendously with my sexual identity. Whenever I have a question about anything that has to do with the gay world, the first person I contact is always him. I later decided to come out to my brother and parents, and in January 2014, I took a big leap of faith and came out on Facebook. Once I did that, I felt like I was free. It was completely liberating to do that, and the positive feedback from my friends and family made it all worthwhile.
I would conclude that my coming out story is one of the happier ones. I have heard some horrific ones in my years, and yes, it is very heartbreaking to hear some of them. It is unfortunate that not everyone can have a good coming out story, but the struggles that we go through help shape us into better individuals, so in concept, having a not-so-good coming out story teaches you more valuable lessons in a sense.
The gay community is Philadelphia is, for the most part, very welcoming and friendly. The place for the average gay Joe to hang out with fellow LGTB people would be the “gayborhood”. It is located in center city, and personally I call it one of my many homes. I have had so many fond memories there, and the bars and clubs there are great as well. I definitely recommend living in Philadelphia if you are looking for a safe place to live. However, just make sure the area your living in is gay-friendly because there are some places in Philadelphia that are not as friendly as center city.
If I could give my younger self any advice, it would be to always be yourself no matter how you think people around you will accept you. We tend to create a mindset that we have these certain “standards” to keep in order to truly be accepted and for people around us to like and love us, and if we don’t like up to these standards and steer away from them even slightly, we will lose everything. But know this — there will always be people out there that will accept you for who you truly are. I thought for sure that my parents would never accept me; I personally thought they were going to disown me. It took time, but they eventually realized that even though I am gay, I am still their son and care about them just as much as I did before I came out to them. Also, just because you are different doesn’t mean that you are “bad” and unfit for the world. I had this mindset up until 2013 when I arrived at college and met my best friend who also happens to be the first gay male I met that was my age. We are still great friends, and he and I plan to stay platonic friends even after college. Lastly, I would tell my younger self to take risks and just go for it. How will you know if the guy across the bar isn’t into you if you don’t go up to him and introduce yourself? And even if he isn’t, all that means is that there is a better guy out there for you; this took me a long time to realize. But now that I am not as scared to go up to people as I used to be, I have gained so much self-confidence in myself. It has been a wild ride, but I would not change any of it for the world.”