“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” – Harvey Fierststein
I’m gay. It took me over 10 years to be able to say that to myself, and even longer to tell family and friends. Today, I wear that label proudly. As I look back at my struggle to accept myself, I realize I wasn’t afraid of the fact I was gay, I was afraid of how society would perceive me being a gay man. I feared the definition people put on the word. We’re expected to live in a particular mold set out by society and reinforced by our families. For me, I was expected to go to college, get a job, get married to a woman and carry on the family name. It was a scary moment when I realized that wasn’t going to happen for me.
I still remember as I was coming to grips with my homosexuality, I was too quick to find a label to my sexuality. Was I gay? Was I bisexual? Was I bicurious? I didn’t give myself time to really figure out who I was as a person, because I wanted to label myself something too quickly. I was so focused on the label that I lost focus on my true feelings. That’s a problem we have in society. We all are too quick to label ourselves and each other. All too often, we accept other people’s definitions and labels of ourselves and our interests that we lose focus on who we truly are.
Years ago, while I was having a conversation with some friends, one of my friends was astonished when I said I wasn’t a fan of Cher or Madonna. My friend had this preconceived idea that gay men like those two musicians. During that conversation, the word “gaytheist” was coined. Actually, if you look at my interests, you’ll see that a lot of them don’t fit into the “mold” of being gay. I’m a sports fanatic. I love watching baseball and football. I like camping and doing outdoorsy things. I enjoy listening to rock music and while I listen to pop, it’s not my first choice.
Recently, one of my friends put two pairs of shoes in front of me. She asked me which pair would look better with her outfit. I told her I didn’t know. I’m not a fashionista, so I really had no idea. She said, “but you’re gay! You’re supposed to know these things.” Her response reminded me of a skit on, “Disappointing Gay Best Friend.” I am definitely Tyler.
Everyone has their own definition of what a characteristic means. Think for a second. What comes to mind if I say, “jock?” or “politician?” What about “conservative?” or “liberal?” I’m sure you have preconceived ideas of what those words mean, and you likely hold stereotypes about them. I know I do. It’s important to realize these characteristics don’t define a specific person. We are all different and unique in our own ways.
If you’re gay, what do you think if someone calls you a “faggot,” or a “queer?” Do you get angry? Do you allow those people to get under your skin? While I worked at a psychiatric hospital, I was working the adolescent boys unit. One boy called another boy who happened to be gay a “faggot.” Luckily, I already knew this word got to the kid and was able to intervene immediately. I told the boy that was called the name that he’s the only person that can allow those words to have meaning to him. A person can call me a “faggot,” “queer,” or whatever unintelligent word they can come up with, but those words will not mean a thing to me. People typically only use those words when they are trying to get another individual angry. If you allow those words to have meaning and you get worked up about it, you’re giving the other individual the exact thing they want. Without responding or getting visibly upset over the use of a word that offends you, you are taking control over your own life. I’m not saying I don’t get mad or upset when someone calls me a name from time to time, but by knowing a particular word gets on my nerves, I can begin working on giving that label less significance when I hear it.
Bullying has become a pandemic in the United States. The environment in schools has become toxic. Countless lives have been lost at the hands of bullying, and it doesn’t seem as though there is an end in sight. Schools, people and the government continue to do very little in regards to bullying. When a bully is abusing you or your children, they are attempting to redefine who you really are. Don’t give them that power. If everything you’ve tried has failed, try to remember that the words they call you only hold the weight you allow them to. Don’t accept someone else’s definition of you. Don’t allow others stereotype yourself, and don’t allow yourself to stereotype others.
You are the only person that can define who you are. Being gay doesn’t define me. It is a part of who I am, but it’s no more a part of my life than my being left-handed. I’ve made poor decisions in my life. Some of my decisions have taken me down a path I hadn’t anticipated. Some people might tack on “failure” as part of my definition. I wouldn’t. But there are so many people out there that will believe what they are told about themselves – don’t, or at least take it with a grain of salt. Someone could ask your best friend, your sibling and your worst enemy how they would define you and they would get three different definitions. The only one that matters is your own.