An Individual Journey

The road to self-acceptance is full of speed bumps and landmarks along the way. Dale Decker helps you steer clear of wrong turns.

The road to self-acceptance is full of speed bumps and landmarks along the way. Dale Decker helps you steer clear of wrong turns.

I remember the first time I realized that I was gay. The feeling was a lot like that first drop on a roller coaster: exhilarating, terrifying and unstoppable. Finally I’d discovered myself and had an explanation for the feelings I’d struggled to understand. It was a great relief to be able to identify the source of my longing, isolation, confusion, pain, and depression.

Growing up gay in a small farming community wasn’t exactly easy. Everyone seemed to know I was gay far before I did. My initial reaction to coming out to myself was pure shock. When I was 14 there were few gay role models. Will and Grace were a decade away. There was no such thing as a Gay/Straight Alliance. Sermons from the pulpit were hellfire and brimstone. Daily news reports on the mysterious illness that was eventually named AIDS were the only mention I heard of gays. I never knowingly spoke to another gay person until I was in college.

It’s easy to know the exact time you came out to yourself. However, simply knowing your sexual orientation doesn’t give you much information about how to cope with those feelings and how to navigate the worlds of sex and love. Pinpointing the moment you truly accepted and embraced your sexuality is quite another matter. Was it the first time you had sex and didn’t feel guilty afterward? Was it the time you refused to accept an anti-gay slur at Thanksgiving?

My answer might surprise you. It was the first time you felt defiant. After the shock and amazement of coming out passes, we start to notice how much is wrong with how our society treats us. Anger rises and begins to compete with our old feelings of shame about being gay. Defiance follows quickly and we have the urge to rebel.

And rebel we do. We start to challenge gay jokes and confront prejudice in our families. We attend our first gay rally. We walk into a gay bar to feel a part of a community and to be away from the straight world for awhile. We fall in love. We have sex.

Think about that last one. What could be more defiant than rejecting the taboo against gay sex? I can certainly remember the first time I had sex with a man. It ranks among the most intense experiences of my life. I was ecstatic and I felt like I had just done something very wrong. I had to unlearn the attitudes that gay sex is wrong and dirty. We have to fight to learn that our expression of affection is just as valid as the culturally prized heterosexual model.

Defiance goes a long way toward giving us the energy to form a positive image of ourselves and to reject societal attitudes. However, like any sharp tool it’s easy to cut yourself with it. If we lose our footing, we get lost in being defiant without actually changing ourself or the world. It takes courage to look at the warts of your society. It’s also draining and infuriating. It’s no surprise that minorities have increased problems with depression, addictions and compulsive behavior. Gay people are no exception.