Before I was not. Now I am.

This will probably be my most personal essay and pardon me if it will be long.

My college yearbook which had an awful graduation photo of me in it, demanded a quotation which had to go like “Before, I was…Now, I am…” While others were being either lengthily poetic or overtly emotional, I was so drawn to being different and memorable and mysterious and witty. So as usual, trying to be smart, I wrote an abstract quote that said “Before I was not. Now, I am.”

Nobody dared ask me to expound.

Now years forward, I felt the necessity to spell out the puzzle. Not for anyone else but myself. I knew one day, I had to make a long essay about it, and that day is now.

So I am gay.

If that sounds like a shock to you, then where have you been hiding?

If the admission breaks you, then I am sorry it had to come off that way.

If the truth displeases you, you may now leave.

If you are a true friend, thank you.

Why write this essay when everybody (assuming they have at least human feelings and brains) already knows? Simple. This essay is for me – this is props I give myself for being brave, for being honest.

I am gay. It was not a choice. Like waking up with morning breath, it happens naturally. Not my surroundings nor my genetic make-up can justify my being. Studies are studies but I am the one in this body.

It simply is. It is the truth.

But the path I had to take to appreciating my truth was not easy. Just like every kid who was different, I had to lock myself in a dark room to feel safe. There in that little corner, I had a world that was forgiving. I knew that I had solace and comfort and freedom.

But it was all a lie, all illusion. The real truth waits outside. Freedom was a farce. I was a prey and the whole world was too dangerous for me to even see or touch. (Rapunzel?) But I had no choice.

I was not bullied, or maybe I was. Every time I come out of my comfort zone, I knew people’s faces, smirks, smiles spoke a lot more than what they actually say with words. I did not feel protected. I was teased for being effeminate. I was ridiculed. I would understand if the taunting and mocking was done by kids my age because they had less understanding. But often times, the mocking was made by those who are of age, those who we thought would defend us from being hurt or offended or threatened.

I did not make a lot of friends because I was afraid they would mock me when play time’s over and the losers are sore. I didn’t feel comfortable even going out to buy at a sari-sari store because there are tambays who would call me names and laugh about me.

I never fought back. I wish I did.

I always tried to become rigid wherever I go. I should not show any emotion. I had to be invisible. I avoided people’s eyes. I avoided talking with people. I avoided people. That way they would not notice I existed and my existence would not bother their normal life. I just felt so little.

I had to be good at something to at least cover up for the shameful self I thought I was. So school was the best place to excel. I was a brilliant student thank God.

My first redeeming moment was when I got a medal as third honors in Grade 1. For once, people did not talk about the chances that I would grow up to be a useless gay person which was the common belief (and misconception) but they talked about how I did great at school.

So I studied hard and became an academic achiever. At grade 4, I was already writing editorials in English and was the editor-in-chief the next year. I was a Math and Science quizzer. I was class president. At school, I was on top. I graduated elementary as the Valedictorian. I wrote my commencement speech and delivered it with pride. Recognition programs were big deal because these are the moments when I know I was worth something.

But outside, it was still different.

A lot of change happened in high school. This is the place where you find your clique. You know how people put labels on you based on the people you get along with. At the onset, I was very aloof because I knew no one in my class. Sure they were familiar faces from the many inter-school competitions I have joined in elementary but they were not friends, at least not yet.

They only noticed me when I introduced myself in English class. My voice was cracking partly because of puberty and mostly because of nerves. I couldn’t remember how I said it but I knew they applauded me for speaking fluently in English better than everybody else did. I gained confidence. One Monday I came to school pretty early and was surprised to see a large “Congratulations!” on the chalk board with my name on it. I was pretty confused what it meant. After the flag ceremony, the school paper adviser announced the winners in the writing competition held the week before. I was first place in two events and I was freezing because I was so shy.

That was how I became more comfortable. I knew that I had a place. I may not be the smartest anymore but I can be good at a few things. And that will take away most of the attention people are paying to my identity. You see in high school labels exist and I would rather be labelled as the writer than the gay kid.

Soon enough I made friends. Obviously, I identified more with the girls. I was more interested in creative stuff. I was an artist. I drew a lot and people noticed. Before the school year ends, I probably have scribbled at the back pages of all of my classmates notes.

Again I felt safe, at a corner of the classroom. I can giggle and laugh with some good company.

But as the same time, high school is also a long period of self-discovery. More than the changes that can be perceived physically, puberty evokes intrinsic changes. You become emotionally attached to people who provide constant companionship. They become your wall from the world. Being with them is like being in camouflage.

Yes I had real friends who I could have trusted and confided with, but I was still afraid. Very afraid. I was afraid of the judgment, of the ridicule. When you can see gays being teased, mocked, considered a laughing stock, physically, verbally and emotionally harassed on TV and in real life, why would you want to come out? You can trust no one. Everyone can turn out to be your worst enemy, and it’s scary.

Not once did I wish I was ‘normal’ and not gay. I hated myself. I questioned the existence of God because He made it difficult for me. If only I could wake up one morning and things were different – that I was straight, it would have been much easier. I will go to school, court a girl, graduate, get a job, marry and be a good father to my kids. A better life without the fear, without the judgment of people. If only.

But that is not the case. I am not the only one. As my world became bigger, I realized that my plight is nothing compared to what every young person of the same case had to go through. I was still very fortunate to have an understanding family. They never made me feel less, and appreciated me instead.

Going to college, I am also blessed to find a few very trusted friends who did not judge me nor even ask. They just accepted and loved and appreciated. Most of all, they showed respect.

I realized that my real problem is not the world outside of me but the things inside myself. The questions I evaded for the longest time, the fear.

More than what hurt it could give being teased or made fun of by other people, rejecting and hating myself is the greater cause of the heavy burden that I have carried for so long. Denying my true self is not the solution but the problem. By locking myself in a dark room away from the world, I did not get solace; rather I trick myself into believing in non-existent comfort.

To love myself.

To appreciate myself.

To accept myself.

That is the only way that I can co-exist with the rest of the world, simply because the world is not complete without me, the same way that it would be less beautiful without every single individual who lives here. I no longer question God but thank Him for making me different – and special – the same way that everybody else is.

Because I am gay. I am not proud to be because you don’t have to be proud that you are a human, or a boy or a girl. And being gay is no less or no more than being human, a boy or a girl. You are gay. That simple.

Before I was not grateful. Now I am.