As a gay man, I am proud. The shame that I carried for many years for being an Armenian gay man has diminished during the past decade as I decided to fully embrace this label and my culturally unaccepted identity. Even years later, during times of great pride, there have been moments where I have caught myself regressing. Then, I quickly remind myself how far I’ve already come. With this, I am not seeking your validation or approval. I have given myself the full approval to being who I am. Nonetheless, I am seeking your empathy. The same empathy and compassion you would, or better yet, should offer your fellow human being. I am seeking the same safety as you are: to be unafraid to be who I am, in public and private. I will not let shame creep back in nor be embarrassed to display my true colors.
I cannot and will not be quick to place judgement on those who are unable to show that level of compassion either. How can I? Especially when I too, was latently homophobic and lived with the self-loathing and internal sexual conflict many deal with daily, especially when they are not offered the space to blossom. Homophobia, like most prejudice, is deeply rooted through familial and cultural socialization. I have always been gay, but I was told and heard that girly men are disgusting. I was not a girly man, but I was gay. Bringing that logic to play, I thought that not only was I unworthy of love, but those who shared the same sexual orientation as I did were too. I consider myself highly fortunate to have had all the variables to slowly get rid of that intense self-loathing and I fully understand that many, an extreme example being Omar Mateen, will never get the opportunity to move past that.
Now, I may say that to each his own in accepting and becoming comfortable with their identity. It is a journey that should neither be forced nor condemned. It is not an easy task. Truthfully, it is quite the terrifying process. Contrary to popular misconceptions, being identified and labelled gay is not something one chooses. But “gay” is not the only label that is under an umbrella of marginalized groups who live in fear. However, with time, some of us have the fortune to develop resilience and pride as they come to terms with this “unwanted” identity that has been bestowed upon us. This label eventually has the potential of becoming a gift. Personally, I would not exchange this upstream journey for any of the comforts I would have otherwise enjoyed as a heterosexual male. In fact, even being labeled “straight” isn’t a guarantee in a society where violence takes precedence over peace. So the question remains, “How do we cultivate societal peace that will trickle down to individual peace?” If you’re seeking an answer, I encourage you to sit with that question. I wish I knew the fastest path to that truth, but I too, am human with answers that are constantly changing and living with the reality that truth is in fact relative. But what I do know, as you likely do, compassion and kindness go a long way.
During a conversation with a friend, our healthy debate brought up some stifled anger. The words that followed were not meant to be accusatory, but were what came up as my immediate reaction. My intention was not to hurt his feelings or call him out on what I believe was motivated by his internal homophobia. Who am I to tell him what he can or can not fear? Who am I to try to alter his personal journey? However, the following words are what stemmed from my anger, which is not a reaction I typically resort to. However, recent events have given me too much to be angry about and I do not apologize for this.
I guess my anger when I first heard this message from you was your own sentiments of homophobia. To be honest, when we first met I sensed your deeply engrained shame for being gay. You are not proud to be gay. I am. There are many men who are. I acknowledge and firmly believe that many have died in this country and worldwide for me to have the “freedom” to marry someone I love. But I also know that I can not freely kiss the man I (will) love publicly because my partner might still feel the shame he has not yet resolved, or that I will get spat on, beat up or maybe even shot.