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Being Gay & Armenian: Shame to Pride

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.
To this friend, and whoever may relate, I do apologize for any insensitivity which may result due to the mass shootings of last week, especially when arguments stem from a place of homophobia you are not recognizing.  I empathize for all who have not had the right support to come out.  I will also empathize and offer my best attempts of compassion to understand why you hate gays and “their” lifestyle so much. But I refuse, and this I say fervently and passionately, I will not turn my pride into shame. I will not go back into the closet. I will say proudly, I am a gay Armenian man. I am a man above all else transcending any and all cultural and social labels placed upon me.
Furthermore, I will promise to be there to talk to you and to hold your hand. I will give you my shoulder to cry on and to tell me how much it hurts. And, I promise you that everything, yes everything, will be all right.
Much Love,
Armen Menechyan
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3 thoughts on “Being Gay & Armenian: Shame to Pride

  1. This a wonderful piece, that truly resonates with me. Thank you for putting these words to paper. You captured the difficulties and in essence the personal triumphs of being a gay Armenian. I hope these words find young eyes and help them cope and come to terms with their own feelings.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. It was very touching. As humans unfortunately the hardest thing we need to learn isn’t to love others but to love and be loved. It takes courage for all of us to be exactly as we are: imperfectly beautiful and one of a kind. Continue your journey to honor and love yourself just as you are. – An Armenian LGBT-ally

    Liked by 1 person

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