| This is the 10th story of Our Life Logs |
I don’t want to hide who I am. I have never been ashamed of what I was, or how I wanted to live my life. The only thing I have ever been was being confused. I wondered how much of myself I could sacrifice to survive. I wanted to live up to everyone’s expectations; I wanted to be what they expected. That was something I could not give my family and friends. I was different, and they were afraid of difference. I was and am gay.
I grew up in Dayton, Ohio. It is pretty rural, with only a university and an airbase as the centers of attention. My father never worked, thanks to a slew of handicaps and illnesses. My mother was the one who got up and worked the “nine to five” every day. This set the stage for a unique understanding of gender roles that wasn’t very common for most people where I was from. However, it skewed my perceptions of masculinity, which made it hard for me later on accepting who I was.
I guess I realized I was different as young as five, but I don’t think I had really begun to realize how striking that difference was until I was twelve. That was when I began to fathom what it meant to be gay. I remember going with my dad to a department store to spend some money I had received as a Christmas gift. I’ll never forget how I had to ask him if it was OK if I bought “girly music” and a journal, instead of sports equipment. He was pretty easy going about it, and just said to buy what I wanted, but I still bought some more masculine music to cover up for myself.
I carried that same fear of exposure into high school. Up until that point, school had been easy and I had been quiet enough to get by. By the time I started the ninth grade, I wanted to be more sociable. I began to make friends and increase my popularity. The only way to do it though was to put on a mask. I had to blend in to have friends. They might have accepted me if they knew, but I couldn’t even accept myself at that point in my life. It just meant putting up a front and pretending to be someone else was a daily routine. I tried to date women occasionally to act as a shield against the truth, but that never really worked out. Rumors were started by another more openly gay student that I was gay, but I denied all of them.
It was hard for me to accept who I was, because I still wanted to be masculine. I didn’t want to be seen as any less of a man because of my sexual identity. This was especially hard because I did lack that strong masculine presence in my life to help me understand. The biggest factor of my fear to reveal who I was came from the media. I felt so stigmatized just for being who I was. Homophobia was rampant at the time, and gay men were always the punchlines for any joke. I couldn’t face that ridicule, so I hid everything.
The only place I felt I could be myself at that time was online. This was the mid-2000s, so Facebook hadn’t become as popular. The most used social media at that time was Myspace. It provided me an anonymous outlet for me to talk to other people going through similar situations. I could keep the conversations hidden from even my closest friends. It made it easy to talk to someone about being gay, and what it would mean to come out. Myspace is where I first got a chance to experience an open and supportive environment. It was here that I met individuals who encouraged me to finally come out and live the life I wanted to.
A few months into my freshman year of college, I decided it was time to finally come out as gay to my family and friends. My courage came from a friend who had come out years ago. He was so comfortable with himself in every situation, and I wanted to emulate that. I remember it was the week of Thanksgiving. I had come out to my cousin, who was very supportive. She volunteered to come with me when I told my family. It was strange telling them, as they didn’t really react at first. It was just this eerie sort of acceptance that made it uncomfortable to talk about. Everyone else found out from fighting and gossiping. My sister found the messages I had sent to friends on Myspace. I’ll never forget how she came into my room and slammed a bible on my desk, screaming that I was going to burn in hell.
My dad probably took it the hardest. I think he felt like he must have messed up raising me. He tended to think that it was a choice, and thanks to him I chose wrong. He was always quiet about it, but one night our tempers flared. I remember I was texting the guy I was interested in at the time. It pissed my mom off, because I was ignoring a family night. She dropped me off back home to my father, who was fuming. He got right in my face and started yelling at me for disrespecting my mother, and I yelled right back. He screamed at me that I was “going to die of AIDS, because that’s what gay guys do.” When he said that, he grabbed my shirt collar, and accidentally ripped it. In the sheer heat of the moment, I brought my fist up and hit my own father right across the face, knocking him backwards. I am not sure who was more stunned, me or him. All I remember is leaving that night; kicked out and unable to return or even speak with my father for months.
It took my parents and close family years to finally accept who I was, and how I had chosen to live my life. I only wanted acceptance from my loved ones. I sacrificed being who I was, or talking about my life so that I could have a family. I had to watch what I said, and avoid certain topics just to be near them. That changed when I met my husband, and they realized it was real.
The problem most people have with gay men and women is that they can only see the relationship in a sexual sense. For them, the whole balance between two individuals is only physical. It takes a desire to understand more; while removing any hateful bias. My parents saw it that way to start, but when they realized the deep and sincere love I have for my husband, they finally understood. My mom even cried when we got married, not because she was upset over my lifestyle, but because we couldn’t get married in our state (gay marriage was still illegal in Ohio).
If there is one thing I learned through all of it, it is to just be you. You can’t spend your life afraid of your own skin. You have to be open and loving not just with those around you, but with yourself. You have to find the courage to live the life you are given. You can’t hide it forever, and fighting it will only tear you apart. The people around you will support you, and even if they don’t after it’s been some time, then they were not worth it in the first place. Be yourself; the truth will set you free.
This is the story of Tyler Heaton-Joseph.
Born in 1989, Tyler currently lives in Liberty Center, Ohio and works as Store Manager at Sunglass Hut. Tyler is blessed to have the love and support from his families and friends for being gay. He is happily married to Keith Heaton-Joseph.
This story first touched our hearts on July 19, 2017.