Where I Fit In

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| This is the 403rd story of Our Life Logs |


I was born in October of 1979 on the Weisbaden US Airforce base in Germany. I was the oldest of three boys. When I was just a few months old, we moved to California for my dad’s job. My dad was an engineer for a federal contractor and my mom was a homemaker. We ended up having to move around a lot, but eventually settled in a tiny town in Virginia called King George.

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With my parents when I was a toddler.

I was a big kid and because of that, I was constantly ridiculed and bullied. I probably could have used my size to my advantage to scare my bullies away, but I always felt so meek and tiny inside. I remember one classmate who made fun of me as I came out of the bathroom saying he could slap my thighs and “catch a wave.” Then he began pretending to ride a surfboard. Somehow the hateful remark struck me as funny, and I laughed uncontrollably. My bully was taken aback and stopped his mimicking for a moment. But later, he and his friends beat the crap out of me for laughing at them. All in all, school was a rough time. This incident was not the first and was definitely not the last.

My home life was also not the easiest at times. My dad was a “guy’s guy” who felt as though the man ran the house. He never physically abused my mom, but he treated her as less than himself.  He also felt kids were to be seen and not heard. And we could not waste anything. He made us eat apple cores and expired leftovers. My mom, however, was kind and loving. She was always eccentric, and I loved her for it.

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It was in that new elementary school in King George that I had my first crush. It’s also when I realized I was gay. There was this boy, named Luke, who was taller than all the other kids.  I remember he had a condition where he needed to powder his skin daily and I thought, with his lanky limbs and iridescent skin, he looked like an elf. I was mesmerized by him. Although, even at that young age, I knew better than to tell anyone of my infatuation with the elfin boy.

When I was in middle school, around age 11, I asked my mom why gay people were ugly.  For some reason, I thought because I was the fat kid who was unattractive, that was why I was gay, like it was a punishment of some sort. Being gay was not well accepted in the early 80’s and living in a rural southern town made that fact stand out even more.

My mom was taken aback by my question. She said she’d worked with a man who was gay when she was younger and she thought he was “hot.” I walked away even more confused than I had started.  If I wasn’t being punished for my body type, then why would the universe make me gay?  What had I done to deserve this life-long punishment?

I kept my fear and confusion all to myself. When I went with my mom and brothers to doctor’s appointments, I would steal the teen magazines in the waiting rooms. I would go home, lock myself in my bedroom, and cut out pictures of cute guys. Then I’d pull out my dresser, lift a small piece of carpet on the floor I had neatly cut, slide the pictures underneath, and push the dresser back. Knowing those pictures were there made me feel exhilarated and a little less alone in my deep dark secret. Meanwhile, I had girlfriends that were simply friends. I even called a 900 number where girls said dirty things to you just so my dad would see the phone bill and I’d get in trouble for being a “normal” pre-teen boy.

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When I started high school in the mid 90’s, being gay was becoming a bit more acceptable, although in my school it was not as accepted as others. I saw a boy get his face kicked in because he admitted he was bisexual. He was out of school for weeks while he recovered. The boys that beat him weren’t expelled or faced with criminal charges. They essentially got a slap on the wrist and a lot of pats on the back in the hallways. It was terrifying. As I walked to school every morning, passing by the chain link fence, I would remember the story of Matthew Shepard—a gay student at University of Wyoming who was beaten and left to die—while picturing my battered body forced against the metal.

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Me as a young teenager.

One day, when I was 17, I was hanging out with my best friend, and she told me she knew I was gay. I was so scared I kept telling her she was wrong until she finally made me stop. She wouldn’t accept my lies as truth, but she promised she’d never tell my secret. And she never did.

Not too long after that, I came home from school one day and found my mom in the kitchen. I felt the urge to come out to her. But before I could talk, I began crying. I kept saying, “I’m…” and couldn’t finish. She kept suggesting the end of my tearful sentence, “going to be a dad”, “in trouble”, “a unicorn trapped in a man’s body”?  I guess she was also trying her best to make me laugh. She never guessed “gay” and I finally blurted it out. She was shocked and promised she wouldn’t tell my dad.

I wish I could say I felt a weight was lifted after coming out to my mom, but that wasn’t the case.  She never made me feel unloved but she wasn’t quite accepting either. She feared for my well-being and began buying me books to help “fix” me. I remember one in particular was about a lesbian woman and a gay man who married one another and had a child together. I knew my mom was only trying to help me, but it did hurt that she couldn’t see there was nothing to fix.

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I didn’t admit my sexuality to another person for months. Then one day, I was at a friend’s house and he handed me the phone. I said, “Hello?”, not knowing who was on the other end. It was a girl from my English class that I had noticed but never spoken to. We had a long talk and hit it off. Shortly after that impromptu conversation I admitted to her that I was gay. She shrugged and then handed me a Hole album to listen to.

From that point on, high school seemed less miserable. That is, until a few months later, the school nurse called me into her office and shut the door. She told me she’d been informed of my sexuality and she told me it was a sin and I needed help. She said only depraved men laid with other men and that I would go to hell if I continued down this path.  She stated she was obligated to call my parents and let them know her findings. I begged her to stop, telling her that my mom already knew but my dad couldn’t know. I told her he’d kill me, literally.  She said he should know so he could get me the help I needed, and she shamed my mom for not doing more to cure me. Then she excused me from her office.

The rest of my day was spent in a haze of terror.  What would be waiting for me when I walked into my house? I considered running away, but I had nowhere to run to. That afternoon, as I made my way home and opened the front door, my dad was waiting. He called me pretty much every derogatory slang for a gay man you’ve ever heard, and stormed off. I went down to my room and sobbed.

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After that first night, my dad simply ignored my presence and I wondered if that was as bad as it would get. However, about a week later, as I walked in the door, he threw a punch at me, which I dodged, then I kicked his knee and he fell. He screamed at me to get me out of the house.  I moved in with a friend, named Jeff, and his dad.

Eventually, my mom gave my dad an ultimatum. He could get over his homophobia and let me move back in or she was going to leave him. I can’t say he got over his homophobia, but he did allow me to come home and our relationship became a tolerance of one another.

My dad would eventually learn that Jeff and I were in a relationship and, while he wasn’t happy about it, he did his best to deal with it. He even allowed Jeff to move in with me when Jeff was having problems at his home. Although, in the end, Jeff and I realized our relationship was better as just friendship.

Doug and Jeff
Jeff and me.

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For the next several years, I went through a lot of dating that continuously ended in disappointment. I wanted to find a man whom I could take care of. But I seemed to always pick out the most unstable guys out there to try to build a life with. I had so many destructive and awful stints with men I don’t even want to admit them all.

Life after coming out was not as easy as I thought it would be. I guess I was still trying to find ways to fit it.  At one point at my 30s, I finally gave up on dating, on love, and on myself. I truly hit rock bottom and began to plan my suicide. I told my friends goodbye and decided on a date.  However, before going through with my plan, I was unexpectedly hospitalized. As the medical staff worked to save me, I secretly hoped my body would give up the way my mind had and my suffering would end.

But as my medication began to take effect, I realized I actually felt good, something I was unaccustomed to.  I had been ill for so long I didn’t even know what it felt like to not hurt all over. I saw a small light at the end of the very dark tunnel I’d been living in, and I decided that I would try just one more time. I had hit the lowest of the low points in my life so what could it hurt?

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I know now that as ridiculously cliché as it sounds, I really needed to love myself first in order to find true love. I hated my body and I still blamed myself for being gay as though I was being punished. It has taken me many years to not only realize this fact, but to pull myself out of the self-destructive rut I was in and work on finding my own happiness.

I am living a much better and more positive life now. I’ve made many big changes for the better. I’ve became more active in my fight for the LGBTQ community. I’ve learned how to be happy with the little things in life. I’ve mended friendships that were previously broken. I’ve put myself on a strict diet so I can have a gastric sleeve surgery to get myself down to a healthy size. Yes, I am a gay man, but it is not all that makes me. I am learning to love myself and take care of my body, so that when I do find the right man to share my life with, I’ll be able to let him love me the way I never knew I always deserved.

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This is the story of Doug Stevenson

Doug recently moved back to his family home in Virginia and regularly visits his mom in the nearby town of Luray. Doug was ridiculed for his weight and struggled with his sexuality growing up. When his dad discovered his being gay, he got kicked out and later attempted suicide. After he got help, he came to accept himself fully and live a happy life. Doug has a bachelor’s in bioinformatics and will soon be going back for his master’s degree at the Virginia Tech MIT program. Today, Doug is a strong activist of human and animal rights. He recently lost his beloved Dalmatian, Blitz, to bladder stones. He credits the love and loss of Blitz to helping him turn a corner with his own health. Doug is currently awaiting his surgery date for a gastric sleeve after which he hopes to become more active in his community, supporting gay and human rights, as well as adopting another puppy and searching for his soul mate.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on July 9, 2019.

| Writer: Stacy Clair | Editor: Kristen Petronio, MJ |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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