The time had finally come and I was headed to college; I was ecstatic. I’d waited years for this moment. College would be my chance to start over, to make new friends, to find a second home, to form a new identity. It would be a chance to escape the lie I was living, a chance to uncover my mask, a chance to face reality, a chance to transform my life. It’d be one of the best years of my life.
But, that’s not how it went. The small university had little diversity, half of my tennis teammates were homophobes, and I didn’t feel like I belonged. My team, who I had to spend many hours a day with, mainly consisted of white upper-class frat boys with a strong superiority complex and sense of entitlement. Each gay joke sounded just like the last. Their favorite word was “faggot”. Although not specifically directed at me, I felt attacked. I felt disappointed, ashamed, embarrassed, and uncomfortable. I dreaded going to practice every day. I’d worked so hard to get into this school and to play for this team. How did I deserve this? How could anyone deserve this? How was this fair? I felt sorry for myself. I wore the same mask. I hid in the same closet. I felt the same loneliness.
Finally, my friends and I took action. They eventually got kicked off the team, and even out of the school. However, I still wanted to transfer. Despite thinking this was my dream school, I knew there were other schools that would better suit me. This was not the place for me. It was time to take further action. I needed to take control of my life. I needed to be me, and I definitely needed a change of environment. After being immersed in this college experience, I knew what I wanted. I dreamt of being in the city. I couldn’t stay and settle, not this time. I deserved to feel happy.
My life changed when I transferred. I felt at home in the city and I’ve formed some of the most genuine and deepest friendships simply by being me. Although it took nineteen years to find my people, my place, and my community, I wouldn’t change a thing about my journey. Everyone’s path to self-love and acceptance is different and there will be times when you feel completely alone, lost, and helpless. You will sink before you swim. You will fall before you climb. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You will come out to a rainbow of love, support, and happiness that you never knew existed.
That’s what’s so beautiful about pride. Each member of the LGBTQ+ community has a different story to tell, and no one is ever alone. This Pride month is the first in which I truly feel proud to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community. To me, pride is more than a mere celebration of this community or the commemoration of the Stonewall riots. Pride represents color after years of feeling numb. Pride represents self-acceptance after a childhood of repression. Pride represents the beginning of my story after thinking it would be the end. We belong here, we are strong, and we are brave. Just like me, you will find your people, your place, and your community. Most importantly, you will find yourself. Happy Pride!
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