Lessons From The Road

The Internet is a marvelous tool, both for venting your own personal frustrations and for connecting with some truly incredible people. It allows you opportunities to connect with people you may not otherwise have the opportunity to meet.

When I first made my anon account, I expected the opportunity to talk to people, as what Twitter is for. But in my foreshadowing, I didn’t put myself in the possible situation of not only meeting one of these distant people, but hanging out with them for a week. And coming from someone who is both incredibly shy and, at times, exceedingly awkward, that’s saying a lot.

And yet, that’s exactly what happened two weeks ago in my excursion to Alabama to enjoy the company of the University of Alabama’s most fabulous homosexual, @UAFabGay. And the number of things I both got to do and got to learn about myself and the outer reach of Twitter are altogether quite nice.

In that week, I have done more living than I have all summer, and by my guess, will do in the remaining weeks. I experienced the wonders of sushi, Ru Paul’s Drag Race, and Chick-fil-A. I ventured to Six Flags and took a road trip to the shores of Panama City Beach. Granted, it wasn’t 100% non-stop fun and excitement, but it was different, it was new. Most of all, it was a new adventure, and I’m never one to exactly turn away from something like that.

In one of the more interesting ways, this was my first time actually meeting him, so understandably with my not-so-outgoing personality, I was bracing myself for a heavy dose of awkwardness, and boy at times was that felt to the extreme. At times it was manageable, and it wasn’t too bad, but other times it was suffocating. If you can imagine a weight or hand just squeezing your chest and lungs and restricting your breathing, that’s kind of what it feels like.

This, mind you, came as a result of nothing he did or anyone else did in particular; it boiled down to how I felt, or how the different situations I found myself in simply made me feel. On Tuesday, he told me a gay friend of his would be coming to spend the night and wake up to go on our trip with us, and it largely turned into a very third-wheel sort of situation for me, which is something I of course can’t help. Naturally, hanging out with two people and only being friends with one of them isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it does depend on the people, among other things. Being more outgoing is a bonus too, something that isn’t my strongest point by any means and definitely didn’t grant me any favors this time around, but no, it wasn’t all bad or awkward all the time, thankfully.

But the trip was more than just an opportunity to escape and go somewhere and simply travel for a week; I also sought some new experiences, things I never thought I would actually do. But what was even better was bearing witness to other first-time events that were not my own.

On Sunday, we spent a few hours at a nearby bar where one of his friends works at for their, I believe, Sunday or weekend special of bottomless mimosas (another thing I never tried, and they aren’t bad). After an hour or two, he’s presented an opportunity to try a Bloody Mary. He does happen to enjoy tomatoes and tomato juice, as well as vodka, but was unsure of how the combination turned out. Yet, he took a chance, and it paid off. He loved it.

Things like that, as insignificant as they may sometimes be in the grand scheme of things, are incredibly refreshing to see and witness. It’s like watching someone first learn how to ride a bike and seeing that look of joy flicker across their face as they master the technique (and then occasionally end up with a bruised knee in the middle of the cul-de-sac). It’s that look of instant appreciation, replacing one of apprehension mere moments before. It’s a leap into the unknown, for better or worse, and, in some cases, coming out a better person on the other side.

It’s the act of trying, of seeing, “Hey, I might actually enjoy this. I’m giving it a shot.” It’s likely one of the most fundamentally common things that exist in society. If you never try, you’ll never know. But following this adage is not often something that’s easily accomplished, largely because of that fear of the unknown, the break from the comfort zone you become so accustomed to putting yourself in that a momentary thought of anything not within those boundaries is enough to send shivers down your back. But it goes for many of the things you enjoy now: In some cases, you wouldn’t like them now had you not tried them before. It’s very appealing to actually see that play out.

The second leap of faith came the very next day on our trip to Six Flags. What can predominantly be called an amusement park built strictly for families did happen to house about 7 fully functional roller coasters, along with some pretty intense heat. While it may not be the ideal locale for college students seeking a thrill, it does offer at least some fun moments, along with, perhaps, one of the more crazier roller-coasters in existence known as The Superman. The two of us tackled all the operating roller-coasters on that visit (save for one, which wasn’t working), but at the prospect of facing the Superman, he wasn’t the most keen on riding it himself. It’s understandable; the ride features you being strapped in a body harness, which is then moved into a horizontal position, so your body is facing the ground as if you’re flying like…yep, Superman.

I was prepared to ride it by myself, and he offered to hold onto my things while I rode it, but rather than wait by the exit, he led the way to the loading dock and then said he’d try it, simply because he ‘might as well.’ I was surprised he agreed to it since he was so against it, but it made me smile, not because of any deep personal ties I have to him, but because he was openly taking a risk on a new experience.

It then struck me how nice it would be to have that attitude about everything. New food, new people, new places, anything that’s different from what is pre-established as the norm. Like I mentioned before, many of the things I love now, I wouldn’t love if I hadn’t tried them first. Many of the people I’m friends with now, I wouldn’t currently be friends with them had I not decided to take a chance and befriend them.

More than that, as we were two guys brought together courtesy of our membership in the gay Twitter community, it made me realize even far more than I did before that there are things that stretch far beyond the realm of Twitter, and social media as a whole. There are infinitely more important things than the number of followers you have, how many favorites your selfies and picslips get (and while I occasionally have commented on those totals mine have received in the past, it’s been mostly in jest), and, among other things, whether or not a certain person is following you. The very first friend I made (and was later subsequently made into his persona verbal punching bag, and I definitely mean verbal) suggested I picslip at every 200 or 300 followers, or entice people to follow me using those methods, methods many others on Twitter currently employ. I decided then that it was a very transparent call to attain more followers for the promise of giving them a picture of your face to stare at or save over a 24 or so hour period, and I instead opted to take the route of having people follow me based on their own free will. At the end of the day, it’s only Twitter. It’s only life. And neither should be taken very seriously. I have nothing against anyone who promises picslips in exchange for followers, among other follower count rewards, I just know that that’s not something I’m personally keen on doing myself, regardless of the current follower count I have now or will ever have.

Yet, a portion of this ideology falls short on the ears of many, and on one night, we bore witness to one of many Twitter fights, brought on by an anon stating he’s been seeing a guy for the past year (but mentioning afterward that they aren’t strictly official), yet he just sucked a guy’s dick at a bar. This elicited a firestorm of replies, and, as is tragically common, the drama ensued.

One comment amongst all the carnage really struck me in particular. In response to someone (perhaps UAFabGay, though I’m not positive), another person replied, “When you post something, it becomes a social topic and therefore becomes my/our business.” (the my or our is foggy, but it’s almost verbatim)

What someone posts on a social media site does not automatically make it your or anyone else’s business. Yes, it does leave you room to reply and respond, and what you choose to broadcast on social media is bound, in some cases, to get some sort of reply, but what someone does or is doing with their life should in no way be of ANY concern to you, unless you either a) date them, b) are very good friends with them, or c) are related to them, and even then, some discretion is still acceptable to have. What someone does or is doing may infuriate you, and may give you the strong urge to punch a wall, throw a cat out of the nearest window, watch episodes of Barney on repeat, and so on, and yes, it’s acceptable to disagree and to have an opinion. But at the end of the day, for better or for worse, people should be free to live their lives as they decide to, and accept whatever consequences that may or may not befall them later on. I don’t make it a habit to concern myself with every detail regarding the people I’m following. Certain actions I, like anyone else, disagree with, but people at the least deserve the freedom to live their lives as they want to (with, of course, acceptable limitations, laws, etc.)

It’s pretty fitting that Kacey Musgraves’ two biggest hits (if not on the charts, then at least in my mind) fit perfectly in this topic, and what could be considered her latest hit, Biscuits, comes mere days prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. That song, along with Follow Your Arrow, are relatively simplistic, but powerful.

From Follow Your Arrow:

Make lots of noise
Kiss lots of boys
Or kiss lots of girls
If that’s something you’re into
When the straight and narrow
Gets a little too straight
Roll up a joint, or don’t
Just follow your arrow
Wherever it points

And from Biscuits:

Just hoe your own row and raise your own babies
Smoke your own smoke and grow your own daisies
Mend your own fences and own your own crazy
Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy

They both center around doing whatever makes you happy and minding your own business to lead a happier life. It’s two of the most common ideologies that exist, but the fact that they both exist in musical form and, for the latter, is released around the time of one of the most historic cases in history is pivotal. The same logic can, and certainly should, be applied to Twitter, much the same as anywhere else. It’s the exact reason why I typically avoid most of the Twitter drama that occurs; at the end of the day, getting fired up at people who I, in most cases, will never meet is pure, unnecessary stress.

Another thing to consider along those lines: We all strive for acceptance and equality, not just for ourselves because we’re gay, but for others as well. We want the freedom to live our lives doing what we love, with who we love. And yet people take it upon themselves to attack others based on their lifestyle choices, people within our own community. We are asking from others what we ourselves aren’t doing for each other. We cannot get respect and acceptance without first respecting and accepting each other, and yes it’s corny and cheesy and a million of other similar adjectives, but I believe it to be true. I know firsthand it’s impossible to truly love every single person. There are people on Twitter, much the same as elsewhere, that are hateful and mean-spirited. But at the least, if you can’t love someone, let them be. Let them live their life. In doing so, other LGBT members who seek to find solace on the Internet and, in particular, on Twitter, may be in a better position to be more comfortable with themselves and who they are, and how wonderful can it be to help someone struggling with being gay to avoid committing suicide over the Internet?

It’s not something everyone’s interested in, but social media can be used for positive things if people only choose to do so, and I truly wish more and more people made that decision.

This trip was also a fresh reminder of the kind of person I am. I largely dropped all conversations with most people during that week, save for what down time came around, but in doing so, I neglected to account for the feelings of one of the bet friends I’ve made through Twitter, who, as I found out two days after I returned home, was not all too thrilled with me and my excursion for the sole reason that I had expressed interest in visiting him, but under the belief that he wouldn’t be done with summer classes until July when I returned to work, I believed my chances to see him this summer were a no-go, whereupon I then made plans to visit Alabama. This, to him, was taken as a bitch slap to the face, and I received a lengthy text noting that, along with the rest of his feelings, and it was one of those texts that just makes your heart sink to the depths of your stomach, filled with words and insults that you truly hope to never hear again, much less ever.

Now I could’ve decided just to ignore it and let it pass, but knowing how rare it is for me to both make and especially keep friends, I knew I had to make this right. Knowing full-well that friends are not as plentiful for me as they are for other people, what few friendships I have, I attempt to cling onto for dear life, because the flip side of that, of feeling alone, is almost unbearable, to the point of nearly committing suicide. Much to my relief, we exchanged apologies, along with my promise to certainly see him next summer.

Yet, it’s hard to even seek out friends in the first place. A few months ago, a guy I was following who happened to be an incoming WMU transfer student in the fall DMed me one day and we struck up a conversation, exchanging snapchat and instagram info in the process. I was ecstatic, largely because here was a gay guy coming to Western in the fall, and as the number of homosexual acquaintances I have in real life is dismally small, I thought this would be a prime opportunity to add him to that pathetically small list of mine. Yet, for reasons unknown, this plan failed. I DMed him a day or two after we first talked, and failed to get a reply. We snapped each other occasionally after that, but it was nothing exactly rapid-fire.

And then, a few weeks later, I found out he had blocked me on Twitter.

Someone I hardly had a day’s worth of conversation with had, apparently, been so creeped out and put off by me that he saw fit to avoid virtual contact with me altogether (I later found out he removed me from snapchat as well). And yes, okay, one person is not a huge deal, but not knowing the reason behind it…kind of is. For one reason or another, people, particularly guys, see fit to unexpectedly drop me out of their lives, making the quest to attain more friends (hell, a boyfriend even) that much more challenging. Some as-of-yet-unknown quantity of my personality is, apparently, very offensive, and I have yet to find out what that exactly is. It’ll be interesting if I ever run into him on campus, that’s for sure, but if a guy I have a day’s worth of conversation with is so turned off by me so quickly, it doesn’t give me much hope for what lies in store for my future. Yes, it was not an extensive conversation. I don’t have any strong emotional attachments to him or anything like that. The frustrating piece is that someone I tried to talk to and befriend shot me down without even blinking.

I am no stranger to treatment like this. The very first time I picslipped a year ago, I was almost immediately unfollowed by The Homo Supreme (who, more recently, has deactivated his account; I mention him only because of the fact of how my memory works) because, in his mind, I wasn’t attractive enough and, therefore, not worth following. And honestly, it’s sad that that kind of shallow attitude exists. There are plenty of average guys out there, and at best, I would place myself in that category, but yet other guys refuse to talk to them because they’re not pretty enough. People choose not to follow or engage with someone because of something they, with few exceptions, have little control over, and that’s what’s sad. Yet, it’s a common facet amongst the gay community. Of course we enjoy attractive people and, in many cases, are drawn to them, but looks are only a fraction of the entire package, and by the time the outer layers are peeled away to reveal, in some cases, a less-than-pleasant personality, it typically becomes a challenge to leave them behind because of the emotional weight invested in them.

It’s definitely hard for anyone to look beyond outer appearances, and the looks v. personality debate may never truly be settled, but at the least, refusing flat-out to associate with someone because they’re not hot enough is sad, and picturing if those roles were reversed, if you experienced that kind of alienation, of course it wouldn’t feel well. And yet, it exists. And it needs to be broken.

But altogether, this is motivation for me to become a better person. I’ve instinctively kept a memory of all the people that have burned me, from a girl in high school I tried to race past to get to the stairs who rudely said “Watch it, freshman!” in the snotty white girl tone you can probably picture, to my roommate freshman year who, I’m now convinced, stopped talking to me after we became good friends after I came out to him because it goes against his religion, to the two guys I became “friends” with when I made my anon account that eventually threatened to make my life a living hell, I hope to someday reach a point where I can prove these people wrong. But more than that, I want to spread my story, not in the hopes of humiliating them, but by bringing awareness to the harm people can do to you without ever realizing it or thinking twice about it.

For so long, I’ve been mostly an after-thought to most people, and the list of people who truly prioritize me is relatively slim, if at all. Even amongst the friends I’ve made on Twitter, I’ve been frequently shunted to the side with remarks like, “Oh, I’ve been texting *insert person* all day,” where this is my first time talking to them entirely all day, occasionally after my last text to them several hours before.

In my life, I have always been an option to people I make a priority to. And at the end of the day, yes, how someone treats you over a social media site shouldn’t matter. Unfollow, delete, block, and move on, but away from the phone screen, facing reality, it’s a different story, because quite often you realize that the only people who fully appreciate you are the ones who, for all intensive purposes, are complete strangers on the Internet.

I’m thankful to have a few friends who do support me in college, but the quest to attain more is repeatedly looking to be something of an uphill battle, pitted squarely against people who stop talking to me and make it look like it’s the easiest thing in the world, simultaneously refusing to account for the other person’s feelings and neglecting to at least tell someone straight-up, ‘hey, this friendship/relationship/third marriage to Aunt Gertrude’s squirrel isn’t gonna work out.’ So many believe that randomly opting out of a friendship is the same as unsubscribing from emails hawking some brand-new breast implants (and as tempted as I always am, I’m thankful the delete button is just one tap away).

That, and the battle against those who make assumptions is not one that’s easily fought either. In my trip to Alabama, he asked me roughly a week or so in advance if I would be expecting sex from him. I said no, and he went on to explain that his friends were under the assumption that the sole reason I had bought my plane tickets to see him was to hook up with him. I almost immediately replied to him saying they were 100% jumping to conclusions there, and as I got up to go make dinner, I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous it was. But as I laid down to go to sleep, it struck me again in a new light, and infuriated me. People I had never met before were, as I took it, essentially assuming that I’m a slut, just because I planned on visiting someone for a week who just so happened to be a guy and just so happened to be gay.

I know assumptions like these may be commonplace, and to the outsider, that could very well be the first thing that would be thought of. But the truth is that two people, regardless of sexual orientation among many other things, can in fact visit each other as friends. Every single thing in the world does not have to have sex as the end goal or the underlying mission, nor should it, and I became all the more aware of this during that week as I received a few texts from my other gay friends asking if I had had sex with him yet.

Assumptions can be killer, people. Unless you happen to know a great deal about someone, it’s never really a good idea, ever, to make assumptions, especially ones like that. He mentioned to me that when they brought it up, it made him feel awkward, and I was relieved to have him tell me that, like me, it wasn’t something he thought of at all.

It’s a valuable lesson, one many others could certainly try to keep in mind.

Overall, as emotionally tumultuous as the last few weeks have been, above all else, I have to believe that, as hopeless as it may frequently seem, that better things and better people are mere days, weeks, months, and years away. I still have a ways to go in figuring out the next chapter after graduation, assuming I make it there, but this trip did quite a lot of good for me, and I’m eternally grateful I was able to take it.

Certain people are not worth stressing over. Someday I’ll be able to prove all the people who burned me wrong. And someday I’ll be truly happy.

I just have to try and bear that in mind.

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