Love Is Love

June, amongst the LGBT community, is much more than a month of high school open houses and numerous weddings. It’s more than the start of summer, of several weeks of beaches, vacations, sunny days, and the typical 9-5 work grind.

June is National Pride Month.

Pride festivals, amongst the gay community from my observations, are split down the middle as far as opinions go. They draw in crowd of thousands for outdoor events, music, food, awareness, education, support, counseling, community services, and more. They strive to be an all-inclusive event, for people of all genders and sexual orientations. They aim at celebrating the achievements and accomplishments made by the LGBT community while simultaneously striving to break down preconceived notions from others about people in the LGBT community and the types of lifestyles some people believe we allegedly lead.

But they are not without their share of opposing viewpoints. Some people claim they are one giant hookup scene waiting to happen, filled with people dressed in as little clothing as possible in an effort to attract as many people as possible. They provide an opportunity for unwelcome advances from people you are not interested in or attracted to. They formulate the question to some of why ‘straight pride’ events do not exist.

The list is not extensive, and barely scratches the surface, but the opposition is there, without a doubt.

I have never been to a Pride festival before. I did not fully know they were a thing until last year, and unfortunately my only opportunities to go to two near me were not available as I had made other travel plans. But I have told myself for many months that it would be something I would like to experience, just once, and formulate my own opinions. Pride events in each city and region are slightly different, and attract a diverse crowd. No two Pride events are exactly alike, and what may happen at one event in Grand Rapids may not be the same case for another in Chicago, or New York. I am, at long last, having this checked off my bucket list next Saturday, and I’m excited to see what it’s all about. Unfortunately it will not be entirely for leisure. I’m getting in for free at the cost of working for my apartment complex in drawing in interested people to sign leases and tour the property, so there will be some work involved, but still, it counts that I’m at least going.

But regardless of what your personal opinions are of Pride events, what’s truly important is the overall message behind them. These events exist because many others, who came years before us, gradually paved the way for wider and wider acceptance of LGBT individuals. There is still much, much work left to be done, but without those who, to use a phrase I personally hate for some reason, blazed the trail for the rest of us, things could be much different than how they are currently. For a community that has largely been considered to be a ‘minority,’ it is important to recognize and celebrate the advances that have been made, understand the goals that have yet to be met, and continually strive to bring LGBT acceptance into a more national realm, something that is felt in every single state, much less the entire world.

One of the most notable of these recent accomplishments is, of course, the gay marriage ruling on June 27th last year, and although it did not truly become a reality in every single state and every single county (lest we forget dear Kim Davis in Kentucky), the overall principle was clear: Same-sex marriage is, much like ‘traditional’ marriage, a given right.

Struggles have, of course, not been unknown, the most recent of which is the uproar over the transgender bathroom bill in North Carolina, and the outrage a number of Christians have expressed towards Target continuing to promote itself as a welcoming LGBT national retailer. Gay rights have also worked their way into the election climate, with most Republicans either flat-out opposing it or proclaiming it should be up to the states to decide. Some have gone to greater lengths, swearing to appoint new Supreme Court Justices to repeal the same-sex ruling, amongst other measures.

In today’s climate, for anyone who is closeted in particular, it is, at times, a challenge to be who you are, and say what you feel, and stand by what you believe in, based on the environment you’re in. Being closeted is not, under any circumstances, a bad thing. Every single person comes to terms with who they are as an individual, whether gay or straight or anywhere in-between, on their own time, and nobody can determine the length of that journey except for yourself. Nobody should force you into doing anything you are not uncomfortable with, by any means.

What is not okay, however, is denying who you are as a person, or wishing you could be someone else. Many of us have been in those same shoes. Like many others, I went through my closeted period in late middle school, all of high school, and my first two years of college. I knew who I was, but I was afraid to be who I was, because I believed the results would be…less than favorable, and more importantly, safe to my current situation. But after I came out to my roommate at the end of freshman year, while it resulted in him unexpectedly cutting me out of his life a week and a half later and sending me into one of the most emotionally traumatic tailspins of my life, it also sparked something in me to be more honest with myself, and with other people. It pushed me to lead a more open life, and as the circle of acceptance for me widened over that fall semester and into the spring, I gradually realized that being open, and happy, was far more important than feeling insecure, and so on March 17th, I came out.

And that, really, is something that I think is the most important: Being happy, and doing what makes you happy as a person. There will always be a handful of people who will not be ecstatic with your life choices, and how you decide to live your life, but at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself how much do those people really matter to you. How much do they really love you and support you? If the answer to any of those is no, they are not people you need in your life. You have all the power, right, and responsibility in the world to find people who will unconditionally love you and support you, because life is truly far too short to be anything less than happy.

It’s a lesson I’ve gradually come to accept in my own life as well. A good portion of my friendships currently exist thanks to the Internet, but I have come to realize that they can be a challenge to not only maintain, but to stay engaged in and committed to, because, for other people, things like school, life, and boyfriends quickly get in the way. Unfortunately for me when these people wind up in a relationship, our friendship takes a significant drop, if not, dies off altogether. This has been the case with a fellow anon from Missouri, a friend I made who lives in Tennessee and recently got a boyfriend, another anon from Indiana I’ve been talking to the last few months up until he got a boyfriend several weeks ago, the list goes on.

It’s one of the most unfortunate realizations for me to know that some people view me as nothing more than someone to waste time on until something better comes along. I never expect anyone to talk to me constantly, because I know there’s plenty of other things that take a greater precedence over my existence, and that is fine. That’s understandable. And while I understand people get busy, I also hang on to the belief that nobody can ever be too busy to talk to you, because it only takes a couple seconds, if anything, to pick up the phone and send a text. It may not result in the most in-depth conversation, but it’s something. And that counts, just to show you they’re thinking about you. When it gets to the point where a friend of yours is periodically posting links on Facebook or making snap stories but refuses to hold a conversation with you longer than three or so texts and dodges requests to FaceTime, that’s the point where you have to ask yourself if the friendship is one-sided.

But still, the overall message is that, even if it’s not the world’s longest text, or the most sentimental, there are dozens of ways to show someone you care about them. Anything from asking how their day is, telling them to be careful, wishing them goodnight, and so on are just a handful of examples. The words “I love you” can take on a wide variety of forms if you pay careful enough attention.

One thing in particular that the gay community needs to fix is the same thing I mentioned in my last blog post: The apparent disregard for those who are fat, fem, Asian, black, and so on. Here’s the conspiracy: For people who have anything along those lines in any of their social media/dating profiles, you cannot turn around and proclaim love is love and everyone is equal if you don’t successfully promote that same attitude yourself throughout the year. It is fine to date someone if you’re not attracted to them, or if they’re not your type. What’s not okay is dehumanizing people and making them feel inferior based on race, how feminine they are, and so on. A number of these things are unchangeable and permanent. People should not be made to feel ashamed of who they are. That goes against what those before us have fought for years: We should not feel ashamed for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and everything in-between.

Nobody will know their interests as well as you. You may prefer guys who are taller, or have beards, or enjoy outdoor activities, and things along those lines, which are all perfectly fine. But you cannot categorize an entire group of people based on something like their race, and immediately discredit them as ‘unworthy’ or ‘unfit’ to date you. The reality is that gay guys come in as many different shades as any other demographic. You can’t state all men are assholes, because in that case, how do you expect to have a solid mentality to find a boyfriend believing that all men are assholes? If you count someone out just because they may have some extra pounds on them, you may be denying yourself the opportunity to date a truly incredible person, someone who will unconditionally care for and support you, perhaps even better than the six-pack guys you may be prone to idolizing.

This draws back to another major facet of the gay community: The focus on appearance. Pretty faces are pretty to look at, and to touch, and to kiss. But as time wears on, beauty tends to fade. It’s the classic line, “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” Someone who is visually attractive does not automatically make them an ideal partner. If their personality is horrible, the likelihood of you staying with them for long is tremendously small. Don’t get me wrong, we all fall victim to the visual factor, there’s no denying that whatsoever. But beauty is so much more than skin-deep. Who someone is as a person can, and often does, make them as equally beautiful than the most attractive people in the world. It is important to take care of yourself internally and externally, but looks are not everything, and they shouldn’t be. Ever. There’s so much more to a person than that, and I say this not from a point of reflection on the views of my own personal self-image, but of how I have observed others, both online and offline.

Every single second, of every single minute, of every single hour, within every single day, we have the opportunity to use our voice for something positive. There are many people out there who enjoy being shady, and tearing other people down. I know there’s a number of people with questionable opinions and beliefs and attitudes, a few I know directly from experience. There’s many aspects of the LGBT community that are a long way from being perfect. But rather than spending energy stating over and over again the parts we hate, more energy can be put into promoting a more inclusive environment. A vast number of workplaces, organizations, and businesses have begun this practice. There’s no reason why we can’t do this towards members off ur own community.

It truly is okay to be who you are. There’s always room for self-improvement. You may want to lose a couple pounds. Maybe you’re looking to shake up your wardrobe a bit. Perhaps it’s time to dump some old friends and make some new ones. All of those are up in the air, and up to you, as long as you remain confident and comfortable in your skin, because you should. Your happiness is your most important quality, though it never hurts to extend your talents to making those around you equally happy as well.

For the thousands, if not, millions of people who are still closeted, they need to know, more than anything in the world, it is okay to be gay. It is not, and should never be, something to be ashamed of. Do not deprive yourself of the opportunity to do what makes you happy. There are a vast number of people who are closeted who live in secluded or restrictive communities, and therefore makes it a challenge for them to come out. Where you are at now is not where you will be at forever.

It may be corny, but your greatest, most powerful weapon to combat bigotry, hatred, and discrimination is love. There are people, words, and actions that are undecipherable and indescribable, and you can choose to combat these motives on equal footing, usually when they involve verbal assault, violence, and so forth. Or you can choose to fight against their oppression with compassion, as difficult as that may be at times to do. Fighting fire with the same exact chemical is not going to douse the flame any easier or faster.

We still have a long way to go as a community. I still have a long way to go on my own personal quest towards happiness. But the power of such tools as social media can be put to much bigger use. Think of the number of followers you have. Think of the people you can reach, not only through Twitter, but through other forms as well. We cannot expect other people to love us unless we love each other first.

If you feel trapped, think of where you’re going, not where you’ve come from.

The journey to coming out will be hard. You will likely lose friends along the way, but it will make room for much greater people to take their place.

Do not stop fighting for the life you want to live.

Love is so much stronger than hatred and fear.

Love is love. And love will always win.

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