As seen in ‘Q-Magazine’
My name is Michael Winn and I am gay.
Those last three words don’t look particularly special when they are written in my same old handwriting in the same old Moleskine I have been writing in for years. But those three words are the words that, at times, made my childhood unbearable. Those three words can alienate you from your community, kick you out of the army, stop you from donating blood, diminish your chance of having a child of your own, disallow you to marry the one you love, change your place in society, and even make you a different human being in the eyes of the law.
Those three words made me hate myself, made me a person I didn’t want to be in high school, and were a constant weight on my shoulders, a burden that I dealt with every single day of my life, and in some ways, a burden I still deal with.
There’s also another word that was a constant during my youth, an ‘F-word’ of a different variety that I cannot even fathom writing, a word that still makes me crumble internally. A word I despise more than any other. A word that, once heard, can not be unheard. In high school, people could sniff out that I was different, and it made me an easy target in some people’s eyes. This word was spat at me every once in a while, and those two syllables were enough to reduce me to a shaking mess and want nothing more than to go to sleep and wake up in a different body.
These words were enough for me to want to make a change, every single day of my life. To change everything about who I was as a person, a task that you can never achieve. Every once in a while I would snap. I would go through my iPod and delete any song that a teenage boy shouldn’t have, any song that could be deemed ‘gay’ was disposed of. I’d want to stop hanging out with my best friends at high school, because they were girls. And every single day of my existence i wanted to stop, and prayed to God to help me stop, being attracted to men.
When this all didn’t work, I’d spiral into my own personal darkness, a place full of hatred and loathing, and a place where my future was nothing. I just couldn’t imagine myself with a wife and kids and a picket fence, and so, in society’s eyes, I had no future. Life was a bleak road where I kept my head down and worked through it, all whilst expecting nothing from my life, just passing through the checkpoints to my destination of nothingness.
My life was full of uncertainty, but back then there was one definite, that I would never ‘come out’. The thought of being an openly gay teenager in high school was unfathomable. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than my friends and family knowing what i really was. I couldn’t bear what awful things would be said behind my back or to my face. I couldn’t stand the label. And with that mindset, I sentenced myself to years of secret unhappiness.
Only October of last year did I finally realise that I had the strength and courage to finally live the life I was born to lead, without secrets. October 17, 2011, I came out. It wasn’t exactly a spur of the moment choice, but it only took me three long days of self-reflection and thinking to realise that I was ready. I’d recently met someone who had become something of a role model to me. He had only recently come out himself, and at the age of twenty-two he was ready to take on whatever the world threw at him, and also do his best to make the world a better place for those who had been in the same situation that he had. If he could do it, what was stopping me?
I was working three straight days doing ten-hour shifts at my work, and it was then that I had the time to remove myself from the world for a moment and realise that everything in my life was great. I had left school and had pursued a university course that was everything I had ever wanted. I had only the best people around me, and I was stable and happy in almost every way. I thought about who could possibly react badly when I told them. My parents – they loved me more than I ever knew and, let’s face it, they weren’t going anywhere. The person who had called me the f-word almost six years ago – he wasn’t in my life anymore, and I no longer gave a damn what he said. And my friends – the most accepting, loving people I have ever known. There was no chance in hell that would ever change.
And so it happened.
It took me almost 20 years to come to terms with who I was, and that is even considered a young age to come out when compared to others I know. And while an Internet campaign (a great campaign full of hope and love) reassures every closeted member of society that “it gets better”, I feel I can say that I speak on behalf of every single person that has dealt with these issues, that it shouldn’t GET better, it should BE better from day one. Sexuality should be explored and accepted from the get go, it shouldn’t have to be announced when one is ready and courageous enough. No one from the straight community has to sit his or her mother and father down, hands shaking and knees weak, and tell them that they are straight.
It took 20 years, but once it was done, it was done.
I sit here now, penning these thoughts, listening to Lady Gaga – unfazed by the stigma associated with herself and her music – feeling so full of happiness and hope, a frame of mind better than I have had since I can’t even remember. The three words are out there, and I’m proud beyond belief to have that label firmly pinned to my chest.
But there is still that one word that still haunts me to this day. When I began writing this, I remembered back to high school and the first time that that one word was ever spat at me, full of disgust and hatred. Thinking back, my heart sinks and I immediately become the insecure boy I was all through high school. I realize that I can remember that exact moment in such perfectly intense clarity, and it occurs to me that I have not once thought about that moment since it happened over six years ago.
It was such a defining moment in my life, a moment of such humiliation and despair, that it was repressed and almost lost forever in my psyche, but still felt in some way every day since. Even today, after recalling this memory, I felt helpless and hurt and had to text my closest friend and tell him what was going on. As usual, he helped put perspective back on what has happened in the past, and what kind of place i am in now.
He came and visited me shortly after I told him how uncomfortable it was reliving those memories to write this piece (a piece he too has his own version of). He walked in, carrying a gift for me, the gift came with a card he had made from a torn off big of paper bag, it simply read
‘Don’t be a drag, just be a queen’.