I had just lost my virginity. It was a horrible experience because I didn’t know anything or talk to anyone about sex before I had it. For some reason, however, having it is what I thought I needed to confirm my identity. When I left the stranger’s house, who I had met on Craigslist, I promised to never have sex again. I was ashamed, confused, deeply troubled, and still not sure who I was.

October 2006. Carving pumpkins / watermelons. I’m 21 years old and not out.

October 2006. Carving pumpkins / watermelons. I’m 21 years old and not out.

This was before I was out. It was before I even said it out loud to myself. I wouldn’t allow the words to cross my lips, much less linger too long in my thoughts. I was 18 years old. I drove away from the stranger’s house after almost ruining sex for myself forever, and I went to a giant field in rural Hueytown, Alabama that was owned by the church I attended at the time. There, I threw rocks at God, and I yelled and cried and begged him to change me. After what seemed like hours, I did something I had never done before. I claimed a label that explained my sexual orientation.

It was the most liberating thing I had ever done. I remember sitting in that field surrounded by trees. I was emotionally depleted from years of hiding, culminating in traumatic, life-changing experience – the loss of my virginity. Then, as if all the guards that held my truth deep within me released their holds, I burst into laughter. It just happened. I think something snapped – in a good way. My truth was unleashing itself in my heart, mind, and body. I finally said it.

“I’m gay.”

But it didn’t last. It took me another 5 years to tell anyone else. I needed time to get to know my truth. Meanwhile, I built back those walls that hid me from the world. I did my best to blend in with different socially acceptable communities, like my church, but it didn’t work. I knew who I was, but I was not able to tell anyone.

Fast forward to 2007. I knew I was LGBTQ+ and I knew that I had to quit religion. That’s when I finally started telling people – like my college professor, Cliff Simon, my brother Jonathan and cousin Paige, and my dear friend Emilie. I told them that I was gay. It’s the label I chose for myself, and if felt right like no word I’d ever heard. It was mine, and I wore it proudly. I moved to NYC, and I started meeting all kinds of people.

For a while, my label was what had been missing. I was able to tell myself and others who I was. And that was fulfilling. Then, that familiar feeling of “This isn’t who you are, is it?” started creeping in.

For the last three years, I have been recording and sharing stories told by LGBTQIA+ people all over the United States. With VideoOut, I’ve recorded hundreds of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, gender nonconforming, nonbinary, intersex, asexual, pansexual, gender variant, two-spirit, aromantic, fluid, and many other people. I have learned so much about people – and about myself.

One thing I’ve learned is that I do not feel like a gay man anymore. What once liberated me from the deeply conservative and devoutly religious confines of my circumstances now feels just as confining. It’s not a true explanation of how I feel inside. My sexuality is queer – it’s different than a same-sex attraction between two men, though sometimes that feels true. At the same time, I recognize that I’m attracted to all kinds of people that aren’t gay. And it’s hard to talk about my sexuality without talking about my gender. They are intrinsically linked. I am not a man, though there are parts of me that resonate with that identity. I’m also not a woman, even though I feel partly woman too. I also feel like I am partly what others have told me about — genders I’ve never heard of and that are too often erased inside our cishet, binary system. Now, I see that I am somewhere outside those genders, in a space that I don’t know how to identify. But, it’s a space that feels like home, and that’s all that matters to me.

This new understanding – and exploration – of my sexuality and gender is rejuvenating. It’s comfortable in a way that “gay man” is not. I am a queer nonbinary human.

September 2019. Photo by Bronson Farr /  instagram.com/bronson.photo/

September 2019. Photo by Bronson Farr / instagram.com/bronson.photo/

I’m excited to navigate the world as queer and nonbinary. Personally, it has opened my eyes to humanity in a way that I was missing before. But, I should say two things about my experience.

You do not have to be anything other than what you are. If you are gay, be gay. If you’re a man, be a man. Just because you are queer doesn’t mean you have a higher vibration. Just because you are nonbinary doesn’t mean that you’re enlightened in a way that others aren’t. When you love yourself for who you are, that’s when you are on the right path. But it’s hard.

I recognize the privilege I have to be who I am with a relatively low amount of fear. I can walk the streets at night not wondering if I’ll make it home. I can wear fluid fashion and not worry about getting accosted on the streets. That’s not a reality for so many, and if it is yours, join me in fighting to make it a reality for everyone.

That’s what we do in this community. The best part about being LGBTQIA+ is that you can be yourself. The second best thing is that you are in good company. There’s a whole lot of us, and we are champions of empathy. We feel your struggle and we celebrate your triumph. We are here for you in a beautiful, world-changing way.

As I’ve listened to the stories of so many over the years, I have seen again and again that the stories people share are affirmations of my own feelings. They are beacons of solidarity, encouragement, and hope. And they are love letters to everyone in the LGTBTQ+ fold — we are all one.

Here’s to a future where you can be you. The complex, beautiful, evolving you that changes the more you get to know yourself. Take it from this queer nonbinary person, it’s not always easy, but it is always always always worth it. And know that I’m here for you on the journey. And I love you.

Feel free to reach out to me if you need to chat about anything.