Unforgettable

January 5: A time you don’t want to forget

I seriously thought about writing about one of the pilgrimages from the last couple of years, but I feel like I’ll be beating that topic to death 5 days into the new year. So we’ll talk about college.

Just as with many others, my time working on my undergrad degree coincided with my formative years as an adult; I was finally learning how to live by myself and how to start functioning as a “grown up” even though I saw myself as far from it. Most of the people that I knew before or at the beginning of college will probably say that if you put me back then and me now next to each other – although while not completely polar opposite – there would be a start contrast between the two.

I look at my time in undergrad at UT in two phases: my UCC phase and my nursing school phase. While there was some overlap, I largely kept the two separate. Not necessarily intentionally, but mostly because by the time I was really established in nursing school, most of my closest UCC friends had graduated and moved on.

My UCC phase started more or less within the week of me arriving at UT. One of my closest friends from our youth group in Baytown had been insisting that I come and join every organization under the sun. In addition, my roommate situation was not working out for me which drove me to spend the majority of my time at the UCC. I grew into my faith, taking a more active role in it through many of the organizations there. St. Ignatius proved to be a worthy Confirmation saint as the patron saint of retreats since I was either going on or staffing multiple retreats every semester. I met and became close to people that I consider my family even long after we’ve all gone our own ways.

And it was these people that taught me many valuable lessons about my own self. They taught me that I was worth more than how useful I was to people; that it was okay to say no; that while service to others is commendable, it was just as important for me to fill my own glass so to speak. And even though I thought I knew enough life skills to get by, they showed me even more. And these were also the people that supported me when I decided to change majors and go into nursing, that comforted me when I was so anxious and stressed out about getting accepted into the program, and that celebrated with me when I did. And they’re the ones that prepared me for what came next: the nursing school phase.

Nursing school was largely me starting to take my academics more seriously because I finally found something that I was passionate about again. And I found a new support group that accepted me for who I was, which was especially important because this was the time when I came out of the closet. Because of the foundation laid in the first few years of college, I was able to accept a part of myself (with the help of one of my best friends), and finally tell others. Which became an anticlimactic process because most of them greeted me with some variation of, “Yeah we knew. Good job. You’re finally caught up with the rest of us.” With each person’s acceptance, I gained more and more strength and confidence in my own self.

Of course, not all of college was this inspirational, my life is finally coming together stuff. I had the typical college party phase too, but thankfully in the safety of people that took care of each other. But while my life was a mess at times, undergrad was the start of me learning how to organize my chaos into something that works for me, and I would not be where I am today without it.

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30DBC Day 6: Obstacles and Challenges

Today’s entry focuses on my obstacles and challenges, and a good chunk of them go with the lessons I’ve learned back in the first entry. The biggest one is dealing with my sexuality. I came out of the closet back in May of 2011 at 23 years old. Before then, it had been a constant struggle. Even back in elementary school, I remember seeing some of my classmates and thinking, some of these girls are pretty, but I found myself being way more interested in some of the boys in the class. Didn’t really know what that meant at the time, so I just kind of moved on. Junior high rolled around, and with that came PE. We were forced to do some form of physical education (and rightfully so), but that meant that there was going to be some time spent in a locker room…with other guys…changing clothes. On top of the fact that I was kind of ashamed of my own doughy build, I picked a locker conveniently in the corner of the room where I could minimize seeing and being seen by the others. But every now and again, I would catch a glimpse of something that sparked this weird sensation in me. At this point, I had a feeling, but considering that sex and relationships and everything weren’t really on my radar, it didn’t necessarily matter to me. Regardless, I got out of PE as soon as my requirement was fulfilled. Ironically enough, the coaches seemed to like me (probably because I actually did what I was supposed to…or looked like I was trying).

Sexual education also happened during my 6th grade PE class. Yes, out of my entire junior high experience, sex ed was limited to a few weeks during my first year. That’s another rant for another day. But I remember little to nothing from the class other than a couple of pictures of STD’s and some basic anatomy. So clearly it didn’t make an impact, and they didn’t discuss sexual identity because Texas. (Note: Don’t get me wrong; I love Texas. Education especially health education just happens to be a shortcoming.) So that went by, still didn’t really think about it.

I remember in high school, we had to write this paper about where we thought we’d be in ten years. I ended up writing a bunch of stuff, but at some point there was a wedding on a hilltop in Hawaii overlooking a beach. Between the fact that the wedding was to a woman, destination weddings are a pain in the ass/expensive as hell, and the fact that I’m militantly single at this point in time, I had no idea just how much of a piece of fiction I was writing at the time. But this was the time my classmates had boyfriends and girlfriends. And the ones that came out as gay were not necessarily ostracized, but definitely judged. I chalked my feelings up to not having any experience at all in this department, so maybe if I actually dated a girl, I’d end up feeling differently.

Finally in college, this is where it came to a head. There was this girl, Jennifer. We were on a retreat team together at the University Catholic Center. She was on the publicity committee for one of the events, and my skill set naturally lends to those types of committees (e.g., Photoshop, arts and crafts, photography). Anyway, we had these mutual friends, Rob and Karen. Loved them to bits and pieces, but they were all up in our business. Apparently Jennifer “liked” me at the time, and I got along with her great. I thought she was pretty and we clicked personality-wise, so after much goading by our would-be matchmakers, I finally asked her out.

Now I wasn’t absolutely convinced because I didn’t quite feel the same sensations I did when I was around some of my guy friends. But again, I was like “Well, what do I know? I’ve never done anything in this realm before, so maybe I’ll develop a taste for it – so to speak.” Plus I figured, I liked her, I trusted her, so it was a genuine go for me. Months went on, and we didn’t progress because I was real hesitant. Partially because I was starting to realize the attraction just wasn’t there and also because I wasn’t exactly sure how far was going to be too far. After 11 and a half months we called it quits.

Fast forward to the fall of 2010/spring of 2011. By this point, my best friend had come out to me as bisexual, so I was starting to feel more comfortable with the idea. I started having dreams. There was one particularly graphic dream with a guy from my high school that I was attracted to. I told my best friend about it, and that’s about when I started to really come to terms with it. It was to him that I first said the words “I’m gay.” It was the weirdest thing. There was a little bit of release, but I still felt largely ashamed.

We went on this silent retreat in May 2011 with the Jesuits up in Lake Dallas. Now, when you’re on a silent retreat, there’s not much to do but hash out your thoughts. Finally, during one of my spiritual direction sessions, I confessed to my spiritual director that I was gay. And he reacted in a way that I did not really expect. I’d built this up in my head where it was going to be a disaster, and I was going to get kicked out of the retreat site for being a heathen…basically I Chicken Little-d the whole damn thing. But his reaction was more like “Okay. How are the rest of your meditations going?” Took me off guard with that one. I had braced myself for the worst and he didn’t even make a face.

So then the next challenge came. Considering that most of my friends from home are especially conservative and another circle of friends is from the Catholic Center, I wasn’t exactly sure how well this would be received. I started with my closest friends because to paraphrase the words of my best friend’s boyfriend at the time, if they kept Saul around, then I’m good because I’m a lot less of a hot mess. So I went one by one. In person over some food or coffee or drink if I could. By phone if not. Worst case scenario was via Gchat or Facebook Messenger, but that was absolutely last resort. And each one was like, “Yeah, we know” or “I knew it!”

My other best friend did bring up a good point though: “Did you tell Jennifer yet?” Which was an item on that to-do list that I was just putting off because I wasn’t exactly sure how that conversation was going to go. Spoiler alert: It went fine. We’re still friends, I’ve visited her up in DC multiple times, went to her wedding back in April, and now she’s happily married to another friend of ours, so everyone got a happy ending.

Another one of my close friends is a more conservative Catholic (read: wears the mantilla during Mass, kneels when receiving Communion, etc.). I was a little scared to tell her. Her husband, who I’ve known since high school youth group, already knew and didn’t really care either way. But I was still a little scared to tell her. So we were all hanging out, and a comment was made that I don’t remember anymore, but it was basically a heavily-veiled, but still pointed comment at my homosexuality. Me and him shared a laugh, and she thought we were making fun of her for some reason. I drove home, and apparently it turned into a bigger discussion after I left. So then my buddy calls me as I’m driving and has me tell his girlfriend, now wife, what we were laughing about. So I came out to her. And she got about one sentence out and my phone died. I was about five minutes from my apartment, so I was like “no big deal, I’ll charge my phone and call her back.” I turn my phone back on about ten minutes after we got disconnected once it got a chance to charge a little, and I had like three voicemails, and a shit ton of texts from her all basically saying “I don’t know what I said to offend you, but I’m sorry and I love you.” I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in my damn life. I called her back immediately and told her what happened and apologized for stressing her out for the last ten minutes.

But anyway, beside the point. It went like that. One by one, everyone showed nothing but love, maybe expressed a little bit of concern that I might change or something. But by this point, I was like I’m 23 years into my habits, and I don’t like change. I think we’re good. Plus, I gave them the preauthorization to slap the hell out of me if I ever started acting out.

Now my parents, that was gonna be a different story. I had a plan. I was going to graduate, get a job, get my own place, be stable. And only after all of those things were fulfilled, I would THEN come out to them in the event that they decided to disown me. Well that plan got derailed two months in when I got into this huge fight with my brother and mom. Finally, my dad got tired of us fighting especially since we had company flying in from the Philippines, so we had this dialogue. I was being all teen-angsty upstairs in my bedroom blasting my iTunes, and he brought me down and started by asking me about drinking under the pretense that we were switching insurances and he needed to know for a form. Then he told me that he knew that I don’t get along with my mother a lot, but if I ever needed to talk, he was there for me…whether it was about drinking, or school, or my sexuality. At that point, I was like hold up, what?

Apparently, they’d known since I was about in the 4th grade but decided to let me come out to them on my own terms. Long story short (too late, I know), I cried, we hugged. I apologized to my brother for being a dick for basically the majority of our childhood. And his response was “Gay or straight, as long as you’re not a douche, you’re still my brother.” Okay. I’ll take it. And then my mom apparently was the one who bridged the gap between my cousin and my aunt/uncle who disowned him after he came out. So at this point, I was like well…all of this would have been useful information to have earlier on.

But anyway, the whole point is that it all had a happy ending for me. I know it doesn’t always for everyone. But it was a struggle getting here. Thankfully my struggle was easier than others. Now, I can be open about it. I’m not flaunting it in everyone’s faces for the most part, but it feels good just to not have to hide it anymore. It’s not all hunky dory because this issue does bring up new questions, concerns, and challenges. But at least now I know that I have the support to get through that.