It’s nearly a month since the launch of ‘Love Me As I Am — gay men reflect on their lives’ and the past thirty days have been a time of reflection for me.
As I sat on the podium and soaked up all the love and support from the people who attended the launch on 23 October, I kept scanning the crowd for the faces of my family — the people I most wanted there to celebrate the evening with all of us. They were not there.
In the week that followed, I struggled to reconcile my feelings of tremendous pride and accomplishment with the fizzle and letdown of standing ‘all on my own’ at one of the most important events of my life.
I wasn’t the only one going through those emotions. As I spoke to many of the contributors, I realised they were processing similar disappointments.
Where were our families, our brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles — the people who, from a very early age, we turned to for emotional sustenance?
Some couldn’t make it or did not want to make the effort, some live in different countries and others may not even have known. At worse, some pretended to have ‘forgotten’ and others simply declined because they were not ready to step into this part of our lives and witness our journey.
Once I let go of the self-pity and rhetoric, I asked myself: Why did the absence of three or four people dilute all the joy and pleasure of this laudable milestone? After all, my Facebook wall nearly crumbled under all the well-wishes from friends and supporters, and my phone kept buzzing for days afterwards with congratulations… I had all the reasons in the world to be elated!
The answer lies in the title of the book: Love Me As I Am.
In the first chapter of the book, Darren Brady writes:
“Sadly, many parents are still so ashamed, panicked or bewildered by the nature of their child’s sexual evolution that they ignore, deny or chastise their child’s sexuality. Most parents are too ill-prepared to respond to their child’s evolving sexuality. On these shaky foundations and with such conditional love, a gay child is expected to develop a sense of self. It is hardly surprising that as gay children we feel alone at best and judged at worse.”
I relived those feelings of being isolated and judged as I stood in front of the crowd at the launch! I know it makes no sense, but the reality is that my family’s absence that evening took me back to my experience of being a confused and out of place gay child. I needed their recognition.
I had to step back, put things in perspective, and remind myself of the personal intention with which I took on this project. It’s an intention that also resonates with each of the contributors: To give gay men a voice. To enable them to share their stories and colourful history, and to testify to the world that it’s OK to be different, in the hope that gay children who are still bogged down by homophobia and prejudice can have a better future.
A week ago, I fortunately saw the very talented and openly gay singer-songwriter, Matt Alder, perform live in London. In between his sumptuous and sensitive songs, Matt shared with the audience his trials and tribulations of growing up in Missouri, in the US, where he struggled for years with organized religion’s animosity toward homosexuality. He told us about dates that went horribly wrong and how he kissed many frogs before he met the man of his dreams in a supermarket.
During one of his stories, he reflected how, at the age of 9, he got butterflies in his stomach whenever they went on a school field trip because he got to hold hands with his field trip buddy — a boy he had a crush on. He added that after years of therapy and battling to accept himself, he learned that feeling those butterflies are very important… and that when they are squashed and not allowed to spread their wings, it can cause much pain and heartache later in life.
Love me as I am, is not a question. It’s a quiet and assertive demand… A statement. One we should all make in our own special way.
I am proud to be part of a time in history where gay men across the world are stepping forward to share their stories in many diverse and beautiful ways, in the hope that our words will change the world we live in.
Love Me As I Am