“Yo, bro, are you even straight?” I was walking up the stairs at a high school party, thinking about how much fun I was having and how much I had to pee when — bam — there it was. Someone had smacked me in the face with my sexuality. And it wasn’t the first time.
I don’t categorize myself using specific labels these days, but what I know for sure is that I am not straight and that I like boys — a lot. At one point in my life, though, “straight guy” was an identity under which I would have put myself.
Going through eighth grade at an all-boys school, I did pretty much everything in my power to convince everyone around me that I was “one of the guys” — as if there was a checklist one has to go through before being considered a man; as if anyone else in this world was allowed to define my masculinity for me.
Every Friday night, I would watch “Hannah Montana.” Man, did I love that show. During school the following Monday, “Hannah Montana” was all I wanted to talk about. Miley and Jake’s budding relationship in the show actually made me emotionally unsure, and I knew countless other kids my age probably felt the same. Yet, I could never express that bursting emotion because talking about Hannah Montana was way too much of a “girly” thing to do.
Instead, I would throw around the word “gay” to mean stupid all the time. Instead, I volunteered to help my teacher make a giant football poster in the hallway. Instead, every night, I would attempt to memorize baseball facts that I could not have cared less about in order to participate in the conversations the guys in my class were having.
And I was miserable. Throughout eigth grade, I was plagued by my need to be a “real guy.” I was, and still am, highly sensitive to what those around me say. I cried a lot that year, and every little word or action was like a stab in the heart. This extreme sensitivity came from being anxiously, horribly insecure with who I was.
The way I was living my life and my very self-worth were defined by straight (or those whom I perceived to be straight) guys, by whether or not they laughed at my jokes, by whether or not I could call someone else “gay” quickly enough that their attention would be diverted from me and by whether or not they deemed my performance of gender “good enough.”
But by high school, I was done. I could not go on living the way I did in eighth grade, so I slowly started to accept myself. The qualities that define who I am today began to finally show. I got loud; I got proud; my life mantra became that all people should accept themselves for who they genuinely are.
Regardless of the sexuality stereotypes that existed at my all-boys school, I owned my obsession with Ke$ha and even did a geometry project about her sophomore year. I chose friends who liked me for my bubbly personality and high-pitched voice. When I realized that I was not straight my junior year, I came right out of the closet, owning the identity I already felt existed and accepting everyone’s knowledge about it.
However, through all of this, my sensitivity remained. Although the words and actions of others did not define me anymore, they still hurt. A lot.
Vehemently defensive, I would almost always overreact to everything and anything that even slightly offended or upset me. Looking back, I realize that instead of getting rid of my insecurity, I’d put it in a box and pretended that it had disappeared. I tried to pretend that I never cared at all. I wondered how I could be this champion of self-love if I was insecure — if I always secretly doubted myself.
My experiences in college have taught me to own my insecurity. It’s definitely there. I still sometimes worry about whether or not I am “guy-ish” enough. To be honest, being called “one of the guys” and doing things associated with what “boys do” still make my heart race a bit with joy. Often, I get anxiety when I’m around and talking to straight guys. Even if I know that it is not true, I still sometimes think that the guy I am talking to is judging me and that he and I are incapable of being real friends.
There will always be people out there — like the one I bumped into on the stairs at that high school party — who will be quick to judge and categorize you. Even now, spaces occupied primarily by straight guys are often not the ones I feel comfortable in at all.
The most important thing is that now, in spite of all my moments of doubt, I know that I am still a champion of self-love. I can be insecure, but I can still love myself, and, in turn, I can urge others to love themselves.
I am not defined by others or by my moments of insecurity; what defines me is that I am never going to stop fighting.
I will fight to remember that I am awesome partially because of, not in spite of, my sexuality and the way I choose to express my own version of masculinity. I will fight to remember that I am happy being obnoxious, ridiculous, optimistic and obsessed with New York City. I will fight to remember that I am loved.
I may not be that perfectly defined straight boy I wanted to be in the eighth grade, but I think I still turned out to be a pretty cool guy.
Patrick Bylis is a sophomore in the College. Life Unlabeled appears every other Friday.