Out of the Past

Ten years ago. I was 19.

I was at a summer math research program many states away from home. I fell in love (or what I thought was love) with another student in the program (let’s call him Guy). I didn’t know he was gay until there were only three weeks left in our program.

We had some fun together for a couple weeks. The long hugs and cuddling for a couple hours in the afternoon were the best. But Guy didn’t want a relationship. We went to school in different cities, and he was against long distance relationships (he had been cheated on in the past). I tried to convince him to try (I certainly wasn’t going to cheat on him) but it’s hard to argue logic with a math major. We reverted to being “just friends” for a while.

July 26, 2002. We both got a little drunk at a party (there was a lot of drinking that summer), and things heated up again. We ended up alone in his room. Here is an excerpt from something I wrote the next day, in an old journal I used to keep:

So I asked Guy if he liked me and he said he did. But I think when he’s sober, he likes me as a friend. When he’s drunk, he likes my body. Nowhere in there does he like me for me in a more romantic sense. I finally began to realize that as we were making out last night.

Guy wanted to take things a little further but my body and my mind were telling me not to. Like, my body refused to feel what was going on, and my mind was thinking about our relationship and how it could never work. So I wasn’t feeling sexual, and Guy was getting frustrated at me. I wanted to make Guy happy, but my body didn’t let me. He called me a 13 year old child and said that I’m not a man. He also said I’m not gay, because being gay means I want to have sex with men and all that stuff.

I thought I had buried this experience a long time ago, but the ten year anniversary of that summer somehow stirred up a lot of old feelings. I think a big reason why I still consider myself a boy and not a man stems from that night.

I started seeing a campus therapist last week. I think seeking counseling has been long overdue. It’s been good to talk through a lot of my feelings, both past and present. I hope I can finally move forward.

Busy Summer

The school term ended swiftly about a month ago. My finals were all scheduled on the first day of finals week, and I didn’t do nearly as well as I wanted on them. I don’t have perfect grades anymore, but I’ve made peace with that now.

The summer term is in full swing now. I’m still working on two research projects with my advisor, although one of them is wrapping up very soon. My advisor wants to submit my research paper (for the project that’s almost done) for publication in a prominent statistics journal. This paper will be my first publication, which is a big deal, since I’m still only a master’s student. A publication will put me at an advantage when I’m applying for the Ph.D. program in the fall (assuming I’m applying for the Ph.D. program, about which I’m still undecided).

As if I didn’t have enough on my plate, my advisor made me the TA for a course that he is co-creating with a colleague. Over this summer, I will be helping to make lecture notes and coming up with homework problems. When the course is actually taught next year, I will be the TA and hold the lab sessions. It’s a great opportunity, since this is the most hands-on experience I’ve had so far in creating a course. Not only that, but this course is an advanced topics course in statistics that’s targeted for 8-10 Ph.D. students in the environmental science department. I haven’t even learned half of the topics (yet), but I’ll be a lowly master’s student being the TA for a Ph.D. level class! Crazy! I’m sure it will be a very different experience from when I was the instructor for a freshmen level differential calculus class in math graduate school.

My term break between the spring and summer overlapped with my brother’s break between medical school and residency, so my parents and he visited me for about a week. We did a lot of the more outdoorsy and touristy things around my university that I wouldn’t do on my own. I showed my parents around the university campus and even found a huge museum that I didn’t know existed! I really don’t get out of my apartment enough.

About a week ago, I went to a Pride event with the couple who live in my building (my two main friends here). The last time I went to a Pride event was five years ago in Canada with my two math grad school besties. Of course, I wore my It Gets Better shirt. My friends and I didn’t do much besides see the tail end of the parade and visit the various booths, but it was wonderful seeing so many people celebrating and supporting gay people.

Food-Flirting

Out of the new people I’ve met in the past month and a half here, I’ve only maintained any form of a consistent friendship with one couple who live in my building. I met them a couple days before classes started, during a social event specifically for residents in my building. The girl is a graduate student in sociology, and the guy moved here with her.

One interesting thing about my university (I don’t know if it’s true elsewhere) is that they have housing for couples, even when only one person in the couple is a student. It’s a nice deal. I also found out during that social event that the vast majority of apartments in my building were for couples, which could explain the initial setup of my apartment having only one queen-sized bed.

Anyway, beyond a few Facebook messages every couple days, I only see this couple of friends about once a week. We’ve been trying to go to dinner once a week, usually on Fridays or Saturdays. I think we’ve only missed one weekend so far, probably because I was in The City. As the couple are new to the city (moving here from way out of state), we try a new restaurant every week. In past weeks, we’ve done sushi, Japanese BBQ, and Greek.

This week (this was yesterday), we went to a local restaurant fairly close to campus. I suppose the food would be classified as “American,” but in an upscale way (like lamb and duck entrées instead of burgers). Actually, every restaurant we’ve tried is upscale, some more than others. The city surrounding Prestigious University is a very rich area, so all of the restaurants are pricier than if we were somewhere else. The portions are a bit smaller too.

My sociology friend loves dessert almost more than I do (and she doesn’t restrain herself the way I usually do), so we always get dessert after dinner. This time, we went to a Cold Stone Creamery that was in the same plaza as the American restaurant. As usual, I took a long time to decide what to get, so I ordered last.

I ordered a scoop of Oreo cream ice cream and a scoop of chocolate ice cream, mixed with cookie dough and chocolate shavings, all in a chocolate-dipped waffle bowl (I had never ordered one before). The guy behind the counter was friendly and talkative (and possibly a little high), so my friends and I reciprocated (we didn’t get high). Before putting my ice cream into the waffle bowl, the guy mentioned that he would make it “a little special” and added some chocolate syrup to the bowl. When he rung me up, he didn’t charge me for both the chocolate syrup and the waffle bowl. I was appreciative, so I put a couple dollars in the tip jar.

Once my friends and I sat down to eat (and for me to take a picture of my huge dessert), my sociology friend leaned in and told me that the guy behind the counter was “totally food-flirting” with me. I was, of course, completely oblivious to it, but the free chocolate syrup and waffle bowl were strong evidence. My two friends didn’t get any discount for anything.

I never officially “came out” to my new friends, but I’ve made small comments in passing to subtly hint that I’m gay. Our exchange about the guy food-flirting with me confirmed that they got the message. I’m at an age now when my sexuality really shouldn’t be an issue anymore. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, and neither did they. It was perfect, and it was exactly what I wanted. I really feel more grown up now, and it’s wonderful. Well, I’m not completely grown up, since I clearly can’t read flirting cues.

My friends and I sat at Cold Stone until it closed. We were the last customers to leave. When we left and were walking past the front window, I noticed that the guy behind the counter was watching me (not in a creepy way). I looked at him and smiled as I walked away.

It was a great evening.

It Gets Better

Suicides from gay teenagers have been highly publicized lately. I’ve been reading and rereading news articles about them, and they truly break my heart. I kept thinking that I wish there was something I could do.

My gay hero Dan Savage (who inspired me to come out to my dad, the second time, a couple years ago) recently began a project on YouTube to let LGBT teenagers know that life gets better after high school. It’s called the It Gets Better Project. Most submissions are videos, but I thought I could maybe write something instead.

When I was younger, I always felt different from other kids. I felt a deep sense of isolation from everyone, thinking that no one understood me, even before I knew anything about sex or sexuality. I remember crying myself to sleep sometimes because I felt so alone. Though I never attempted suicide, I did often wonder whether anyone would miss me if I did.

These feelings, while not always constant, persisted from elementary school through high school. In junior high, I began to use Christianity as a way to fit in. I prayed so hard to not be gay. I prayed to be normal. I even was baptized (without my parents’ knowledge – a whole other story altogether) in an effort to be “reborn” like everyone else. It didn’t work. I was still me.

Throughout high school, I stayed deep in the closet. The first openly gay person I ever met was my tenth grade English teacher. His classroom always had the sweet aroma of coffee with soft classical music playing in the background. He was a very interesting person; I liked to talk to him during lunch. He was the faculty sponsor of the gay/lesbian/questioning club. He must’ve picked up on how lost and confused I felt (probably from how fascinated I was by him and his sweet smelling room), because he invited me to check out the club, but I never did. Looking back now, I really should have.

My English teacher was living proof that there is life after high school. He was proof that it gets better. If only I could see that then. I was so closeted at the time that I eventually joined the Christian club and even held a leadership position in it. No one would suspect a Christian, right?

I didn’t come out until I was 18 and in my first year in college. The catalyst for my coming out was one of my TAs. He helped me a lot throughout the term, so I made an appointment with him to thank him. About a minute into our meeting, he made a point to say that he was straight. He thought I was interested in him. He thought I was gay.

I had tried to stay in the closet my whole life, so someone even thinking I was gay threw me for a loop. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for a whole day after that (not a good thing during the week before finals). Finally, I talked things through with one of the girls in my dorm (who is now one of my best friends), and she got me to finally admit to her and myself that I’m gay.

Coming out to my friend was the first step in a long road to accepting myself for who I am. I slowly came out to my friends, one by one. Some took it better than others. In the end, I lost touch with most of the people who rejected me and surrounded myself with people who love me for who I am. It was still a few years before I truly accepted myself, but my true friends were always there to pick me up when I felt down.

A final anecdote. I had my first sexual experiences when I was 19. I was at a summer math research program many states away from home. The boy I fell in love with was another student in the program. I didn’t even know he was gay until there were only three weeks left in our program. We had some fun together for about a week (we didn’t go “all the way” – a long story that’s not appropriate here), but the boy didn’t want a relationship. We went to school in different cities, and he was against long distance relationships (from prior experience). I loved him so much that I didn’t understand why he wouldn’t even try. He told me that he was a mathematician first, and being gay wasn’t very high on his “priority list.” Being gay was number five or something. At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant. I just thought that he didn’t love me (which was probably true too).

My point is that your sexuality does not define you. It took me many years to figure this out. Of course, being gay is part of who you are, but it is only one of many factors that makes you uniquely you. Besides being gay, I’m also a brother, a son, a friend, a singer, an educator, a student, and a blogger, just to name a few.

While my journey has been long and often difficult, I’m so much happier now than I was when I was a teenager. It was a long process, but with the help of my friends, I’ve come to accept myself for who I am. We’re all different, we’re all normal, and we’re all beautiful.

To the LGBTQ teens out there: However down and alone you may feel, know that it gets better. You will meet people who will understand you and love you for exactly who you are, just like I did. You will have an amazing life, and you will be able to do whatever you want with it, as long as you stay strong and live through the hard times. It’s not always a smooth ride, but you will always come out on top. Being a teenager sucks. But trust me, life does get better. It gets better.

If you need more proof, go to the It Gets Better Project. If you’re contemplating doing something drastic and/or could really use someone to talk to, contact The Trevor Project. There are thousands and thousands of people who care about you. Including me. Don’t give up. We’re here for you. We understand. We’re listening.

A Signed Lease And A Street Fair

I went to The City again last weekend to fulfill my landlord proxy duties. Despite “my” cute/hot new tenant being confused and late to our meeting, the lease signing went off without a hitch. We did a quick walk through of the condo, I briefly went over the major points of the lease, he gave me the first month’s rent with the security deposit, and then we both signed the lease. It was so official. I felt like a real landlord!

Towards the end of our meeting, my cute/hot new tenant asked for my number. No, it wasn’t because he thinks I’m cute/hot. Don’t I wish! It was because my English is much easier to understand than my dad’s, since I don’t have a Chinese accent. My tenant prefers to deal with me as an intermediary between him and my dad. I was definitely flattered. I like feeling important. He put my number in his iPhone. Next to my name, he almost put “Landlord,” until I corrected him to say “Landlord’s son/brother.” It’s a little confusing to the tenant as to who is really the landlord, considering he’ll probably never interact with my brother.

My old officemate from my previous graduate school (reminder: he’s doing a postdoc at Prestigious University) and his girlfriend live in The City, so I met up with them the next day (Sunday). We went to the gay neighborhood of The City, let’s call it Gay Street, because there was a big street fair going on. It was very similar to a pride parade, except there were more booths from community organizations or businesses and less parades. It’s been a long time since I’ve been out during the day with a lot of other gay guys around, so it was a lot of fun. I got a free rainbow pride rubber bracelet!

I’ve been friends with my old officemate for about six years, but I never officially came out to him. It was his idea to go to the Gay Street fair, so he’s definitely accepting of gay people, but I think it would be strange to make a big deal out of my sexuality after all this time. I’m sure I thought a lot more about this than he did, so I still didn’t say anything. I just acted like myself while we were at the fair, as if he knew already. He probably does know and has known for a long time anyway. There has never been any awkwardness between us, so I saw no reason to change that.

Anyway. I had a great weekend, but it set my study schedule behind a bit. I’ve had a very time consuming homework this week (which I’m taking a break from to write this), so I’ve been spending every spare minute working on it. This homework is due tomorrow, so I hope I can catch up (and be ahead of the game) over the next few days.

New Roommate

I finally have a roommate! He came in a couple of hours ago. He’s a second-year graduate student in computer science. He seems like a nice, laid-back guy, at least from the brief conversation I had with him.

At first I thought he might be gay, since he moved in with help from his seemingly-effeminate friend, but after seeing how his suitcase was packed (all of his clothes were just thrown in without organizing or folding at all), it was pretty obvious that he’s a very straight guy. I also eventually found out he has a long-distance girlfriend. I haven’t told him that I’m gay yet, but I plan to as soon as the conversation gets around to it. It shouldn’t be a big deal, and I don’t want to make it one by bringing it up out of context.

Since my apartment only has one bedroom, which I took, my roommate is technically staying in the living room. He told me that he and his girlfriend take turns visiting each other on weekends, so they might get a hotel room when she’s here. It was an awkward thing to hear, but I’m glad he’s open about it!

Having had my apartment to myself for two weeks, I hope having a roommate isn’t too big of an adjustment. I guess I won’t be practicing my singing in my apartment anymore though.

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My Mormon Study Buddy

I hung out with my undergrad study buddy yesterday (although technically we’re not study buddies anymore). We were supposed to have another Merlin Marathon (it would have been our fourth), but we instead decided to watch four episodes of Glee and only one episode of Merlin. I also showed her some clips from Verbotene Liebe!

I was with my study buddy when my high school bestie (the one for whom I’m the best man) sent me a text message telling me the news that Proposition 8 was overturned. I’ve known for a long time that my study buddy is (fairly devoutly) Mormon, but we had never discussed Proposition 8 or gay marriage until after I told her about the ruling yesterday. She told me that she had voted “Yes” on Proposition 8 because of the belief system under which she was raised.

My study buddy obviously doesn’t have any problem with gay people: she’s friends with me, and her best friend from college is gay. She would never want to hinder anyone’s happiness, but she believes (I assume) in the religious definition that marriage is a religious contract between a man and a woman. She acknowledged that the Mormon church helped fund support for Proposition 8, but she doesn’t believe that that is the same as denouncing homosexuality. For her, Proposition 8 is not an issue of morality but an issue of religious tradition.

While I don’t agree with her, I understand her position. Because I know her, I don’t believe that she is blindly following her faith, but religion and religious traditions are certainly very important to her. I would never try to convince her that her beliefs are wrong; that would be hypocritical. Likewise, she doesn’t impose her beliefs on me. I can’t take her stance on gay marriage personally, since I understand that her intention is not malicious or discriminatory. All we can do is agree to disagree.

I was, of course, excited about the overturning of Proposition 8, but I knew the Proposition 8 supporters would appeal the decision immediately anyway. Still, a small victory is still a victory, even if it’s just one battle in the war.