The following was originally published in March on the Merced Full Spectrum Blog. That blog has now merged with the GCV blog but we wanted to share Colt's story to those of you who might have missed it.
When I first started understanding the things I was feeling for what they were, I remember feeling a sense of wonder and excitement, the social implications not yet entering my mind. The first time it occurred to me that I wasn’t going to be able to share these thoughts with anyone, I was walking to school with a childhood friend. Out of the blue I felt punched in the gut by a word that we had been throwing around casually since the time we learned to insult each other endearingly. Faggot. Suddenly, there was an image behind the slur and its face was my own. The word would again become a pressure point for me in later years as I learned to stop lying to myself and began facing my truth, but at that age I learned not to feel anything when I heard it and even began using it again after a spell. From then on the difference in my friend’s masculinity and my lack thereof began to get painfully more apparent. I started to study the way that ‘I should be', right down to the inflections they put on their words and the way they laughed, my aim to be the most passable straight-actor to ever walk the earth.
My freshman year, I met my first boyfriend and life seemed like it might be taking a turn for the better. Billy was everything a closeted self-hating gay teenager would look for in a guy. He grew up around the racetrack, had a toned and desert tanned body, and he was the straightest looking guy in town (possibly a slight exaggeration, but it is how I choose to remember it). We were introduced when I came out to a girl I had been dating and I fell for him like a sparrow in a hail storm. Things got bright and I was content for a while. With Billy's encouragement I worked up the nerve to tell my parents. Looking back on the scene, I think that underneath my racked nerves and roiling stomach was a sense of excitement. This would be the beginning of my new life, no more lies, no more hiding. The whole event turned out to be an utter fiasco; my mom choking out something unintelligible about grandkids around heaving sobs and my stepfather laughing hysterically. Over the next week I would cave under a barrage of public humiliation and motherly guilt, diving back into the safety of my house of lies. My mother was all too happy to accept that it was just a phase, even forbidding my stepfather to joke about it in front of her. With no thought for how he felt I broke things off with Billy saying that 'I just cant be that way.”
Lying to yourself is a dangerous game, and when you have to hate yourself to get through your day, there are bound to be consequences. My mental state began to enter a cycle of ups and downs that could last as long as an hour or a week. One moment I accepted who I was and was ready to try telling the world, the next day I hated myself and I just knew that if I only tried harder, I could make ‘Those Thoughts’ go away. I avoided the two gay boys in my high school like the plague; god forbid someone should think that I am like those queens, or worse yet; that they should show me it’s ok if I were. I began drinking with older kids and would keep two bottles of peppermint schnapps in my sock drawer to get through my insomniac nights, a habit which soon led to other forms of self medication and sneaking out more nights a week then I stayed in. Another byproduct of my pathetic attempts at ‘straight life’ was a string of ex-girlfriends duped by a smooth talking closet-queer. Within a matter of months, sometimes weeks, I would break it off for some petty reason that more often than not left some poor girl in tears, so consumed with my own rollercoaster that I couldn’t even care about the hurt inflicted. With no family to turn to I tried to find a family in my friends, something I now know was impossible to do when they only knew the lies I told. These friendships were more often than not one sided, with me playing the role of a doormat.
Coming from a volatile home life, I loved school,thriving in the classes I was captivated by and ditching the ones I didn’t care. With school for a haven it came as a blow when I was thrown out my junior year for fighting, a practice I had begun using as an outlet for pent up anger. Upon my expulsion I did a brief stint enrolled in a mail order home school program before dropping out completely to begin an apprenticeship under a horse trainer as well as work at a local riding stable. I would love to say my reasons were career oriented; however, it was more a matter of getting out of the house and away from my stepfather. Shortly before my eighteenth birthday I moved to Colorado to follow seasonal ranch work to Colorado Springs, this was but the first of several moves I made in search of a fresh start. I would take a job and stay for the season only to up and leave in search of something I couldn’t put my finger on. During this time I am not sure if I actually forgot about my inner strife or if I had just learned to ignore it so well; perhaps it was loving the work I did or just being surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.
Over the next couple years as I entered my twenties, the mental cycle became less one sided, the periods of acceptance became longer and longer, and the hatred shorter and less intense. Somewhere between Arkansas and returning to Arizona something changed in me and I was able to accept the fact that I am gay, even when my thoughts occasionally screamed in protest. I took a job roofing with the intentions of enrolling in college and pursuing the writing career I had always wanted, but a year of mental relapse and bad decisions saw me on my knees and more lost than ever with nowhere to turn. It was then that Stefani Bender, a high school art teacher whom I had remained friends with, bailed me out of jail one day, brought me into her family, and forever took her place as my personal savior. She invested her time in getting my life on track for no gain at all other than to see me succeed. I was thrust into a world of family events where people were expected to support and nurture each other, a world so foreign at times all I could do was freeze up and stand in the corner observing. Stefani spent a month prying at my gates, telling me she just felt like I was holding something back all the time, before I came out of the closet to her in a waterfall of tears and emotion. With an adopted families support I began living as an openly gay man, a feat I had all but given up on.
We all have different paths to becoming who we are meant to be, some of us fall into it with no difficulty at all while others have to struggle under pressures created by themselves and the people around them. I would say now that 90% of the problems I had were generated within my own mind, caused by petty fears and an urge to please everyone. I used to think that if I could go back I would tell myself to make different decisions or to not run with the friends I did, but at present I think I would just give myself a hug and say its going to be ok. It seems to me, with all of the wisdom accrued in my 23 years, if you give it your all and try to be a good person along the way; that life has a way of putting you exactly where you need to be when you’re ready.
I came to Merced to meet my father for the first time three weeks before what was supposed to be the start of my first college semester and on a whim I accepted his offer to move here while in school and attempt to build a relationship. This town has welcomed me with open arms and showered me with opportunity. Being a gay man in the central valley in contrast to the world I know has been an experience of great joy and personal growth. From the clubs in Modesto to the poets circle at Coffee Bandits, there isn’t a person I’ve met yet who won’t offer support to someone struggling with inner demons. One of the most surprising sources of support I have found comes from the straight community. Coming from a town with a demographic dominated by skinheads and conservative christians, it is always exhilarating to see a community that doesn’t judge based on things like sexuality and skin color. My advice to anyone struggling with their own sexuality and the social pressures that follow would be to just hang in there. The thoughts you try to ignore are the ones you need to focus on, let them sit in your mind and just feel the emotions attached. As cliché as it sounds, the ones who won't accept you are the ones you don't need, and stop trying to please everyone or you are bound to cheat yourself. Life’s hard enough. Get out of your head and relax, you’re too beautiful to feel so ugly and should you ever need a friend creep on over to Coffee Bandits. Look for a goofy desert rat surrounded by the family he’s made and be yourself.