Courage Is Telling The World You're Gay
I grew up in San Francisco, one of the most liberal cities in the world. Even though the city welcomes gay people with open arms, I thought something was wrong with me when I realized my attraction to men. Instead of telling people about my identity, I withheld my secret. I feared discrimination and rejection.
When I turned 18, I looked at an attractive senior dance major in the middle of ballet class during my freshman year of college. In that moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks and my stomach started to hurt.
I knew it was time for me to face my fear if I wanted to live a quality life and be true to myself.
I immediately went back to my dorm room to call my dad, but I couldn’t get the words out.
I called a therapist and after two sessions, I uttered the words,
The therapist congratulated me, but I didn’t feel relieved or proud. I still felt like something was wrong with me.
A few days later, I told my dad and a select number of close family members and friends. My dad was extremely compassionate and accepting, and so was everyone else. I’m very lucky because this reaction isn’t the same for everyone.
Instead of celebrating, I continued to experience an increasing amount of anxiety.
At the peak of my anxiety, I called 911 and checked myself into a hospital. I lost four days worth of sleep, I was also dehydrated and had delusional thoughts.
It was my first manic episode.
My parents flew to my rescue and took me to see a psychiatrist who prescribed medication for bipolar disorder.
Over the course of three weeks, I gained 35 pounds and slept for more than 12 hours each day on my dad’s couch.
I hit rock bottom.
It wasn’t until I saw a new therapist that everything changed. This therapist asked me,
“Max, what’s wrong with being gay?”
On one hand, I thought being gay meant rejection and discrimination for the rest of my life (my biggest fear). On that same hand, I realized I wasn’t accepting myself.
In that moment, it became apparent that I needed to accept my identity. Being gay is who I am and there wasn’t anything I could do to change, no matter how much I wished and prayed.
I decided to study psychology because it was interesting to learn about my challenges like anxiety, depression and bipolar.
However, my whole entire perspective changed before I graduated college. I took a course called Motivation and Emotion.
In this class, I learned about a field in psychology that’s rarely discussed in clinical settings. This field is called positive psychology.
Instead of trying to treat what’s wrong with people, positive psychology focuses on what’s already good in people. Positive psychology studies what makes people flourish and thrive.
Using the tools I learned in psychology, I started to realize
I’m a good person for being gay…and not just good, but I’m great.
In conquering our fears, we need to realize that we’re already good enough before we conquer our fears. We are worthy, lovable, and great. Sometimes it takes the process of moving through fear to gain perspective on a whole new level.
I don’t believe there’s such a mindset as being fearless. If we were fearless, we would be psychopaths.
I still fear rejection and discrimination. The only difference between where I am now versus where I was, is that I don’t let these fears hold me back from living a quality life, being comfortable in my own skin, and staying true to my identity.
I’m no longer afraid to tell people who I am. Not only am I a proud gay man, but I’m a good gay man. I still get insecure, but I’m no longer scared of hating myself.
My fear of rejection and discrimination never came true, but I feel sad when I hear stories from other LGBTQ folks who experience these challenges. Gay men get rejected by others every day, including their families.
Through studying positive psychology and mindfulness, I’ve realized that people need to trust they are good people too. No matter what’s going on, we need to understand that every feeling we encounter throughout the day is valid. Sadness, joy, loneliness, happiness, irritability, anger. These are all valid feelings and emotions that are part of the human experience.
How we accept and communicate these feelings is part of a process I teach called nonviolent communication. It’s a way of speaking with peace so that people can be more kind, compassionate, and understanding.
Telling the truth can feel like climbing a big mountain. That’s why I’m committed to sharing the principles of mindfulness and positive psychology with organizations and people all over the world.
Moving through fears doesn’t have to be an act that people perform in isolation. It’s actually better when you bring together an entire community to help solve challenges.
When I went to boarding school, my headmaster always said
“Remember who you are and what you stand for.”
This sentiment couldn’t be more important in our day and age.
We need more people to be truthful and honest about what’s going on in their lives. This will help us solve and move through challenges we never thought were possible.
Be brave enough to share yourself and don’t ever let your fears get in the way of moving toward the feelings you want to feel.