Found out that today is #worldmentalhealthday. This is such an important day for raising awareness for all mental health issues, and for teaching the importance of speaking out for the sake of healing these issues; I want to likewise open up about the issues I continue to struggle with.
This will likely come as a bit of a shock to everybody who personally knows me, but I have terribly deep-set trust issues and maybe even some form of social anxiety about opening up to the wrong person about me being gay. This all stems from my time at college, where I encountered subtle and overt personal homophobia in various forms. Gay slurs, silent malice, a horrible remark from a passing female student that “all gay men have AIDS”, and at one point, a group of students on my dorm floor blatantly treating me worse after they somehow learned about my sexuality; all of these things and more led to me becoming bitterly mistrustful of people I didn’t know well. I was afraid that everybody who wasn’t explicitly my friend was a potential homophobic enemy.
I have a lot of unresolved anger and bitterness from those unfortunate encounters that I’ve allowed to become a screen through which I view new people coming into my life. In my desire to avoid feeling as awful as I did back then, especially after people I thought were my friends decided to treat me as a joke when they found out I was gay, I took on a “guilty until proven innocent” way of looking at people.
Unless somebody was a family member or friend who I already knew enough, and who I knew fully valued me without letting my status as a gay man diminish me in their eyes, I wouldn’t be willing to let myself trust them or open up them too much. I never want to experience the shame, depression, and anger that I felt back at college when people who I thought were decent human beings went out of their way to dehumanize and mistreat me, all because of my sexuality. My refusal to let that happen again has led to me having a very jaded look on people as a whole that has likely prevented me from forming deeper relationships with some people I’ve met.
But getting over these issues isn’t easy for me. And to be blunt, the political situation here in America in the last few years have made my desires to get rid of these issues very difficult. Take for example the aftermath of the Pulse Club shooting massacre in 2016. There were several people in this country, even some clergy from various denominations, who openly wished that more victims had been claimed by the gunman, and one man even wished that people like me would be rounded up by the government at once, and gunned down in a federal execution. Ever since Trump rose to power in this country, it seems that people feel more at ease being blatantly cruel with their words and actions towards minorities of all kinds. Some days, it’s a massive struggle for me to not feel misanthropic towards my fellow Americans for their horrid views on different people.
I nearly ruined a close friendship I had with a guy at college when I thought he was exhibiting harbinger signs of homophobia. He wasn’t, but because his apparent demeanor heavily resembled that of the male homophobes I had already dealt with, I opted to shut him out of my life to avoid dealing with that anguish once more. My friend was incredibly saddened by my temporary fear of him; when he ran into me in our dorm’s bathroom, I openly panicked at the sight of him, and to him, it looked like I was terrified that he would hit me. I still remember how crestfallen he looked in that instant, when he realized fully that I was afraid of him.
While I later apologized and reconciled with him, I’m terrified that if I don’t conquer this apparent social anxiety of mine, I’ll make the same mistake in other relationships. I’m tired of being on guard on the time, of constantly worrying that somebody in my life is secretly homophobic and out to shame me. It’s done nothing turn me pointlessly bitter and wary, and I want it to end.
Accepting that I’ll always encounter nasty individuals no matter what isn’t easy for me to do, but it’s a vital first step in letting go of my anxiety and trust issues. I deserve better than this, and looking back on all the times this anxiety manifested itself and threatened to harm my relationships, it’s clear that this paranoia I have is not my friend.
Working to get rid of this barrier might not be easy, but if I don’t do it, it will only prevent me from bonding with good people down the road.