It was a balmy, but overcast late-summer day in San Francisco as I walked with my family down 18th street toward Castro. My mother and I were to meet my brother and his girlfriend whose family owns restaurants there. We passed a pair of leather guys, dressed to their scruffy beards in cowhide, a sight that during any other occasion sans family would have been comfortably amusing,. They were a sign of home, an irony, considering the present company, which was not lost on me. “Ah, the Castro,” I thought, reveling briefly in its familiarity and gayness. But it was too late and my deeper subconscious struggling to survive took over. With my mother in tow, I blurted, “Ha! Look at those guys!”, as if they were a spectacle deserving derision. Immediately, I hated myself for pretending to hate them…pretending to hate me. In reality, I did. It meant I had put on a show; an act where I was secretly the center of ridicule. That single moment was a catalyst that prompted my final transformation, or rather acceptance. In a moment of blind embarrassment, the self-defense mechanism that I had honed for years became the double-edged sword that cut deeper than any external negativity. I was in the process of coming out to my closest inner circles and my parents were the last bastion. I came out to them less than 3 months later at the age of 25. My mother and I occasionally have discussions about Chris Hemsworth and Joe Manganiello and while my father and I have never had an open discussion on the topic, I’ve never felt freer.
Some will become angry at me for using this term, but I’ve been along the masculine side of the spectrum my entire life. I was born that way. While I adore the snarky quips and bravery of drag queens (who I also secretly openly admire), the occasional bout of what the hetero-normative world would call a feminine flare were always easily concealed. These moments manifested themselves in a dance, song or joke, part malicious mockery, part jovial goofiness, but never enough for people to come to conclusions about my sexuality.
And so I floated for years… in a limbo of confused denial. I was so afraid of being the focus of an attack, that I attacked who I was before I could accidentally admit it. After all, how could I turn into something I hated so much? It wasn’t until that moment in the Castro that I realized how much it hurt. How much I reinforced such an ugly behavior. How much that behavior affected those who were also in my shoes. How much I hated myself for hating myself. This mindset was a negative feedback loop of the worst kind. Looking back, it still upsets me. For a while it would make me cry. What was I thinking? But I’ve begun to move past it.
Sometimes, the Castro is one of the few places that feels like home. Yes, it’s trashy, yes it’s shallow, yes it’s all those things we all complain about, but for once, the self-defense mechanism that had become second-nature, dissipates and I can be me. It took time though. I’ve allowed myself to explore and enjoy the deep, sometimes shallow, sometimes dark, but truly wonderful world of gay culture. I doubt that there are many folks who were like me who will read this, but should they happen to, I hope it inspires a moment of bravery or perhaps a moment of peace.