There is no doubt in my mind that being gay has shaped much of my life, but not in the way people might think. When I was young and growing up in Portsmouth, RI, I was really detached from the idea of being gay. I knew gay people. I'd seen gay people on TV. I just never connected to what it really meant. "Gay" felt like some distant idea I couldn't wrap my head around. Just like physics.
I grew up Catholic and knew a man was supposed to marry a woman, but I never connected with that concept either. Sure, I'd say, "When I get married one day . . . " but that was just referring to the big party I would have and not the actual union between a husband and wife. In the depths of my soul, I think I knew I was gay in middle school. I just didn't have the life experiences or even the words to identify that in myself. I also believe that because of being Catholic, because it was not the norm in my hometown, and because it was still such a taboo subject in the '90s, I was scared of admitting it. Had anyone ever said anything hateful to me about gay people or even called me out as being gay? No. But the general mystery of being gay made me scared enough to avoid it. I was a kid who craved positive attention and wanted no part of ruffling anyone's feathers. I'd say I almost felt asexual in my teen years and early 20s. I had "girlfriends," but the most we ever did was kiss. And I'd think of all kinds of excuses to avoid spending any real quality time with them.
The trick was to keep "busy." "Busy" was my happy place. "Busy" was the perfect way to never slow down and actually have to think about what was going on in my head and in my heart. And the funny part was that by staying "busy," I thought I could keep everyone else around me from thinking I was gay. Get elected class president every year of high school. No one will think you're gay. Raise enough money to give your class a free prom. No one will think you're gay. Be voted homecoming king. No one will think you're gay. Star in the school musicals. No one will think you're gay. (Well, I may have not thought that one through all the way. Oops.) You get the point. And it continued in college. I was an RA, had multiple internships and jobs, and joined every council there was. Do more and think less. That was my motto. But it couldn't last. Thank God I realized that. Eventually, I slowed down enough to allow myself time with my thoughts. Time to realize I was holding back in one area when in every other area of my life I was so free and open.
Now you may be thinking, "Oh, you poor kid. Filling your life with nonsense to hide the fact that you're gay." I get that. Those are very precious years for a teenager to learn and experiment with relationships and love. Sure, sometimes I look back and think, "Man, what if I had a boyfriend in high school or college? What would that have done for me? How would that have changed me? Would I have the perfect person by my side right now?" All questions I'll never know the answer to because I went down a different path. A path that many teenagers don't have to think about today because the world has become more accepting of LGBT life. I don't say that lightly, because I am fully aware there is a lot more work to do to stop intolerance. Yet, thankfully there has been a notable shift toward equality in our community.
All that said, for the most part I am thankful it took me that long to realize my truth. I'm thankful I was able to do and achieve so much in school. Those were the building blocks to achieving my dream job as host of POPSUGAR Now. All that trying to keep "busy" pushed me to work and try harder than I would have if I was distracted and racing around trying to find the perfect white teddy bear for my high school boyfriend for Valentine's Day. I enjoyed all that I was able to accomplish. I'm proud of all that I accomplished. If I had come out earlier, I may not have done half of what I've done with my life up until this point.
I'm a "glass is half full" kind of guy. There's no point in saying woulda, shoulda, coulda. I bet a lot of people came out and still did more than I ever did in high school or college. Do I encourage young men to come out of the closet and embrace their gayness if that is who they truly are? You better believe it. Do it as soon as you know, and move on. I just wasn't at that point. I came out in a different way, and it affected so much of my life. I choose to think it did so in a positive way. Growing up gay motivated me to try to get more out of life, and I am so thankful for that. Nowadays, I'm less "busy" and more likely to be on Tinder than at some council meeting.