Ever since I was little I always had a different understanding for the way I saw life. I grew up in a home that was surrounded by love and generosity. This story of mine that I am about to share is a story of understanding, acceptance, and unconditional love for myself but for others as well. There will be some bumps that I discuss and continue to face, but many lessons will be mentioned along the way.
I start this story from my very first memory I have with my parents. Growing up I was given the ability to do anything I wanted. I’ll never forget the experience of putting on my mother’s shoes, wearing one of my father’s long t-shirts, and singing along to Shania Twain “Man, I feel like a woman” while my mother recorded it all. I felt like a star. I felt like me. There were times, of course where things didn’t always seem bright and cheery. My mother and father did set some boundaries and asking for certain things like “Spice Girl shoes” didn’t go over so well. However, growing up I learned that my parents were growing and accepting their parenting styles as well.
When I started grade school and entered the school yard with other students is when I really began to understand the meaning of “difference.” I always wanted to play The Power Puff girls with my girlfriends and to talk about life with rose-colored glasses. I never wanted to play rough or get dirty because I always cared about the way that I look to when in public. What I found to be astounding was at that age, I didn’t care what people thought of me because I accepted it as me. I knew who I was and I was given the chance to express it and that was lesson one of my life. Live Unconditionally.
When observing differences I started to understand not just who I was, but who others were as well. Growing up in the city of St. Louis offered me perspective from so many other cultures. I attended St. Louis Public school, was accepted into a magnet program, was studying French at the age of 9 and encountered guest speakers from all walks of life. I’ll never be able to forget hearing people’s stories and experiences from countries I never imagined at such a young age. A few of those countries being Senegal, Russia, Egypt, and China. I was open to a world of complete possibility, while at the same time being accepting of who I was.
When I got to high school, it was when I truly started to understand what I was facing and it was a battle. When I was 14, I started to realize that the way I saw my guy friends was in a much different light. Now, I remember having crushes on boys and girls a like growing up, but I just thought that was a normal thought to have. It was something I never acted on because at that young of an age, you just want to have fun with your friends and get people to like you. When I entered high school I realized, I was gay, and having to admit that to my family and friends was the hard part. Now, looking back you would think, “Why, would they care? They let you dress up, put on make-up, and dance to Shania Twain.” My parents and family – in fact, told me that I was gay and that there was nothing wrong with it. However, this is a lesson of privilege, I will never forget. As a gay male, I had to have a “coming out” story because I had to struggle with my identity. An individual who identifies as heterosexual never has to have that experience and that is something that bothered me for a while. This ideology then started to sink into the real world where I started to understand my own privileges and how I was going to use them for the better.
When I was age 15, I started volunteering at an agency called KUTO (Kids. Under. Twenty. One) located in St.Louis, MO, which helps teens in crisis that focused on suicide prevention. This agency impacted me so much at an early age that I was able to declare my passion for helping others and start my education plans toward a path of studying social work. When I looked for schools, I started with the schools within my state, UMSL, UMKC, Mizzou, and Missouri State University. Hearing about the public affairs Mission from family that are now alumni, I knew it was the place for me. I started taking courses and declared a major in sociology and a minor in child and family development. Through my course work and being around different perspectives I felt an urge to embrace my own difference. This path of continued discovery allowed myself to be vulnerable with others around me. This path may have looked silly to some but it was an act that allowed me to catch people smiling and enjoying difference. What this act was all started from a desire to just embrace who I was as an individual. I began to simply dance where I went either to class, to downtown, or going over to a friends that was close by. Dancing began to open up my eyes to not only what made me happy but I could tell it allowed others to do the same – to be vulnerable.
To this day, I will always look back on my experience and appreciate the acts of vulnerability – especially since I am going into the field of social work. Now, 2016 – had not been the best year for me. After going through what felt like a “mid-life” crisis: a horrible break-up and the loss of many friendships (who turns out were not my friends) life was rough. Then on top of that, I was hit with a diagnosis of anxiety and depression. My life was in a state of chaos and confusion, and I caused it all. But through all the darkness came light. I met another individual who challenges me every day to be a better individual – I discovered “my person.” To add more light to darkness I will have my Masters in Social Work this May where I will be working at an amazing agency called Foster Adopt Connect – which is the only agency in Springfield, MO that is certified by the Human Rights Campaign that helps promote inclusivity for all. I will be able to advocate for the most vulnerable, administering my acts of vulnerability, self-acceptance, and love. Most importantly, I will be able to go out into the world knowing the kind of person that I am so I can let others experience and understand the same. 2016 was rough, but I found my light at the end of the tunnel. 2017 may be a year of scary untold stories but all we can do is take it day by day and try and make each moment an act of love and understanding.