Content warning: The following story chronicles a survivor's exploration through their coming out process of being an out gay man.
"I’m Gay—or, Something," Nevan Doyle
“So… pretty much, I don’t know. This is crazy and weird and new and all sorts of things but I guess I’m gay.”
I had never considered that I would ever utter a sentence like that. I was never against the idea, nor did I have any fears of rejection. It was simply a matter that, to my knowledge, I was straight from birth. Being gay wasn’t an option for me. It wasn’t like I grew up in a heavily devout Mormon family. I grew up in a family that embraced and accepted all folk. My parents are both hippy AF. Yet, the fact that I could ever be outside of the assumed norm went against everything I strived for growing up.
I’m sure I’m no different from most, but as far back as I could remember I just wanted to fit in with my peers. In second grade, my friend instilled the idea of fashion within me and from that moment on I became incredibly self-conscious of everything. I was a typical PNW child -- I’d been raised on granola and patched up jeans, not any of those trendy new clothes from department stores.
On the first day of third grade, one of my classmates commented on my jeans.
“Nice capris,” she laughed mockingly. I was devastated. Not knowing what on earth capris even were, I assumed she was jesting at my Tevas. I never wore those shoes to school again. I never wore that pair again period.
In fourth grade I began rolling my socks back to give the appearance that I was wearing those hip no-show ankle socks. In PE we had fitness testing and I was filled with anxiety when I realized we had to take our shoes off for the sit and reach test. ALL OF MY CLASS WOULD KNOW. I was living a lie. I think I almost threw up out of anxiety as I graciously let every single one of my peers go ahead of me in line for the blasted test. I couldn’t let them see that I was STILL wearing nerdy long white socks and that any indication to the contrary was false. I could write novels of all the stupid shit I did to try and fit in.
Girls were never an issue until middle school. Everyone else was reaching those hormonal levels where sexual desire is pumped into the bloodstream like heroin (probably, idk). I never felt that.
I’d always thought some of the girls in my grade were incredibly beautiful, but that never came along with any desire to DO anything. I would catch myself looking at their faces during class or in the hallways at lunch. Like anything beautiful in this world, it’s hard not to look. One doesn’t just look away in the final moments of a sunset over the ocean. In my state of absolute conformity, this just solidified to me that I was straight. I liked looking at girls, right? Must be straight then. It’s pretty easy math.
I continued this delusion throughout high school as well. Whenever the topic of women’s bodies came up, I’d get quiet and red cheeked. I was working under the assumption that well, you know, I just needed to have sex to really GET it. Like it probably wouldn’t be super fun to reach that point with someone, but after I’d totally be able to join in the Boobs v Ass discussions of adolescent boys.
I had one serious relationship in high school. Ultimately she was someone who laughed at my jokes, and I really enjoyed spending time with. I confused it for more, and led myself on the path to breaking her heart. The insane pressure of being a senior high school and never having kissed a girl was too much and I had to act.
My mom had always called me shy growing up, but it was more than that. The effort it took to have a conversation outside of my group of people was hardly worth it. In moments of silence, I would brainstorm questions to ask to avoid the crushing awkwardness of the death of a conversation. I would force myself to count down from ten. I’d bargain with myself: If I ask this person this question within the next 20 seconds, then I can eat some ice cream or something tonight. Of course, it would never work. That silence was my ultimate fear, but my inability to act only made it my reality.
I thought of my crippling social anxiety and labeled myself as an introvert. That was probably one of the most dangerous things I could have done. It became an excuse to avoid asking myself the questions I needed to. It was an escape from confronting what I wanted and needed from life. In the week leading up to and after the break up, I allowed myself to become incredibly isolated and depressed.
Breaking up with her is still one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Looking into her eyes when she asked why and not having an answer broke me. I had no list of reasons to give her and ultimately felt like I’d failed the trust and respect of a fellow human being. I assumed I was doomed to a relationship-less life--that physical intimacy wasn’t for me. I figured I would forever find solace and strength in isolation. I didn’t know the term yet, but in that moment, I settled as being asexual. In that moment, the end of my first relationship taught me that I would never be truly emotionally or physically intimate with anyone. I accepted that because it fit my self-defined introvertedness.
Luckily, I found someone who led me to the light.
Alex came in the form of an emotionally savaged soul who grew to become the person I hold closest. Honestly, I don’t even know how much to get into our fucked up and beautiful path together. I should’ve asked the people in charge how long these stories typically are, haha.
We met through the absolute gift that is Calculus (which can also be referred to as a soul-draining exercise in wrongful self-expectation and academic pressure). We bonded through our complete frustration and eventually grew to a point of emotional openness. She helped me more than anyone else through my break up and eventually told me of her own suffering. I became the person she could depend on for emotional support.
After some time, I became one of the few people that could provide her with comfort from her bad thoughts and honestly, it wrecked havoc on me. Our relationship became dependent with a basis in emotional manipulation and guilt. Also we were living together and I wasn’t able to set up any boundaries. As most people are, she had needs and wants beyond anything I’d really done or considered (no we never did the sex thing). Everything I did was to try my best to help her.
It started off small. She began hugging me more frequently. Then it became nightly. Next thing I knew, we were laying in bed each night for about an hour before I felt like I could go to my own room and sleep. This became especially hard when I was working the closing shift on weekends at a restaurant downtown. I felt guilty anytime I wanted to go to bed before her.
What made this so hard for me was my own lack of understanding of myself. I knew I cared deeply for her, yet I felt so incredibly uneasy lying next to her. At times I almost felt paralyzed. It was deeply upsetting and confusing. How could I care about someone so much, yet feel so uncomfortable providing for their needs?
Eventually it all blew up (as it should have). For the first time, we had to ask each other “What the fuck are we? What do we want? What do we need?” That night sucked. It was a shit night. Yet, it also one of the most important nights of our relationship.
Through my actions, I had led her to believe I had the same feelings and wanted the same things she did. In that moment of clarity, when everything came tumbling down, I realized how my own inability to cause others harm caused more harm than anything else.
Somehow we overcame. She asked me if I had ever had those types of feelings for someone else. As far as I was concerned, I hadn’t. After a brief pause, she looked up into my eyes.
“I think you might be asexual Nevan,” she said. Over the next few days, I did the bare minimum amount of research and, well, it sure made sense. My experience growing up fit a lot of the stories I read.
Boom. Sorted. I had a label. Easy.
Except, I still felt unfulfilled with my life. No matter how hard I tried, I continued to feel somewhat empty. I attributed it to the fact that I was still living within 15 minutes of the place I grew up. I lusted for new experiences.
Also, I had reached a point of acceptance with Alex, yet, I still felt uncomfortable. While I had grown to appreciate and even need the physical intimacy we have, I still found it hard to allow myself to be completely at ease. There were still questions. Questions I refused to ask for months.
However, over that period I grew closer to Alex than I'd ever been with anyone else. Our relationship became strong and healthy as we fully accepted each other and ourselves. I grew even more open to her and shed all guilt and discomfort. With time we became incredibly strong.
Each hurdle was met by both of us with (mostly) grace and ease. Together we reached the level we'd always strived for. Through the magic of the universe, our struggles were paralleled and we knew that we'd always have each other for support. We were free to pursue our lives fully unrestrained, while still forever tethered at the heart. To this point I'm still amazed at how much we grew together since those frustrating Calculus study sessions a mere 3 years prior.
Flash forward to a few weeks ago and the worst public shooting in modern USA history. Orlando hit me fucking hard. It was beyond the pain I usually feel when innocent lives are stamped out. This time it felt personal. I realized that I had been questioning myself for a while. My actions were not indicative of an asexual introvert and I needed to stop and look within.
That week my roommates were all out of town, so I sat down and forced myself to be honest and to finally search for what I most likely knew all along. I’d like to take this moment to really appreciate the internet. I literally googled “am I gay,” and found so many stories from people across the world. For some dumb reason, I had to find someone with parallels to my own life before I’d truly accept myself, but what the crap, I totally did.
One of the women on a random forum was essentially me. How. She grew up in a small town with only two fully out gay people. Check. She thought she was asexual for months. Check. She realized when she was 20 that she was gay. Check (although if we’re being technical I guess I’m still 19).
By this point too many things were clicking. I kept looking back on my experiences and chuckling at how much sense they made with this new lens. Yet, I was still in denial. I couldn’t say the words out loud. That’d be much too real. The moment of true acceptance was some of the most ridiculous creative-writing-student-trying-way-too-hard kind of nonsense.
The Thursday after the Orlando shooting, after spending each day reading and researching for hours, I decided to open my window to let in some fresh air. I noticed a hummingbird zooming about and suddenly it was right in front of me. Fluttering less than a foot from my face, it stared into my freaking soul. Like no joke this little hummingbird made eye contact with me for about ten seconds. It truly felt like it could see within me, and in a way, I was looking into its soul too. Yet, at the same time, when I was staring into its eyes, I was seeing myself. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an intense spiritual awakening. Pretty much a little bird saved my life.
I’ve been struggling a lot with the fact that it took 49 people being brutally massacred for me to finally stop and accept myself. It’s really fucking painful to be honest. I’m really trying to look at it from a different perspective though. Maybe, just maybe, if it allowed me to finally reach within myself, than maybe it allowed someone else out there to look within as well. I wanted to tell my story in the hope that anyone out there with questions about themselves will take the time to ask. I want to make sure those that died didn’t die for nothing.
I’ve never truly thought highly of myself. When I identified as asexual, I didn’t feel okay with taking on the queer label. There’s so much pain and suffering behind that community and I felt that I wasn’t deserving of being associated with that. My life has been easy. I surrounded myself with the most accepting people I can imagine. My parents want nothing more that for me to be happy. I have a life partner who will always be there for me and can rely on so heavily for emotional and physical support.
Telling Alex that I’m gay was considerably nerve wracking. She goes for a week, comes back and suddenly I’m gay now. How do you just spring that on someone? Luckily she is one of the most caring and thoughtful people I know. Her support has been one of the most powerful forces on this journey. There are no more questions, no more guilt, no more dependency, just pure love.
Label that how you will.
As I’m truly fortunate as shit, it’s hard to recognize my own pain and suffering. I realize now that it takes different forms, mine just happened to be self-inflicted. Upon reflection, I realized I was depressed for about three years. I isolated myself because I thought it was where I would best thrive. I was wrong. I am not an introvert, I am not straight, I’ve conquered my social anxiety, and in the first time in years, I am truly happy.
About the art:
Fun fact: The survivor sharing this story, Nevan, was one of my high school students when I was a teacher in 2011-2012. So this was a wonderful story to get to share.
Nevan and I have kept in touch ever since I left teaching, and what I've been able to watch from afar is that he has matured into an amazing artist and an even more amazing human being.
If you haven't checked out Nevan's art, you should do so now. He is now a freelance artist, having left college to fully pursue his art. I admire the hell out of him for doing so. He even did the art direction for my upcoming EP, as well as my first EP in 2013. Check out his art by clicking HERE! Or by clicking the ad to the right of the page.
So when Nevan came out to me a couple weeks ago, he was toying with the asexuality identity, which my partner Katy Hamm has experience with (read her story HERE), so we chatted a bit more. And then a few days went by and Nevan messaged me saying, "I don't think I'm asexual. I think I'm just regular gay." I LAUGHED SO HARD AT THIS.
Knowing Nevan's very calm, reserved demeanor, this delivery made so happy to read. I do remember the introverted, awkward teenager that wrote amazing stories for my sophomore writing class. He even requested to be our 69th story, ON FRIDAY! When I had planned for us to take the weekend off, but he was READY to share his coming out, which I also admire so much!
So I had to act quickly when it came to creating his art for this piece.
I took from Nevan's moment with a hummingbird as inspiration to create this piece. I wanted it to be both strikingly beautiful and chaotically messy. So I used some acrylic paint with water to color in the hummingbird that Katy outlined for me, since I suck at perspective and replicating. I had so much fun making this piece, especially since I knew it was for one of my favorite former students to commemorate one of the biggest moments in his life.
After I colored in the hummingbird with all the colors of the rainbow, I went in with a fine tip sharpie and lined out the piece with my style of simple filigree. I then added some straight lines to give the piece a more dynamic look, as I continue to figure out what I want to do with my art next.
the funny thing about Nevan's association with a hummingbird is that I have a hummingbird tattooed across my chest, as it is the animal I connect with the most since it has the fastest heart rate of any animal. Since I'm ALWAYS on the go, and always doing new projects, I relate with animal a great deal.
AND THEN Nevan told me that TODAY he is getting his first tattoo, ever! And he's getting a hummingbird! I am so stoked that we will be connected through this story, through animal, and through this tattoo subject.
I'm so proud of Nevan. I love him.
And I am so thankful that he is able to finally be himself.
Thank you, Nevan.