Content warning: The following story tells of a survivor's experience of what it was like to come out as a queer human being, and there are some homophobic slurs, which might be triggering to some readers.
"My Anchors," Brian Proffer
I had a very emotional and dramatic coming out. I had only told a handful of close friends before I spoke with my parents which, for me, was the moment of no return. When I did tell my family, there was one four word comment I still here clear as a bell that sent me spiraling. “That’s not God’s will”—those were the last words I heard from them for over almost a year.
In my short lived life to that point, I had made so many decisions to identify as straight and to hide this “disgusting” part of me for 25 years in order to please my family and adhere to my faith/religion that, when I did come out, I didn’t know how to handle losing those key foundations.
Additionally, I am adopted. And for me there has always been a sense of owing the family that adopted me; that I needed to be what they wanted me to be. Identifying as gay destroyed many of their hopes for me, and I felt I had failed as an adopted son and that I seemed ungrateful for them taking a chance on me and raising me.
Therefore, after coming out, I was in a free for all fall. I developed a dependency on alcohol and physical connections. As an emotionally driven individual, those empty physical connections destroyed my spirit and self-worth. A popular phrase I use with my students, “is make good life choices." I think I took on this mantra because when I did come out, I did the complete opposite. If there was a poor life choice to be made I made it.
All of that defeat, loss and destruction of my spirit and self-worth accumulated and over the following years, eventually I reached the point where I was spending the majority of my paychecks at bars and liquor stores and trying to hurt myself more times than I can count. It got to the point to where some of my dearest friends had to buy me groceries and make sure I was actually eating and not just drinking; to where I couldn’t remember what had happened to me the night before, except for the clue of picking my clothes up off the floor; to where friends would have to call my apartment building security to get them to break into my apartment to make sure I was still alive after some dangerously depressing texts. Talking with my friends today, there were moments back then where professional help was considered by them and very closely acted upon.
And this is where the point I really wanted to share with you today comes into play. I had a journey I was on, that I had to travel, like all of those who “come out”. For me, the journey consisted of self-harm, harm by others, and God only knows what else that I don’t remember all because I had lost what I believed to have been my “foundation”. Over time, however, I’ve learned that my true foundation was the anchors/friends/self-made family in my life who held onto me, that helped me get through it and rebuild my true-self life. My friends who bought me groceries, who stopped me from literally jumping off the second floor balcony, who carried me home and stayed with me after a night of drinking, and who made sure to remind me of the good in my life when I was stuck in the dark.
I think, like many, going through this process, I was very attentive to my own journey and survival.
Looking back, however, I wasn’t the only one to survive. They survived with me. They became my family and my anchors…my fellow survivors.
And still, to this day, they continue to be my anchors and survive with me.
Each time I come out to a new person or when I push back on a gay slur that was used or if someone goes off on an anti-LGBT tangent it’s not only I who have to handle those situations. It’s not only me who has a choice to make on whether or not to step up. It’s everyone I know and around me that is forced to also decide whether or not to come out and take that stand.
It’s those individuals in your life that you share those certain moments with who prove to be your fellow survivors.
The people you share eye rolls of “here we go again, let’s call out the hate” with you, or those who just step in and push back on others when you’re called a “slant-eyed faggot” behind your back. It’s those who step in when someone is forcing themselves onto you, when you are too drunk to know what is happening. It’s those who make sure that the environment they share with you is open and accepting, or at the very least make it known that idea and opinion sharing is one thing but hate mongering is another. It’s those people around you who endure the hours of worrying about you, who listen to you blabber in circles about your life, or who just hold your hand during a good cry. They are not only being your support system. They are enduring and surviving with you.
I’m grateful that I survived coming out, but I didn’t survive it on my own. I am so grateful that I had people who were willing to survive with me and stay by my side and there is no way to express enough gratitude other than acknowledging that they too are survivors with me.
About the art:
When I considered the sentiment in Brian’s piece, I was moved by his message that survival and community are so tied together. This life preserver is a representation of Brian’s survival and resilience, as well as a tribute to those who Brian calls his fellow survivors.
When I read his story, what I took away was the feeling of being saved and kept afloat because of the people who stuck with him. Whether the seas are stormy or smooth, there is a life preserver waiting for you in the form of community. I’m very grateful to Brian for sharing his piece and it was a real pleasure to create this painting and to connect with his story.