It Gets Better

Hi, my name is Hampton and I want to tell you about how real and true
the phrase “It Gets Better” is to me. And while I do, I’m going to bring
up some of the privileges I have come to understand that surround
many gay male’s experience in the US. I work much better when I write
things down first; so if I sound like I’m reading, it’s because I am.
It is a privilege to be born a gay man who has masculine behaviors and
traits, which allow him to pass as straight whenever he so chooses.
The rest of us gay boys see a different side of the world. We see the
side that detests the sight, the sound, the spirit of a feminine man. We
bear the burden of people’s comments, jokes, insults, scoffs and eye
rolls – and on top of how people react, we’re surrounded by a world of
advertisements which leave no room to be anything other than strong,
built, tough, lacking any weakness. And at the end of the day, it
doesn’t matter what your orientation is – if you are a guy who “acts like
a girl,” you probably know how quickly a situation can go from ‘totally
fine’ to feeling like you just want to scream and run far away.
I have always been a feminine boy. My voice is higher-pitched and
nasal, my mannerisms are soft and dainty, my personality is vibrant
and sweet, my interests are reflective and creative. I have never
enjoyed being aggressive, rowdy, or rude. I grew up in rural parts of
North Carolina, until I was thirteen; and my feminine spirit did not fit in
among the other kids – at school or in church youth groups. I had a
couple of guy friends when I was 7 or 8, we loved to play video games.
And then they started wanting to go play football during recess…and I
just wanted to hang out by the swings and talk about the new
Backstreet Boys album. So we stopped being friends, and I joined the
girls. Not only did I “act like a girl,” I only felt comfortable hanging out

with girls. I was the only guy in my grade (perhaps my school) that had
only girls for friends. And for the most part, I tried to live my life
without making a big deal about it. But then someone would say
something to me – it was mostly one of the guys, although sometimes
it was one of my girl friends – and I would freeze in fear. They would
tell me I acted like a girl, or they would ask why I hang out with girls all
the time. I knew I was different, but having my peers speak it and call
me out on it in front of everyone made me feel like I was a freak (and
not in the Lady Gaga, glamorous, who-cares kind of way). It wasn’t
long before the comments were replaced with insults. I was called a
‘faggot’ in elementary school, before I even knew what the word
meant. In those moments when boys would outright taunt me and call
me names, I could only think to lash back and act out of anger –
attempting to defend myself and also challenge their impressions of
me as weak and vulnerable. As these instances became more
common, there were few times when I felt completely safe in social
settings, particularly around boys.
But it wasn’t just at school. My parents would call me out on ways I
behaved: “Don’t hold your hands that way!” “Stop walking like that!
You look like a queer!” Even when I would play pretend with my sister
and assume the female role, my mom would say, “Do you want to be a
fairy?!” I remember her shouting this at me with a mocking highpitched voice, exaggerated limp wrists, tip-toeing around like a
ballerina. And my parents were constantly pressuring me to make
more guy friends – signing me up for sports, or church “boy scouts,”
hoping that I would develop interests that most boys had, so that I
could relate to them more. I don’t know how many times my mom had
me go hang out with my dad as he changed the oil, or worked in the
yard – hoping some of his masculinity would rub off on me.

My way of being, of acting, of going about life was constantly criticized
and made fun of. So much so, that I began internalizing it all and
became more aware and critical of things about myself. At such a
young age, I couldn’t even count on myself for reassurance, safety,
and unconditional love. That is what it was like to grow up a feminine
Then, at about 8 or 9, I started feeling attracted to certain boys in my
class – and I knew this was considered repulsive and wrong to every
single person in my life. I had a terrible secret that could never be
discovered. Every tease, every insult, every ridicule that was thrown
my way felt like a personal attack against my ability to hide that I was
attracted to boys. I was afraid of having no friends, of being the school
“homo,” of being beat up. But I was even more afraid that my parents
would find out.
It is also a privilege to be born into a family and community that is
progressive - being surrounded by people who are willing to accept and
love a gay boy just as he is, without imposing their ideas of “normal” or
“right” or “God’s Will” onto him.
Our family went to church several times a week, prayed before meals,
and believed the Bible to be the one and only Word of God. I was
inadvertently brought up believing that being gay is comparable to
being a pedophile: it’s a condition that only Jesus can improve, along
with a lifetime of commitment and determination.
So I was caught in a conundrum – what I felt about boys seemed so
instinctive and primal, but what I believed as a Christian told me I was
indulging in blatant sin on a constant basis. It wasn’t just a secret I was
hiding from everyone – it was a battle I fought inside, without any rest.

I thought I could hide my secret from the world forever, or at least until
I had learned how to “fix it” – …but then my parents found out. I was in
sixth grade (just eleven years old). My mom found a journal entry I had
written and later ripped up, pocketed, and forgotten to throw away. The
first sentence read, “Dear Me, I think I am gay.” and was followed by
me describing my struggles, and listing my boy crushes. I remember
sitting with my parents in the living room one night, and my mom
showed me the paper she has taped together. I felt all the blood leave
my face, I ran to the bathroom and threw up in the toilet while sobbing.
My mom leaned over me and called me disgusting. She called me a
pervert. I told them I was willing to change, and I meant it. I cried all
night as my parents pressed me for more information and grimaced at
me like I wasn’t even their son.
My mom decided public school was the reason I “thought” I was “a
homosexual” – with all its worldly and sinful influences. So she pulled
me out in the middle of the school year and started homeschooling
me. And I was homeschooled until I graduated high school. We moved
when I was thirteen, and I made lots of new friends at church and
homeschooling activities – but the teasing didn’t stop, it just became
less obvious. But I knew. Every time people were talking about how I
hung out with girls, or how I acted gay, I could feel my face instantly
grow red and I froze with fear, worried about what they were saying
and whether that would confront me – or if they would tell others.
Sometimes I would get annoyed and angry, but I would still be scared
solid: “What if someone tells their parents I’m gay? What will happen if
they tell my mom and she keeps me from my friends? Or we move
again because she’s ashamed?”

My parents didn’t bring up the subject much after they calmed down
from initially finding out. My mom had called it “a phase,” and so I
suppose they either thought my desires had gone away or they
secretly hoped I was handling it on my own, and that they had done
their part to set me up for “success.” They were also very distracted by
their own relationship issues, and they finally divorced when I was
fifteen. There were a few times my mom would find a reason to
become concerned – it would mostly be sparked by noticing I was
hanging out with only girls in group situations, or one-on-one hangouts.
She would threaten to send me back to public school if I didn’t make
more guy friends, and she knew I was terrified by that thought - she
would describe how horrible I would be treated for being feminine, how
I would be teased and isolated. Thankfully, she always dropped her
threats when her insecurities had time to dissipate.
During all of this, I still believed that my attractions were sins against
God, and that every time I allowed them to linger any more than a
flash, I was pushing myself further and further away from a life of
purpose, meaning, and ultimate salvation. It became a cycle: of going
to church twice a week, and during moments of prayer and reflection I
would express to God how ashamed I was, and I would ask Him to
relieve me (even for a few moments) of my sinful attractions. I would
leave church feeling some resolve and a bit of hope that that time the
following days would be easier: that I would resist temptations, and if I
did it enough, then eventually I could suppress my desires altogether.
But that never happened. I would see a guy in a store, or in a
restaurant, or while driving – even in an advertisement - and I would
rush over with attraction and heat. I would indulge in it, let it linger
however long; giving myself another reason to feel guilty and ashamed
– to ask for forgiveness. Based on the beliefs I was raised with, my life

seemed destined to be a cycle of momentary pleasure only to be
followed by self-loathing and pain.

Everything changed when I finally got away from my mom, got away
from my community of conservative Christians, and went to college. I
never ever expected how much better things would get. I met people
from all walks of life and learned all different kinds of things that I had
never been exposed to before. My world opened up to the beauty of
diversity and the joy of discovering who I am. I met people who had
been “out” for years, who were comfortable with their sexuality and
had a community to share life with, to feel normal around. And I
allowed myself to take a chance and understand things in a whole new
way – to learn how to love myself exactly as I am, and not force myself
to be something that I’m not.
It was a process that was both sudden and gradual: I was relieved to
finally have a place to be feminine, flamboyant, and simply gay; and
another part of me was determined to understand more about how my
sexuality intersected with the Bible, whose verses I had memorized
growing up. I spent a great deal of time researching, reading, thinking
through every issue that came up for me. One of the books that I
appreciated most was a small, detailed book called “What the Bible
Really Says about Homosexuality” – it helped me to understand how
people’s interpretations from long ago of ancient words and phrases
shaped the Bible into what I knew it to be; and that there are
legitimate reasons why cultures thousands of years ago had the rules
that they did. Humans are still humans, but we know more about our
world and ourselves than we used to – and homosexuality is not the
first debate Christianity has waged which is hinged on nothing more
than an inability to accept healthy and loving change in the world. I

love the quote: “The freethinking of one age is the common sense of
the next.” Poet Matthew Arnold wrote that in 1875. Through my avid
research, I began to see a bigger picture of how masculinity has been
consistently demanded of men, because people believe it is the way
God intended things to be. Conveniently, this concept of masculinity
includes birthrights to all roles of power and leadership, allowing men
to maintain authority and dominance (just like God, who is also male).
In order for this to work, women must be feminine – submissive, quiet,
and uninterested in leading at all. The wrench in that system is
someone like me – a feminine man. People’s fear of difference, and of
change, compel them to do terrible things to maintain the status quo.
The truth is, each and every one of us has a mixture of masculine and
feminine within us; and the only way to live a healthy life full of love
and inner peace is to accept all parts, integrate them, and express
them in the ways that bring us joy.
College was my safe haven that allowed me to nurture my sheltered
spirit, grow in confidence as a gay man, and come to terms with my
beliefs in a completely new way. After a year of learning and growing to
feel secure in my sexuality, I had come to a peace about the idea of
sharing all of myself with the people I had known the longest.
My sophomore year, I “let in” my family. My boyfriend introduced that
phrase to me as his preference over “coming out,” explaining how the
process is a gesture of love, opening up oneself for another to see, like
welcoming someone into your home: a space that is yours, and which
allows someone to learn about you on a deeper level. I prepared for
months to let my family in, expecting my mom and dad to have severe
reactions and to withdraw all financial and parental support. I
consulted with an attorney, I met with a financial aid advisor at my
school half a dozen times, I persuaded my mom to sign over the car

that I was using, I kept my friends informed – I built a network of
support, encouragement, and love for my “letting in” process.
I wanted to tell my sister, Olivia, first. I was on winter break, and we
were Christmas shopping – and she actually confessed to me that she
is attracted to women – which was something I did not expect at all!
We talked for hours. At the time, she believed similar things that I did
in high school – that she needed to try harder and allow God to help
her through her temptations. But despite our differences in opinion, we
were there for each other and showed each other overwhelming
amounts of compassion. That day was the beginning of a deep bond
with my sister, which is stronger than ever today – we shared the same
home, the same parents, the same world, and we see things in such
similar ways. I am so grateful for my sister.
When I told my mom I am gay, all she could say over and over was
“No, you’re not.” She told me I am confused, and it is something I can
resist if only I choose to. I tried to convince her that I was okay, that I
was happy now that I could be myself. She read that as my straying
from the path of God, getting caught up in pleasure and being misled
by the deceptions of Satan. The conversation went on and on,
laborious and draining. The moment that stands out the most in my
memory was my mother’s interruptive question: “Do you expect me to
take care of you when you get AIDS?” She made it very clear to me
that she expects suffering and destruction in my life if I “continue with
this lifestyle.” She demanded that I not tell anyone else, besides my
dad – that it was a shame to the entire family and should be kept a
secret. I told her that I would be telling family, when I was ready. That
night, she woke me up sobbing and pleading with me to turn my life
around - that my soul was in jeopardy and there was a way out. I could
only reassure her that this was not a phase, and that I didn’t need her

to solve this for me, like she did when I was younger. It only took her a
few days to become frustrated and disgusted, and she kicked me out
for the rest of winter break.
By that time, I had already told my dad. We had gone to dinner or
something, and on the way back I asked him to stop somewhere we
could talk. It was raining that night, so we stayed in the car. As I was
proceeding through my prologue of how much I loved him and wanted
to be honest and open with him, he stopped me and said, “I know, son.
You don’t have to say it.” He took a moment, and I noticed tears falling
down his face. And he told me, “I don’t really understand it, and I don’t
agree with it; but you’re my son, and I will always love you, and this
doesn’t change how proud I am of you. I always will be.” Those were
indescribably refreshing words to hear, especially after the train wreck
of an experience I had with my mom. I knew it wasn’t easy for my dad
to open up and step out of his comfort zone like that – it was
unexpected, in the best kind of way. And when my mom sent me away,
my dad welcomed me to his place for the rest of break.
After I let my family in, everything became so much lighter and more
enjoyable. I had told the three people that I was so worried would find
out before I was ready – I didn’t have the same level of anxiety about
anyone else in my life discovering. The next year or so was a rough
road with my mom. She told several family members without my
permission - contradicting what she had initially demanded of me, and
robbing me of the opportunity to personally share who I am with them
on my own terms. There was a lot of distance between us, and we
didn't talk much for several months. When I would visit during breaks,
she would bring up the subject and it was clear she saw me as a
rebellious son who wouldn't listen to her "reason." I would eventually
start arguing with her, determined to make myself clear. Time passed,

and our conversations slowly became more authentic and
compassionate - we wouldn't budge from our perspectives, but we
could at least share how much we cared for one another. It's been four
years from today, December 18th, that I let my mom in - we txt on a
weekly basis, we have conversations every few months. We've both
moved on with our lives for the better: she remarried and moved to
Baltimore, I graduated from college and moved to the Bay Area. My
relationship with my mother is far from ideal - she is so uncomfortable
with the thought of her son being in love with another man, that she
doesn't even know about the thing that means the most to me: I have
met the love of my life.
His name is Tobirus. We studied at the same school, but didn't meet
until we were introduced because of our similar plans to move to the
East Bay; and so we decided to be roommates. Once I got to know him,
it was clear I had met someone who I connected with in ways unlike
anyone before - first, as a fun gay buddy, then as a true and dear
friend, then as a lover, and finally as a life partner. I've known Tobirus
for a year and a half, we've been together for nine months now; and it
is crystal clear to me that we were meant to share our lives together,
to be there for each other, to grow together, and to heal one another.
Tobirus shows and teaches me every day how to love myself in deeper
ways. And in just a few days, he’s going to meet my sister and my dad.
They’re both excited to meet him; and I’m happier than I can say. It’s
like a dream come true.
Only six years ago, I was filled with frustration and confusion. I lived in
fear of people finding out who I was, I thought that everyone would
reject me and never speak to me again. I loathed myself, and I had
little hope for my future as a healthy, balanced person. But, I did my
best to find the beauty in my life, in others, and in myself; and

gradually, it got better. It was far from easy, and it didn't all happen at
once; but it happened. Now, I live in one of the most gay-friendly
places in the nation. I share my life with a man who is nothing short of
an angel. Every day is a new opportunity to know more about myself,
to heal my wounds, to appreciate the flowers or the light of the moon.
I've learned that when we find the good in the world, it will show up in
ways we never imagined. Sometimes it feels like there's nothing good
at all - hold on to yourself in those moments, and trust me when I say
that it is always darkest before the dawn. Never give up - you were
meant for incredible things, and you are going to touch hearts and
impact lives. Don't be afraid to love yourself - because you are worth
more than you'll ever know.

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