Being in the closet is sort of like trying to squish a balloon into a small space. Or at least that is what it was like for me. I tried to push myself into a mold of what I should be, until the pressure got to be too much and I could no longer squeeze and bend into something I was not. I came out at 14. Young, I know. I told my friend under the slide on the playground when I was ten, so I guess I had known for a while. My friend’s response was “That’s ok, but do you still think Harry Styles is cute?” I did, but to be fair I thought Harry Styles looked like a girl. My parents’ response was a little different. At first, they were shocked. They told me it was a phase, that everyone has “gay thoughts” (yes, but also this is different). It was disheartening, but I could take it. Then it turned more aggressive. “Don’t go around telling people you’re gay, we don’t want the family being known for that”. They said things like, “that’s disgusting” and, perhaps the one that hurt the most, “it would be easier if you weren’t gay, no one wants to be around someone like that”. I felt like a burden to everyone. Sometimes arguments got physical; they would throw things at me or push me around, and I was scared. I was a child, and I was scared.
Looking back, I see how all of these statements were rooted in love and fear. They didn’t want our family to be a target, they didn’t have any family or friends that were gay, they just wanted to protect me from the unknown. My mom lost a friend to AIDS, so I see why she was afraid, why she wanted to shield me as a mom does.
To be 14 years old and feel that no one loved me was hard. I would stay at school until ten or eleven at night, trying to avoid going home. I would go to friends’ houses until my parents threatened to call the police to get me home. Teachers picked up on the fact that I barely slept. I was a three sport athlete, a musician, and a decent student, but at night I felt small and powerless. I wondered why if I even belonged in this world. I tried so hard to be a good kid, to do well in school and be polite, but no matter what I did, it could never make up for the fact that I was gay. I hated myself for that. I was scared no one would take me seriously, no one would ever respect me. I prayed to be straight. I prayed that someday I would be happy, that I would stop hating myself for who I was. But I questioned if even God still loved me.
When I was 16, I had had enough. I was tired and hopeless. I didn’t want to live as a gay person. I didn’t see myself graduating high school. In fact, I didn’t see myself living at all. I left a note, telling my friends and parents how much I loved them and saying that there was no place for me in this world.
Turns out, I did have a place, and that place was on Mayor Pete’s campaign. And, as I’m realizing now, in the world as a whole. The most I ever did politically was write emails and make phone calls to my state and US senators and representatives when I wanted them to vote a certain way. But Pete was something special. I was watching the Democratic debate in June when I left during a commercial break and cried in the bathroom because I was so astonished and joyful to see a gay man on the stage. Running for president. Being listened to. Then I read Pete’s book, Shortest Way Home, and as I read about how Chasten, Pete’s husband, grew up living on friends couches, my heart began to race. Chasten — the future first gentleman of the United States — had once been in the same place I was. He was once afraid and ashamed, and now he is living life with so much boldness, it is inspiring. When I met Chasten in Boston last month I couldn’t even speak I was just so full of emotion. This man who was standing in front of me is gay, and is living life, and is happy. It was hard for me to even wrap my head around. When I hear Chasten talk about how much he struggled and how happy he is now, I hear someone who sees me. He sees the kids like me who lived in the shadows not seeing a future. Having someone like Chasten to look up to can be the difference between life and death for some people.
I didn’t expect to find this sort of belonging in politics. It’s not forced belonging or weird and awkward, it just is. Pete people don’t care that I’m gay, they don’t care that I dress in mens’ clothes and don’t wear makeup. As you can probably imagine, I didn’t think too highly of adults growing up, if they could be so ignorant and unaccepting why should I look up to them? Every adult I have met on this campaign has shown me nothing but respect and kindness. I guess this is maybe how adults are suppose to act, but every time someone even takes the time to thank me for something or ask my opinion I am shocked. I spent my first two months with the Pete campaign just waiting to be told that I was terrible at what I was doing, that I didn’t fit the image Pete is trying to create. Now, I see these people as family. One night, I was telling the other Students for Pete about the girl in my chemistry class who I found to be quite attractive, and normally with these sorts of things I change the pronouns from “she” to “he” so that people think I’m straight. But I sent the message about her, making it clear she was a girl. And no one cared!! I was sitting in my dorm when I sent that message, and I started smiling to myself a little bit. I guess God heard my cries for belonging, and then plopped me in the middle of this campaign. Students for Pete is the greatest group of people that have ever existed. If these people are the future of politics, we have hope. I went to New Hampshire over my winter break to volunteer for Pete, and the people I met were incredible. They work so hard but still are so grounded. I could let my gaurd down around complete strangers, which is rare for me. The people on this campaign inspire me to be a better person and work as hard as I can. If I feel such a sense of belonging and love within Pete’s campaign, imagine what it will be like when he is president.
I’m happy that I’m still around, that I am one of the lucky ones that made it out. My life is vibrant, bright, and full of crazy adventures. I am so grateful that I got the opportunity to be a part of this campaign and work with these amazing people.
When I was 16 I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I am 18 now. My parents love me very much and have changed immensely. They also LOVE Mayor Pete. I am so grateful that they never gave up, they educated themselves and worked hard to change their attitudes. Not everyone is so lucky to have parents like that. My mom now jokes that if she doesn’t come to my wedding it will only be because I plan to get married in the back of a Ford F-150.
I don’t often share my thoughts on this with the general world, but I hope maybe this will express my deep gratitude to the people I’ve worked with who have shown me so much kindness. I also hope that this can serve as a reminder that things do indeed get better. I am loudly gay, like Ellen DeGeneres crossed with Rachel Maddow (both queens) kind of gay. I love it, my parents love it, my friends are either gay themselves or incredibly accepting. I am gay and I am a student fighting with everything I have to get Pete Buttigieg to the White House.