Commentary: Professor Helped This Gay Man Accept Himself
In the last couple weeks there have been some high-profile stories in the news that highlight the challenges and prejudices that gay people endure. Just yesterday, eight people were arrested in New York City for a series of anti-gay hate crimes. In another case, a Rutgers University student committed suicide after his roommate and another classmate broadcast a sexual encounter over an internet chat room. Deciding to come out can be a difficult decision, to say the least. In this commentary, Miles Christian Daniels discusses his journey. People often ask when I first knew that I'm gay. Truth is, I'm not really sure. It was ten years ago this month that I first told someone. But how or why or when? I guess like most gay people I know, it just happened. By the time I was in high school, there was no question, I liked boys, and my gay closet was pretty much already built. Each shelf in that closet stored a different piece of my life. On one shelf, my piano playing. In middle school a boy had called me a fag because of this. So, I tucked it neatly away. Then there was a shelf for words that might trigger a lisp. Girlfriends had a shelf of their own, as did nights I cried out to God, asking him to please take it all away. Then, there were the panic attacks. During my freshman year of college, they became so severe that - at times - the walls in my bedroom seemed to come to life. They would move in and out, as if they were taking deep, long breaths. I thought I was going crazy. If I slept at all, it was from pills that I'd chase down with Vodka. "You need lifestyle changes," my doctor told me. "You're too stressed." I couldn't tell him why. With no where to turn, I did the only thing I knew to do, I gave God a final chance. And to let him know I was serious, I dropped out of school and went to work as a youth minister. I spent that year and a half reading books on how to not be gay. When the sexual urges got bad enough, I'd call the Christian television network and ask the phone operator to rebuke what I thought was an unclean spirit. None of this was doing anything to make me straight. After my time in that little church, I went back to school at UNC-Wilmington. It was there, in an internet chat room, that I met my first boyfriend. He was a freshman. I was a junior. He lived his life openly. I did not. I began to see my sexuality in a different light. What I had thought to be a perversion was now being lived out as a loving connection between two people. The fact we both were male, had little to do with any of it. When I was finally ready to tell someone, I made an appointment to see a professor of mine named Betsy Ervin. I must have sat there a good half hour before anything came out of my mouth. Then, one by one, I began to remove those dusty items from their shelves. First, the piano playing. I told Betsy that I was starting to pick it up again. I then thought out loud about how my ex-girlfriends might react upon hearing the news that I'm gay. The hardest part of that conversation was reliving the panic attacks, the one time in my life that I actually thought about ending it all. When I was finished, Betsy pulled me close to her, and I could feel her warm tears dripping onto my face. She held me as if she wanted to protect me, as if she knew that stepping outside of her office would mean stepping into a world where many didn't feel the same way she did. In the years that followed, Betsy and I became friends. And then, I moved to New York City and we lost touch. Around her birthday two years ago, I called a mutual friend to see if he still had Betsy's phone number. He told me that Betsy had been battling breast cancer and would love to hear from me. I put it on my list of things to do, but before I got around to it, I received an e-mail from him. It was short, and to the point. "I'm not sure if you've heard it or not," he wrote, "But Betsy passed away this week." She was just 43. I'm not sure why I chose to tell Betsy. There were certainly others in my life who would have listened without casting me into fire and brimstone. But maybe Betsy had been sent my way. Or maybe, after all these years, God had finally answered my prayers. Miles Christian Daniels grew up on the Outerbanks in the town of Wanchese. He now lives in San Francisco where he is a writer, filmmaker and moonlighting blues pianist.