Merced, oh how I thank thee
When I left my home in Los Angeles and arrived in the city of Merced, I knew everything would change.
There was no denying it, the signs were definitely there for years, I am and have always been gay. At an early age, I realized that I was different from other boys and it was that “different” side of me that I so desperately attempted to hide. For far too long, my sexuality stood as my deepest and darkest secret. I remember blaming my sexuality for robbing me of my childhood and for standing in the way of everything I loved. Looking back now, I see that my sexuality itself was never a problem; rather, it was my attempt to hide my sexuality that held me back from doing the things I loved. Although Soccer was a family favorite, I never had the guts to join a team for fear that someone would discover what I had been keeping secret. Mind you, I was never actually good at the sport but even then I am ashamed to admit I never tried. Fear in admitting who I really was held me back from bonding with some interesting people and creating those meaningful relationships that you often see other people do.
Facing a fear is never so easy, that became obvious to me when in my senior year of high school I attempted to begin “outing” myself. It wasn’t easy at first, I never wanted to bring the subject up without good reason but I knew that every moment I kept silent I was destroying my chance at a better life. The Stonewall Alliance, my high school’s first ever LGBT+ club group, gave me the tools I needed to “come out”. Thanks to the Stonewall Alliance, I learned the history of LGBT+ people and their role in fighting for human rights, a history that was completely nonexistent in traditional history course books. When I came out to my friends, many of them told me they had known for a while. As much as I appreciated their honesty, I could not help but feel a bit annoyed. How dare they assume I was gay before I told them myself. All in all, I was glad many of them could acknowledge my sexuality. Even after all my progress, I was still unsure where “outing” myself would lead me. Of course, it would mean I would no longer be playing on the sidelines but I was curious as to how it would build me as an individual. Learning the history of the LGBT+ community, my heart was set on becoming an advocate for LGBT+ rights. Many of the people whom I learned about in the Stonewall Alliance did remarkable things that earned them the title of “activist”. I, however, had yet to do anything remarkable to earn such a title but I was so eager learn more about the community and do my part in helping in its progress for equality. It was not until I entered college that I began involving myself more in the LGBT+ community.
When I arrived at the University of California, Merced I trusted the school would have a friendly, nonjudgmental, all-inclusive environment for its students and although many of my peers claim it does, I did not.
As a freshman in college, my first goal was to meet as many people as I possibly could even if it meant forgetting 99% of their names in less than a minute. In the outstanding number of people that I talked to there was one that I had my eye on—someone I really liked. It only took couple of seconds, after asking for his number, to ask him out on a date. I had never been comfortable expressing my feelings towards another man but since it was college, I decided to take a chance. We would eventually be together for quite some time.
Everyday seemed routine. A movie here, a chat there, and, of course, a lot of kissing, we understood what it meant to love someone despite having “same equipment”. Quite often, we admired the beauty of Merced—how the trees changed with the fall season, how the creeks gently held each red, orange, and yellow leaf afloat. We knew Merced was a real gem. Every morning before class, we would walk together underneath those changing trees right over the creek with a local occasionally greeting us with a “good morning”.
Neither he nor I felt comfortable in showing any public display of affection. It was not because we would be embarrassed to do so, rather, we were too afraid to see how people would react. One morning, as we walked to school, we found ourselves holding hands in public. Neither of us had ever done such a thing. I recall the overwhelming feeling, of courage and fear both happening simultaneously. It was a powerful feeling. A few years ago, I would have never imagined myself dating a man but there I was holding his hand with nothing less than smile on my face. Unfortunately, we soon saw the exact thing we were so afraid to see. A woman, riding her bicycle towards us, took one glance at us holding hands and quickly turned her face away in what seemed to be in disgust. We kept walking, hands held a little tighter, trying to make nothing of it but we both knew that was impossible. I would never forget the woman, I would never forget the face she made, and most of all I would never forget how I bruised I felt afterward.
Eventually, our time together came to end but I was so grateful for that relationship as it gave me the push I needed to feel comfortable in dating someone of the same sex. The experience provided me with further motivation in becoming an activist with my ultimate goal being to improve the environment in Merced for LGBT+ people. With growing confidence, I soon became involved in university’s Lambda Alliance club, an LGBT+ support group, first as a member and later as the club’s Historian. I want people of the future to look back one day and recognize that I, along with many others, were not afraid to stand up as a community to advocate for rights, for justice and for tolerance.
In the short time that I have been involved in the LGBT+ community, I see how much I have grown as an individual. Now, not only am I proud to be gay, I am also glad that I am. I could not imagine myself being any other way. No longer am I the shy little boy trapped “in the closet”. Accepting my sexuality has definitely built my character and has inspired me to help LGBT+ peoples whenever possible. There are already plenty of amazing people tirelessly working to make the world LGBT+ friendly. I have high hopes that someday closets will never have people hiding in them again.
Juan Francis Pirir