I’ve Hated Myself More Than You Ever Will
The following is the story of Paul J. Sando, written by himself. His socials are linked at the end.
Hatred. “Extreme dislike or disgust” according to Merriam-Webster. “A very strong feeling of dislike for someone or something” according to Oxford.
I came out in the small town of Harborcreek, Pennsylvania, at the age of 13 or 14. That was over 20 years ago. The world was a very different place back then, and the idea that being gay is “cool” or makes you the center of your female friends’ attention wasn’t a thing back then. There were no movies or TV shows or news articles about homosexuality that weren’t using it as the butt of a joke or the object of scorn – at least not in my little town.
The experience of coming out in high school was my first real experience with hatred.
I barely understood what was going on in my own head, and there were no resources for a young teenager. I didn’t know why I liked boys instead of girls, and all the sources around me told me it was a sin and a choice and that I was evil for something that I knew deep down that I had no control over. I wished for a long time for it to go away. Some days, even as a mature adult, I still do.
But I’ve “come out” four different times in my life – and they all went badly for me. The only credit I really give myself is that at least I’ve always tried to be honest about who I am with others.
My father found a note in my bookbag that I’d written to him before I was ready to give it to him. “Are you okay with being gay?” he asked me. I lied and told him I was. That was the only conversation we had about my sexuality for the next half a decade. To him, it was better to ignore it than to talk about it. For me, it felt like a condemnation. I like to talk. I like to share and communicate with others. But at that age and on that topic, I didn’t have the courage to say anything.
I was even more of a coward when it came to my high school classmates. I was never popular, always a great student and “teacher’s pet,” but I had a few friends – mostly the smart kids like me – before I came out. But I didn’t know how to talk to them about it. Keeping it quiet felt like it would be wrong. So, I told the loudest-mouthed boy in the entire school instead. I let him do the rest of the work for me. Without any explanation of what it meant, or that I was still the same person, and this was just one tiny part of me. I just said, “I’m gay” and that’s it.
After all, how was I supposed to explain to someone else something that I didn’t understand myself?
It went exactly where you might be expecting it did from there. I was beat up constantly. Talked down to. I even remember the school district at one point issuing me a three-day in-school suspension because I was discussing something “inappropriate” by talking about the fact I was gay on a school bus, and the bus driver overheard me. I remember there were kids who asked me questions about it sometimes. I think they wanted to understand it too. I wish I could have been more use to them.
When I finally did find somewhere that I was accepted – the house of the one schoolmate who was just as much of a black sheep as I was – it got even worse. My own house was stifling and quiet. When I went to hang out with her, I could be myself – I drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes, flirted with some of the boys. I even fooled around with a few. Yeah, there were other boys who were interested in me when I was that age. But none of them ever came out. It was just me, as far as I can remember.
My relationship with my parents, especially my father, was always very transactional. A single dad doing the best he could, he was an accountant who prioritized money over everything else. He also paid my little brother and I to stay away from him on family vacations and “go do our own thing” for the day. I always felt like as long as I wasn’t being a pest or a bother, he’d be happy with me. He taught me the value of money early. But he also taught me that nothing good comes for free.
So, when I found this place where I could be myself, my young, unformed brain decided that I needed to pay it back somehow. Conveniently enough for my friend’s mother – 20 years older than me at the time – she decided that I should pay her back with sex. Even though I was gay, and I knew I was not sexually attracted to women, at 15 years old I began sleeping with a 35-year-od woman. Why? Because she’d let me use her house as a sanctuary, as somewhere to be myself and feel safe, so I “owed” her.
It didn’t stop at sex, though. That “relationship” would continue and escalate to marriage at age 17, and then to adopting her two biological grandchildren at age 19. At 19 years old, because I was so desperate to fit in and do what was “normal,” I stood in front of a county judge and lied about being prepared to be a father to children that were not biologically mine.
In all my life, that is my biggest regret. Not that I adopted them. But that, after I finally got my head on straight enough to realize that I would never be happy in the marriage, I abandoned them. At the time, I convinced myself it was because I didn’t want them to be affected by the hatred that I had developed for their mother. The truth is far harder, though: I didn’t want to admit my own failure. I didn’t want to sit in front of two children and tell them that my being in their life was all a big mistake to begin with.
I kept supporting them financially though until they were both 18. I’ve not talked to or seen my daughter since she was 2 or 3. My son I talked to briefly around his 18th birthday, but only because he needed me to sign some paperwork for him. We’ve not spoken since.
This is only the “first time” I came out, and it is the most traumatic. Every time I’ve tried to make being gay a principle part of my identity, it’s always gone poorly. Nicotine, sex addiction, prostitution. By making my sexual attraction and physical desires foremost in my mind, I’ve always deprived myself of a clear view of everything else that is out there.
Is it my fault for not talking about it? My father’s? I don’t know. There are too many factors in each of our lives to lay blame for anything at one person’s feet. Life is a combination of circumstances that plays out in the most mysterious of ways.
But for all the hatred that I’ve received from others throughout my life – regardless of the reason – this early history set me up for a life of hating myself more than anyone else ever could. That hatred for myself is why I overeat and why I smoke cigarettes and why I engage in risky sexual behaviors. I hated that I was gay more than my dad or my schoolmates or any bigot ever could. Because unlike them, I had to deal with the actual ramifications of what that meant in my life.
I must live my life. I don’t get to just comment on it from the outside.
And if you think that it’s only straight people or religious people who are like this, you’re wrong. The worst condemnation of who I am as a person came from my own community – the gay community – rather than from straight people. With those who demonize my sexuality, I at least have finally reached the point where I know I really don’t have any control over it – it just is. The gay community either marginalizes or fetishizes me based off things that I do control – my weight and my smoking – and they make me feel awful about it. I’m not worthy of being a member of their exclusive club (or only worthy of being involved with a portion of it) because I have addictions to food and nicotine that, at many points in my life, have been the only thing stopping me from following through on the suicidal ideations that I experience regularly.
I am more than my labels. What was “gay” 20 years ago is now “LGBTQIA+,” I think. I have trouble keeping track. The “community” of which I am supposed to be a part has lots of other labels for me too – “daddy” because of my age, “bear” because of my size and the amount of body hair I have. But what are these labels? These are just ways for the community to prejudge me based on one small aspect of who I am, just like the outside world prejudges us based on the “gay” or “queer” label.
We’re no better than anyone else. We’re just as human as everyone else. And we forget that. For me, I’m no longer interested in allowing who I’m attracted to be such a big part of my life. I want to get “over” being gay. I don’t want to get rid of it anymore. I just want to stop caring so fucking much about it. I want it to stop being a bigger part of my life than it needs to be.
It’s just one very small part of a much more complex being. A complex being who, like everyone else out there, just wants to be loved and accepted.