When I came out of the closet, a surge of homophobia saturated my pores and I hated myself more than a kid hates being forced to eat spinach.
All analogies aside, growing up gay isn’t easy. The media likes to portray us as a bunch of happy fellows after we come out of the closet. You’re now stylish, all the ladies adore you, and you generally exude a pocket full of sunshine. In my experience speaking with gay men from all around the world, that’s far from the truth.
The truth is that gay men are vulnerable, sensitive human beings whether you’ve been out of the closet for more than ten years or you’re still terrified to tell people who you truly are.
It’s difficult to feel fulfilled when you know deep down inside that you’re never going to be accepted by everyone. In our compassionate nature, we want everyone to love us. Dissatisfaction in life stems from knowing that you’ll never meet everyone’s expectations.
What most people don’t understand is that every day is an act of coming out to be comfortable and satisfied with who we are today as gay men. They also don’t understand that every gay man’s journey is different. Your story is different than Paul’s story, and my journey is different than Ryan’s story. To give ourselves a “one-sized-fits-all” type of manual for coming out and enjoying life as a gay man would be like saying all animals can survive in the Sahara desert. It’s just not possible.
For this reason, many gay men end up feeling lonely because they don’t fit into the societal norms of what we think it means to be a valid gay man like always going out to clubs, skipping to the tunes to rainbows and butterflies 24/7, and living what so many like to coin as “the gay lifestyle.” It’s no wonder that this misalignment between what society thinks versus who you actually are makes you even shyer and more withdrawn. Do you relate?
I can share from personal experience that being gay comes with its own set of challenges. When I came out of the closet back in 2008, I hated myself for being gay. I was telling a lie for more than 18 years of my life. The last 8 years has been a journey of telling the truth again. While most heterosexuals have been able to tell the truth from the day they were born, we’ve been training ourselves to come out and tell the truth after many years of lying. Finding true happiness and fulfillment in this process takes work.
Luckily, there have been major breakthroughs in the science of mindfulness, positive psychology, and social skills over the last ten years that provide frameworks and action steps for lonely, shy gay men like us to have a better chance at feeling fulfilled on a more consistent, day to day basis. In this article, I’ll share five ways you can begin to break down the walls of shame and self-resentment so that you can begin to love yourself from the inside out.
Acknowledge what’s uncomfortable, even the awkward moments that make you wanna pee your pants
Most positive psychology and self-help gurus are going to tell you compile your ten favourite positive affirmations and repeat them to yourself on a daily basis. I can’t tell you how pathetic and unrealistic that is. How can you say something like “I’m confident and secure” after a guy dumps you and you’ve been dating for several months? The truth is that you’ll most likely feel sad and lonely.
In the world of mindfulness, we have a term called “impermanence” which means that your reality is constantly shifting and changing. Let’s say your dad doesn’t accept you for being gay. That’s ok, accept it. That doesn’t mean that ten years from now his perspective might be different. As long as you want to feel fulfilled in the present moment, you’ve got to come to terms with reality and accept it for what it is even if it’s ugly, uncomfortable and lonely. It’s through the process of being in the darkness that the sun will rise eventually and you’ll see the light again. No one ever lives their entire life living in darkness, and neither will you.
The concept of impermanence and accepting reality for what it is also applied to times when you’re feeling lonely and shy. It won’t stay this way forever, and you need to remind yourself of that. If you want a quick “pick-me-up” to improve your mood when you’re feeling low, remind yourself of at least five qualities that you like about yourself. So often, you think about what you need to improve that you often overlook what’s already good in your heart. They don’t have to be great, huge accomplishments. They can be simple things like you’re good at seeing positive attributes in others and you have a sarcastic sense of humour which makes people laugh. Embrace what’s already good in you when you’re feeling uncomfortable and awkward.
Tell the truth even if it feels like you’re lighting a house on fire
If you came out of the closet after 18 years old, this means you’ve become a pretty damn good liar. Now that you’ve come to terms with your true identity, it’s time to embrace it like a big bear hug. The caveat is that this is a daily practice. It takes discipline and persistence to shed light on your truth and reality.
In denying the truth, it’s as if you believed your house wouldn’t be destroyed after it’s been put on fire. In reverse engineering lying to telling the truth, accept that the house is burning down in flames even though it’s hot and destructive. Eventually, the area where the house once stood will be covered in ash and that ash will be blown away by the wind. This makes space for a new house to be built. This analogy applies to you accepting reality for what it is.
Telling the truth can be one of the most liberating acts of freedom that any gay man can experience. When you also come to terms with feeling shy or lonely, you make room for new feelings to become your reality.
Right before I graduated college, I told a close friend that I hated myself for being gay and overweight. I couldn’t stop crying and the pain felt unbearable. In retrospective, that catharsis is exactly what I needed in order to change. In sharing the truth with my friend, I opened up space to make changes that were needed in my life. I moved to a new city, made new friends and lost 40 pounds.
In telling the truth, you can simply take out a journal and write down things that you don’t like in your life. If you want to take it a step further, go ahead and share those feelings with a close friend, counsellor or coach. The more empathetic and compassionate you can be toward yourself when you’re going through this process, the more likely you’ll move toward a place of being fulfilled and satisfied in your journey as a sensitive gay man.
Realise the difference between lonely versus being alone
Much pain as a lonely gay man stems from your expectations that you need to be with a partner in order to feel loved and secure. Your expectations have good intentions but they’re not beneficial to your happiness and wellbeing.
As you’ve practiced telling the truth to yourself and others about your feelings, you might come across feelings of loneliness. That’s ok. It’s normal and millions of other people experience this on a day to day basis even if they’re heterosexual or in a relationship.
The key to understanding the feelings of loneliness is to differentiate what it means to be lonely versus being alone.
When you’re lonely, you’re typically feeling a low, negative feelings such as sadness, jealousy, or helplessness. When you’re alone, you don’t necessarily have a negative feeling attached to the physical reality of you not being surrounded by other people.
Once you realise the difference between loneliness versus being alone, you can act accordingly.
When you’re lonely, I recommend you call up a friend or a loved one to see if they can keep you company. I also recommend that you be completely honest and truthful with those whom you communicate with and tell them what you’re feeling. If they’re a skilled, empathetic listener, they’ll do a good job at giving you the energy and strength you need to feel better. Ask for their guidance about what they think you can do to feel better. Every single time I do this, I usually discover something that I didn’t know before. Then I end up with a toolkit of advice to pick from whenever I begin to feel lonely. You can do the same.
When you’re alone, I recommend you embrace it! Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing wrong with spending time by yourself. In fact, there’re so many amazing benefits to spending time by yourself. You can reflect on your life by doing mindful activities like meditating, journaling, art & crafts, or other solo activities that make you feel good. The key ingredient in spending time by yourself is reminding yourself that it’s perfectly ok and acceptable to spend time by yourself. As a shy person, these are the times that allow you to re-energise your heart and soul so that you can share your true self with others when you do participate in social activities.
Find meaning in what’s good and don’t fix what isn’t broken
As closeted gay men, so many go throughout their lives thinking they need to fix themselves because they’re flawed. “I need a six pack if I want to be happy” or “I need to make a lot of money so that guys will think I’m more attractive.” These ways of thinking are what keep you feeling broken. It’s time to flip that thinking around.
Instead of fixing what isn’t broken, you’ve got to treasure yourself for who you are today. Don’t treasure who you think you should be a year from now or reminisce about who you were in the past, give yourself credit for who you are today and find meaning in what’s amazing about your character.
One of the strategies that I use in my life is what I call “The Pride Bowl.” In a bowl that I keep in my kitchen, I write down at least one good thing I did during the day. This could be the fact that I complimented someone and they smiled back at me, or I helped a family member out with something they were struggling with. At the end of every month, I look at my pride bowl and I see a whole bowl of accomplishments that bring a smile to my face.
To make your own pride bowl, all you need to do is a have a few post-it notes and a pen that you keep near a jar or bowl. At the end of every day, write at least one positive thing you’ve done and throw it in the pride bowl. You’ll be amazed to realise how awesome you’ve been along.
Surround yourself with a community of like-minded individuals who embrace your goodness each and every single day
Ever since I came out of the closet, I always felt like I was different and needed to change who I was in order to be accepted by other people. It didn’t take me very long to realise that’s a horrible way to live.
When I realised there’s a little corner in every society with weird people like myself, it became apparent that there’s a community for everyone. If you haven’t found yours yet, that’s ok! Just do a Google search for communities you’d like to get involved with and remember to actually go hang out with those people in real life. It’s easy to stay behind a laptop or a cell phone because that’s comfortable, but true lasting change starts when you get out of your comfort zone and start hanging with those who accept you for who you are.
The strategies and frameworks outlined in this article are served as a roadmap specifically for lonely, shy gay men. Most people are going to tell you to “put yourself out there!” That may work for some, but I’ve realised that true fulfillment starts on the inside and then translates to happiness on the outside.
Max DuBowy is a Huffington Post columnist, YouTube personality and the founder of Your Success Launch where he teaches gay men and other sensitive souls how to become a friend magnet and love themselves unconditionally.
You can find out more, as well as get a free copy of Max’s 8 Step Self-Acceptance Checklist and Guided Meditation by visiting the Your Success Launch website.