My name's Matt, I'm 27 years old, and I'm gay.
I grew up in a wealthy suburb of Chicago, in a Catholic house, surrounded by nuclear families. I played sports, I was funny, I was charming, and I was very popular with people of all shapes and colors. I figured out I'm gay when I was around 15 but vehemently concealed it. My perception of not being able to entirely relate with my straight family and friends, compounded by the rare images of homosexuality that I saw but didn't necessarily identify with, left me in a constant state of isolation. So from a very early stage in my life, I learned how to cloak my feelings, both sexually and emotionally. Subsequently, I struggled with my torment for a long and dark duration, burying it down, away from everyone, for far too many years that I can or wish to remember. Unbeknownst to the world, I had built a wall, with my cheerful exterior self on one side and my confidential inner distress on the other, divided, detached and alone. As the years passed, that wall began to build, and build, and build, until one day, the weight of the structure became too heavy to support, and everything came crashing down.
A little less than a year and a half ago, I tried to make an attempt on my life. Exhausted from concealing my secret for years, and overpowered by the crippling desolation I was stuck in, I came home to my apartment one unseasonably warm day in January, decided I had had enough and wrote a note. Like many struggling spirits of the LGBT populace, I had just become immensely hopeless and wretchedly weary. Fortunately, I couldn't carry out the act and called a dear friend of mine. For the first time in my life, I told someone out loud that I'm gay, that I had been severely depressed for many years, and that I had intended to hurt myself. She called my family, who came over and took me home, and my process of coming out began.
It has been the hardest, scariest, yet most rewarding experience of my life. If there is anything I've learned this past year, it's that sometimes you have to go through pain in order to reach pleasure. Sometimes you have to go through affliction in order to reach assurance. And sometimes you just have to put your faith in those you love, no matter the quandary, and believe they've come into your life for a reason, because, more often than not, people will surprise you beyond your darkest doubts. For too long my fears clouded my judgment and dismissed the simple truth of life that we as humans have an extraordinary talent for compassion. All my preconceived, synthetic negative conclusions that had been consuming me for years were shattered. And every single person I knew, or who meant something to me, welcomed me back with a new-found sense of knowing the person they had loved for so many years just a little bit more. I found a remarkable therapist whose alleviation finally allowed me to be open, to be vulnerable and to have relations. And for the first time in what seemed like forever, I was beginning to remember what happiness felt like.
Recently I went to donate blood for the mother of a friend of mine; she has leukemia and frequently needs transfusions. Seeing as we are both of the same blood group, I jumped at the opportunity of aiding them during their time of need. As I sat in the waiting room, filling out the necessary forms, I came across a question at the bottom asking me if I have had any sexual contact with another male, even just once, after 1977. My old persona -- the one who wished to be part of a crowd rather than in the front, the one who wished to disappear rather than stand out -- started to resurface, and I began to check the "no" box when I suddenly stopped. I'd seen this kind of box before, in doctor appointments and on surveys, and I had always lied. I'd seen this kind of box before, and I had always wished for the courage to be honest, to be truthful, to be strong. To check "yes." To acknowledge myself. To acknowledge my sexuality. So for the first time in my life, I did just that. I checked "yes." Yes, I have had sexual contact with another male after a year that predates my birth, and yes, it's been more than just once. I felt honest, I felt truthful, and I felt strong, but above all things, I felt whole.
I walked with the nurse to the adjacent room, and we began going over my sheet. All the inquiring questions cleared me to donate -- except for one. When we reached that question, the one I had debated answering truthfully, she asked me if what I had marked was true, and I said, without doubt, without shame, without hesitation, "Yes, I'm gay." The events that transpired after I disclosed that part of me were shocking and confusing, but above all things they were hurtful and harsh.
I was denied. I was rejected. I was ignored. It didn't matter that I've had very few partners. It didn't matter that I've used protection every time. It certainly didn't matter that I've been tested recently. The only thing that mattered was that I am gay. And because of that predetermined, biological characteristic that I was born into, I was immediately voided and branded as inadmissible in the eyes of the hospital. The nurse herself was saddened. She expressed her disapproval of this outlandish rule that had been in effect for decades and politely apologized.
I ran out of the room, found a tiny corner in the wing of the hospital, slowly slid to the ground and began to sob. Not cry. Sob. I had never felt such exclusion, such dismissal, such disallowance in my life. I had walked so far, I had made such strides, and it was the first time since I came out that I had heard such vocal disapproval of who I am and what I am and what I can or cannot do. I know that I'm different, and consequently my life will be as well. I've accepted that. I've befriended that. But it didn't make sense. It didn't make sense that if a heterosexual man cleared all the requirements and practiced safe sex, he could still donate blood, yet I couldn't. It didn't make sense that in our current time, such a primitive and discriminatory rule was still in effect, especially on the grounds of medical need. It didn't make sense that even though my partners have been few and my body is healthy, I still can't donate, solely because of my sexuality. Old feelings of anger, embarrassment and shame began to reemerge within my mind, and I found myself regressing back to a dark time in my life that I vowed I would never return to. "Why couldn't you have just checked 'no,' Matt?" I asked myself. "Why couldn't you have just checked 'no'?"
I called my parents, who were disgusted and angry and upset. My mom was a nurse who is now a social worker and has dedicated her life in both professions to aiding others regardless of mental, emotional or physical traits. In short, she's a healer and a peach. My dad is an anesthesiologist, head of the ICU, an expert defense witness in cases of medical malpractice and the president of his hospital. In short, he's a mender and a protector. They explained how this rule is not only egregious but archaic, and, like many things, it will just take time to change. They told me they love me, they told me they are proud of me, and they told me not to let some bullshit bureaucratic restriction prevent me from continuing my path toward mental and emotional serenity. As parents often do, they lifted me back up.
I walked through the hallways, drying my eyes, feeling broken, with my head down. But when I stepped outside the hospital, I took a deep breath of fresh air, held my head up and smiled.
You see, throughout my life I have encountered ups and downs, highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies. But my parents have always taught me that you have to find the good in every situation. Even in horrible, unexplainable events, you have to find the good. I may have a bit more self-improvement to accomplish, and I may have been denied the right to aid a person in medical need because of my gender attraction, but that day I did something that I'd never done before: I checked "yes." And no amount of idiotic governmental stipulation can take that sense of pride away from me. Because I'm awesome.
And so is my blood.