I've always been terribly insecure -- though always secure enough in myself to admit it.
No matter my accomplishments, I've never been able to overcome my insecurity. There's always that nagging voice at the back of my head saying I'm not good enough, I'm not smart enough, I'm not talented enough, I'm not good-looking enough. Nothing is ever enough.
A part of it stems from my own restless ambition and the futile search for perfection. As long as there is something with which to find fault, there is something upon which to improve.
Growing up poor is the other part. Yet despite my humble-by-any-standards upbringing, I've always had a certain sense of entitlement... That I deserve more than I have, that life owes me more than what it has seen fit to give me. For that I can thank my love of old Hollywood films as a kid.
I strongly identified with those fabulous white women purring those witty lines and wrapping the world about their little fingers. They were who I felt a kindred connection with as a child. Certainly not other children. I hated kids even when I was a kid. But these glamorous glittering women in their glamorous glittering gowns were the manifestation of my true self, who I was meant to be. That I was relegated to a one-bedroom apartment with food stamps, second-hand toys and Kmart clothes was a slap in my prepubescent face.
Perhaps needless to say, I had an early knowledge that I was different from everyone else. I basically came out of the womb gay and have had a rather definite sense of who I am from a young age. This knowledge, however, is something a five-year-old is not always prepared to deal with, especially when there is little to no encouragement to be confident in that knowledge. I remember my mother once said she would hate the idea of having a gay child. I don't have many memories from my childhood, but that one remains crystal clear. At the time, I knew I was gay, if not necessarily what it meant, but I didn't want to be that way. Wrought with guilt, I dabbled in prayer, but I also discovered early on that religion was not for me.
The idea of some omnipotent dude in the sky seemed ridiculous even then.
But this knowledge of being different made me question my own value. And it made me question the value of my life. I became introverted, preferring to watch old Katharine Hepburn movies than play with other kids. The only playing I wanted to do anyway involved Barbies and I was told on more than one occasion that boys don't play with dolls. I was also a highly emotional child and was ridiculed for crying by both my family and the kids at school. Eventually, I shut down completely. I was different and I resented it. On the playground, being different isn't a good thing -- it makes you an easy target.
Adding to my identity crisis was a speech impediment that made communicating with anyone even more difficult. To this day I tend to mumble and jumble my words and speak at a low, almost inaudible level. It made me feel stupid every time someone asked me to repeat myself. Still, I was always at or near the head of my class. That was something in which I could take pride. I was considered special, "gifted." Around this time I got into X-Men, and they were different, they were gifted, and I began to identify being different -- being gay -- as something that made me special.
But as elementary gave way to middle and middle to high school, I was one of the few black kids in the gifted classes. Nearly everyone was white and upper middle class. They had computers and nice clothes and they got cars when they turned 16. If I didn't do as well or better than them, it felt almost like a betrayal of my race. I had to be better, I had to be the best. If I wasn't, I felt that somehow being black made me less qualified, less intelligent.
These feelings of inadequacy were only amplified when I started exploring the world of gay online dating, encountering profiles that spelled out, in no uncertain terms, "no blacks." And "no fems."
I was both.
This exclusion made me want these "masculine" white men all the more, because I never liked to be told I couldn't have something. Or that I wasn't good enough. Going out into the real world of gay dating became an ordeal unto itself and haunted by these denials of my race, I drank and drank heavily to muster the courage to strike up the merest form of conversation.
With a drink in my hand, suddenly I was Margo Channing, I was Tracy Lord, I was ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille! I could float about unaffected by the constraints of reality. Being glamorous and glittering and wrapping the world about my little finger. But reality would catch up soon enough and I'd end up belligerently blotto or passively passed out in a corner.
To make myself attractive to all those faceless men who would deny me for the color of my skin or the limpness of my wrist, I began to work out religiously. I wanted to prove myself worthy, to be better, to be the best.
Of course I learned life doesn't owe you anything, that you have to work for whatever you want and work to keep whatever you have. And some people just have to work harder. It's not fair, but neither is life. So I work. I work hard every day to live up to my own standards and to surpass the standards (I think) the world expects of me. My efforts, however, are hollow, as I've never been able to fully appreciate what I've accomplished or who I've become.
That's not to say I'm not proud of making it this far, as the odds weren't always in my favor. I'm a poor, black immigrant from the wrong side of the tracks. If you saw the street I grew up on in Poughkeepsie, you'd understand where those tracks were. I was orphaned when I was 14 and still managed to graduate high school in the top 10 percent of my class and get into my dream college. Even when that dream became a financial nightmare, I picked myself up, found a big boy job and an apartment at 19. I was homeless for a few months at 20. Was forced to move back to my hometown at 21. Battled unemployment and boring office jobs for over two years. Moved back to New York at 24.
Now I'm 27, with my very own apartment making a living -- more or less -- as a writer in the toughest city on the planet, which is basically what I dreamed of as a kid -- even though I expected to have an Oscar by now -- not to mention, I'm not too hard on the eyes. In short, I'm kind of amazing.
But no matter how much I tell myself that, it's still not enough. When will it ever be enough?
Will I ever be good enough?