Boy oh boy. The terrific, powerful emails keep pouring in. And I hope, by the way, that my answering some of them on my blog will not make those whose emails I don’t answer this way feel like theirs didn’t matter to me; they absolutely matter! If something sparks an idea I want to express to the world, I will sometimes answer on my blog. And know that I will never give away anyone’s private information… anything that might point to a person’s identity, I will change. I promise.
Here’s one I got yesterday. The subject was, “From an openly straight fraud who would like to say thanks.” My response is below.
I started reading Openly Straight one night in bed this summer and didn’t put it down until the sun had risen and my pillow was soaked with tears.
I wish there was a way I could articulate the full extent of how your book has changed me. I’m a nineteen-year-old closeted (confused?) male, a sophomore in college whose greatest life achievement has been his ability to hide himself from everyone he has ever met, including himself. Since adolescence, I had learned to live with a false sense of reality, brushing away my inner feelings the way one brushes away a recurring nightmare.
My treaty with reality began to break down last year, and your book destroyed the truce for good. I could identify with Rafe. We weren’t the same person, not even similar people, but we were close enough. Past the superficial aspects (sports, boarding school), we were both overly concerned with the comings and goings in our own head, and we both fell in love with our best friend: a philosophically-inclined, straight roommate. Rafe and I were just close enough that I had to taste reality.
I was fully prepared to go through my entire life without telling anybody my secret. I’m hesitant, even in this essentially anonymous email (yes, I created this email address just to send you this email), to spell out what that secret is. Part of it stems from genuine confusion; part of it comes from fear; part of it comes out of habit. What I know for sure is that, while I act openly straight, I am definitely not 100% straight. Probably not particularly close to 100% either.
Four weeks ago, I selfishly threw my life onto my roommate’s shoulders and told him my secret. In spite of this, he has been unbelievably supportive, even as he realized the implications of my revelation in regards to our friendship. I had braced myself for a Ben-like backlash—there was none of that. Yet, I’m not sure I can tell anybody else…and that, I think, is slowly eating away at my soul.
When I started writing this email, I didn’t mean (if you can believe it) to dump my life onto your shoulders as well. What I really wanted to say was that you have written a beautiful, beautiful book. I wanted to let you know that you have changed the course of my life (or, perhaps, simply accelerated the inevitable). For better or for worse, time will only tell. I can only hope that you will thoughtfully wield your power of touching other people’s souls, as I try to discover what best to do with mine.
Thank you for your beautiful email. I have all sorts of thoughts and comments to share. The first is, we have one thing in common: we tend to beat up on ourselves a bit. I can hear it throughout your note. To me, you didn’t “selfishly throw your life onto your roommate’s shoulders”; you let him into your life. People (the ones who count, anyway), tend to like when people they like who have kept them at arms’ length finally let them in a bit more! Like this email. You didn’t dump anything on me; you told me your story.
Along those lines, I want to challenge the idea that your roommate has been incredibly supportive “in spite of” what you told him. In fact, he’s been supportive because of it! Again, people who matter will see vulnerability and be kinder, not meaner. True, there are plenty of people who will go the other way. I’d love to say “who cares,” but of course we all care. Especially if you, like Rafe, like me, tend to spend too much time in your own head.
I fully believe what Mrs. Goldberg says in the book, when Rafe asks, “Why can’t I be bad?” I don’t have the book in front of me right now, but she says something like, “You can be anything you want, but when you go against who you are inside, it doesn’t feel good.”
I say this because it may not feel good all the time, as you’re getting honest with yourself and (maybe) with the world, but I one hundred percent believe it’s our only choice if we want to be happy. I have tried to be someone other than myself. Often I wake up with the idea that today I’m going to be more “fill in the blank.” That’s the same thing. It’s not accepting who I really am. It never works, and it may feel good to try to be someone else for a while, but in the end I always come back to the truth.
The best days are the ones when I wake up and say to myself, “Today I’m going to be the best version of me that I can be.”
I wish you the best of luck as you go through what you’re going through. It’s not easy to be different. But the truth is we’re all different in some way. That’s why so many different people – gay, straight, and every other label in the universe – seems to react to this book. We’re all different, and we’re all dealing with labels that we don’t want. It would be cool if those labels didn’t carry the power that they do, but they just … do.