As I approach my 22nd birthday, I can’t help but reflect at how I’ve spent more time watching others live their life instead of living mine. More specifically, I’ve watched my straight friends live their lives in ways I’ve only ever dreamed of. My sexuality, along with heteronormative society, has held me prisoner for so long I’ve begun to think I’ll never catch up to my straight peers or have a sense of normalcy.

As much as I would love to publish a story about the joys of being gay, my sexuality has done everything but increase my quality of life. In truth it’s done the opposite, and I’m reminded of it every day I interact with my straight peers. When we have conversations regarding relationships, I can’t offer anything of value, not in good faith at least.

They practiced dating in high school while we were teenagers, whereas I’ve been dependent on a bevy of less than reputable apps to meet other men since I turned 18. The ability to explore my sexuality was not readily available to me until the end of my high school career, and the few men I did meet were often not within my age range.

When our conversations turn to sex, I am never not in awe at how casually my straight friends engage in unprotected sex with little worry. The worst thing on their mind is an unwanted pregnancy, and I simply can’t relate. There’s a paranoia embedded in me that my straight friends don’t understand.

The moment I knew I was gay, I began to stagnate. My friends had their sexual revolutions, their ridiculous high school relationships, and I was left with no tutor or group to confide in. While my straight peers reveled in their youth and blossomed into adults, I was paralyzed with fear that I would become another statistic, a young gay man dead via AIDS by 25. I grew up in the early 2000s, but my mind was trapped within the 80s and all the anti-gay propaganda that came with it.

It may sound selfish, but I feel as though the pivotal years of my life, my adolescence and now early adulthood, have been stolen. The older I get the more I question if living was worth it.

As a teen there were many times I thought to myself that life as a gay man would never be enjoyable. The It Gets Better campaign launched 7 years ago and I honestly believed it to be true. Things would get better, being gay could be wonderful, and life was worth living. In the 7 years since that campaign began my paranoia has increased tenfold, and I’ve begun to rely on alcohol as a means of keeping my depression at Bay.

The gay community has a horrific problem with ageism and I know that the currency of youth will only carry me for a few more years. My time is running out, and I’ve failed to assimilate with my peers.

My sexual, mental, and social growth has stagnated, and it wounds me to know that my self destructive behavior will likely increase the longer I attempt to catch up to my straight peers.

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