Jer'Maine Montiel
Aug 3, 2017 · 8 min read

Knowing yourself isn’t easy.

You’d think it was though, the way that it sounds: You think as you, and you live your life as you. But those two things aren’t always in alignment. Usually, it’s due to cultural norms, and we may live one way while our thoughts and feelings tell us something different; and even further, our perception of ourselves could cause problems.

There can be a separation of who you’re actually living as and how you perceive yourself. One version of this can be toxic for you, like self-hatred. I’m not and have never been in the vicinity of that, so I’m grateful, but I was never living as my whole self; at least to some, and not to others. That’s the comfortable route, but in a year where I’ve purposely thrown myself out of my comfort zone, this is the last little hurdle for me.

I was a really shy kid, but it didn’t happen until around middle school or high school. I got bullied from time to time, never anything traumatizing, but it made me fold inward and keep my mouth shut just so people would leave me alone to a certain point. I still tried, and it actually got a bit better towards the end of grade school; I still have a few people from that time I genuinely think of as friends.

But before that pubescent stage my parents would tell me how inquisitive I was, and always asking them questions. I can vaguely remember being a rather upbeat, and very compassionate — the former kinda went away, of course; the latter never really left, but could tend to manifest in anxiety when I thought too deeply about things. Yeah, thinking. Even still I remain just as curious as I was then. My mind is like a dark storm cloud on the horizon, filled to the brim, and I brace just knowing at a point it’ll release, the particles dissipate and the sky is clear and blue again… and it never does. It just sits there, almost taunting me.

I went to a community college right outta high school. It was up in Goodman, Mississippi, not quite an hour from home. I was roommates with a good friend of mine, we’d actually met back in middle school when he moved to town. We had all the same interests, we both liked to draw and play video games, so it was a very chill experience that first year.

Looking back on starting college — or really, when I’d transitioned out of private school into public school in fourth grade — I was very naive about things. I was a church boy; there were just large gaps in what I knew of the world outside this insulated environment. So once college came, it was a fresh start: I was very open to meeting new people, I got along with everyone and would hang out with them, making new friends. That doesn’t sound like the worst thing, and maybe it isn’t but anything else, the details of who they might be, I never paid attention to. My mind was occupied with ideas and creating things; I wanted to be an artist before I was convinced to be a computer engineer, but even then I just knew I’d be making video games somewhere.

After that first semester of college I ended up going back home and attending the local campus there, at my mom’s request. She didn’t think I could handle the world at that time either. If I actually could or not is irrelevant now, but I started to feel a bit of a shift at that point. See, I didn’t just go back for nothing; something had occurred for her to tell me to come home. One day after class she asked me to meet her for lunch. It was an odd request, I don’t think I thought too much of it at the time. We go to a restaurant about halfway between us, sit down and start eating, talk about my classes and stuff. Out of the blue, while she cuts her food the fork and gets ready to take a bite, she asks, “are you having sex with guys?” I grimace, and ask, “where the hell did that come from?” Apparently, I hadn’t discovered how to delete the browser history on the computer, and someone (my brother, probably) told my grandmother who told my mother that I was looking at gay porn on the internet. She told me, and then we had a conversation about my feelings, and whether it was something that I “picked up” (I’m using this loosely ’cause that’s the only reasoning I have for what amounted to me “not being able to handle being on my own and out in the world” and going back home). To be clear, I wasn’t having sex. Having sex wasn’t even in the cards, and I don’t really think I thought about it that much; I don’t think I spent any time wondering how I felt about what was basically an exploration of my sexuality. I didn’t hold any kind of opinion about sexuality, I just rolled with the curiosity. So when I was asked what how I felt, I replied, “no, I don’t like guys. It’s not natural. Why would I do that?” (I also made a shoutout to God in there somewhere.) I blurted out the first thing that sounded “right.” I cried, I was frustrated, I couldn’t finish my food. My mom, as caring as moms are, wanted to reassure me it was okay. She said something about “choosing” to be gay, and that it would be much harder for me if I did since I’m already a Black man. She mentioned that if I was, that I shouldn’t hide it, and told me a story about a family acquaintance that did — it didn’t end well for him, unfortunately. I nodded and contemplated and that was that, I was coming back home to finish up junior college there.

Around the same time, there was a girl I was crushing on and I was too shy to do anything about it. We exchanged numbers at one point, so when I got back home and we got to see each other more, I finally mustered up some courage to see where it would go. We began texting quite a bit, hung out with our friends, when on a date or two, and enjoyed each other’s company; it was nice. One evening she came by my house, we sat in her car and talked about stuff. She’d heard from someone, who I’d considered by best friend at the time, that I might be gay ’cause “well, there were some people you hung out with up in Goodman that seemed to be that, and you hung out with them so I dunno.” Unsurprisingly, I was devastated. Why would he tell her something like that, knowing I liked her so much? After all that pushing me to finally ask her out, telling him about my insecurities? — I would literally compare myself to her then-boyfriend, who wasn’t shit, but I digress — I never talked to him again after that, and my budding relationship with her hit a brick wall. I cried a few times ’cause, of course, I thought she was the best girl in the world and I honestly couldn’t bare it. I didn’t date for a good while after that.

In the years after that I had numerous new crushes that never went anywhere ’cause I was too anxious to move, but on the flip side I had a great college experience I never even imagined I’d have. It didn’t matter so much that I didn’t make any headway romantically, ’cause I was doing stuff, I was making money, and I had friends. Sometimes though — psh, a lot of the time — I’d think. I’d let my insecurities get the best of me, and wonder why would I even try talking to another girl? I’m kinda big and I got bad acne; why would they even find me attractive?

Do I even like girls?

Bisexuality is a hard thing to grasp for people. We like to think in binaries, to simplify our thought processes for things that needn’t take all that energy to think about. So while the cultural norm of man marries woman, woman copulates with man, and that’s just what it is continues to be a vice grip on our understanding of the human experience, so too does I mean, if you like guys then you’re gay; you can’t have both. What are you, selfish? There’s historic literature spanning centuries detailing this phenomena and the irrefutable truth that sexuality and gender are just as varied as anything else.

I’ve thought long and hard about where I see myself on that spectrum. I haven’t stopped questioning what I think and how I feel since I had that conversation with my mom. Through the girl-crushes and boy-crushes and I don’t give a fuck if you’ve never seen me macking on a girl, what kinda weird shit is that?, I wanted to understand. “Choice” never cut it, ’cause if that was the case I’d save me from myself and stop thinking about it all the time; “born this way” never really cut it either. Im not really convinced we’re born to love a particular sex. I think it may be somewhere in between — I don’t think it’s an outside influence on you, and a choice is made; but that whatever stimuli the world throws at you, you react in a way that feels right. To do otherwise means that you’re not being your full self.

It’s really just that simple. In the last few years, out in the world on my own, I’ve been starting to really live how I see myself. It wasn’t a matter of not knowing, it was a matter of when. When are you going to let yourself be free? I’d like to think I didn’t fear what other people thought, or that I didn’t fear harm or rejection; maybe those weren’t the biggest reasons, and they were just part of a whole. But I think a better word for all of that is just comfort: the fact that when this happens, and I’m actually free, there isn’t room for comfort anymore. I might have (many) thoughts about others’ opinions of me; I don’t blame anyone in my situation being scared for their lives, especially now; and at some point, rejection just becomes a part of life, a product of the thousands of people you’ll meet in your lifetime.

I’m ready now, though. I’ve given it enough thought. A lot of great things have been happening lately; this is the last little thing I need to take care of, and those clouds are gonna break. The rain will clear, the air will be fresh, and the sky will look bluer. I just want to bathe in the sun and let it fill me with its energy. I’m ready to be untouchable.

Jer'Maine Montiel

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I drink and I know things.