I am More…

At my Aunt’s Wedding with my Mom and Grandmother, may Aunt Nancy and Grandma Toni Rest in Peace.

Strip away what you think you know about me. What you have formed as an opinion based on verbiage or hearsay. What you believe yourself to have observed without asking for clarification. And take the time to find out who I really am.

The picture above you is me shortly before starting catholic school. Where I would learn about God, and about the Catholic system. I was placed in the advanced section of the class and was allowed to mix kindergarten work with first grade work. This was when I was termed “special” for my age. An intelligent kid who paid a lot of attention to his surroundings. I wore an itchy red cardigan to mass every Friday and my parents would take me again to church on Sundays. We would go to lunch afterwards and go home to repeat our listless weeks. Things were…normal.

Here’s me when I turned 9. I remember that birthday party was in the back of a Pizza Hut. At the time that was one of the ~coolest~ places to have a party. You’d invite all your friends over and have the whole back section to yourself with endless pizza and soda, who wouldn’t love that as a kid?!

This is also a year after the sexual abuse stopped. But you can’t see that in my smile, or big ass ears. You can’t see the cracks in the spirit of 9 year old me who endured episodic rape time and time again. You’d need an MRI to be able to fully appreciate that my amygdala didn’t grow to be normal sized and that is why I’m now considered “Hyperemotional and Damaged”. This was the first piece of my life that has made me, me. I was born naked and rape was near the first thing I’d have to define myself.

Did God hate me for what had been done me? Was I a bad person? What did this man mean by saying, “he loved my body”? Do I deserve to die? Will my parents be angry at me for this happening? What if I tell them and I get sent away?

God if you’re there, please don’t leave me alone with this man anymore.

We push away what we can never understand, and in doing that we push away the unimaginable. So I wont ask you to imagine having these thoughts and feelings at that age.

As I grew up I continued to know loss and death. This is me wearing my Aunt Maggie’s glasses. She would pick me up from school and babysit me along with my cousins. Her husband collected McDonald’s happy meal toys and they put them in a giant purple tub. So when we went over, we’d pull the tub out of the hallway closet, turn on Mulan and spend the afternoon playing. Sometimes she would tell us to get a cold weenie out of the fridge if we got hungry haha.

Then later in the evenings she would turn on Days of Our lives and start peeling an orange. She also had a bottle of diet pepsi right beside her on the couch and she would slowly drift off to sleep. I felt safe here, secure with her. I knew she loved me and I knew she wouldn’t be like the man who did bad things to me. She died when I was 12 prematurely from hospital complications and I haven’t cried at a funeral as hard as I cried at that one. Towards the end of her life, she could barely speak. But I remember walking into her hospital room and holding her hand. I looked into her eyes and she smiled at me and she managed to say in a very raspy voice, “I love you mijo.” I left the room in tears, and she died a few days after.

She wasn’t the first to die. My aunt Tonetta died a few years before her from lupus complications. My aunt Nancy died a month later from ovarian cancer. My aunt Rochelle died a year before my aunt Maggie. And she was a transgendered women who was born male, but I had only ever known her as Aunt Rochelle. My father felt differently about calling her by how she wanted to be addressed and referred to her as Richard. Death had become an old friend, and as a child I was mourning the death of my family and mourning the death of the child within myself.

I am not a stranger to death. I don’t fear him or her. In fact I find it to be peaceful, another step of the journey of life. And even though I had known so much loss, I continued to smile. So much that my nickname of the football team was Smiley and was put on my jersey.

Skip a few years and you’ll find me in HS. An awkward, unassuming, slightly insecure teenager. I was obsessed with Lady Gaga, Lil-Wayne, Baby Bash, Frankie J, all the greats of the time.

I had survived two years of bullying in middle school. A realm where guys pee’d on my gym clothes. Where teachers pulled me aside and lifted up my sweatshirts to make sure I wasn’t cutting myself. Where I first learned the art of ‘Fake it until you make it’. And I figured high school couldn’t be much harder. Surprise, it wasn’t.

I continued to get made fun of and beat up for supposedly being gay. People thought that because I didn’t play sports and didn’t like going into the guy’s locker room was because I was afraid of getting a boner and hence must be gay. In reality I was terrified of men. I had been beaten, raped, and abused by men my entire life up to that point. I had a father who was never home. I had cousins who fit the stereotypical jock role so they were safe. I had no positive male influences to teach me anything safe, wholesome, and good about masculinity or male bonds. So yeah, I was terrified. Can you imagine?

Heres a flattering photo of me my freshman year of undergrad. I was the first person in my family to attend university. I left at 17 and was 6 hours away from home. I had no support, no way of knowing how to navigate the realm of higher education. My mother and I screamed at each other frequently over the phone. My father still absent. I was lost, but trying to find a way to make it ok.

This was the first time I told anyone about my abuse. About the bullying, the self hatred I contained, the depression, the anxiety. The rusty chains I had placed on that forbidden door shook and burst forth a 6 year old child — naked and afraid. I grew close to a male friend of mine, too close. So close in fact that I thought he was the only thing I needed to survive. I had opened up a wound yes, and I was beginning to heal but not without dark weeks.

There were times when I would go 5–6 days without eating. 3–4 nights without sleeping. I was suicidal. I was depressed. I was losing my mind piece by piece as the darkness of what had been done to me continued to seep into my psyche. I struggled to do well in class. I was on unprescribed adderall at one point to simply function. I was beginning to strip away all the pain, searching for the light, the beauty beneath and I couldn't find any.

He left our friendship the summer after freshman year and I spiraled into hell.

Photo Credit to my professor Mary Klayder

Here I am sitting in a hot springs nestled among the mountains of Costa Rica. I was reached out to by a magnificent professor at KU named Mary Klayder. She accepted my application to travel to Costa Rica with her and a few other students. This was 3 months post me attempting to commit suicide my fall semester of sophomore year of undergrad.

I had survived externally but internally I was empty. I was going to therapy twice a week. I would occasionally skip an appointment or two but I knew I needed to get better. So I started being more serious about it, and my therapist is someone who I can honestly say saved my life.

Going abroad reinvigorated me. I got away from American culture and I learned so much about myself by reconnecting with nature. I felt revived, almost reborn. I came back that spring semester and started to kick ass. I worked my fingers to the bone and my mind to the brink. I spent countless hours of learning more and countless hours knowing less to become a medical student. I knew what I wanted and I would stop at nothing along the way.

I had help from lots of folks along the way who educated me on my small town minded ignorance. My main source of sustenance was spending time at the Office of Multicultural Affairs. There a beautiful man named Cody Charles, and two strong fierce women named Precious Porras and Camille Clarke would shape me into who I wanted to become.

I gave these people my tears, my laughter, my thoughts, my raw unprocessed ideas, my boredom, my jokes, my depression, my anxiety. They took all of it, without once judging me, without once questioning my worth. They showed me routes to learning healthy masculinity. They taught me about social justice, about language use. I learned how to become a critical thinker from them, how to challenge the norm and stand up for what I believe in. I also owe these, my own personal hidden figures, so much credit for keeping me alive and helping me be successful.

This final picture is of me walking down the hill at graduation. Headed off to medical school where I would have to learn how to navigate my intersectionality and my identities among a new group of peers.

But today, I fear that I have been erased. Everything that has made me who I am, all the experiences that have carved my soul with the depth it contains have all but evaporated. Do you want to know what it took? I just had to say one simple sentence, 3 words, 13 letters — I am republican.

Because I know to many that equated to “I love trump and support all his anti-white trans homosexual (or non binary conforming) ideas and beliefs.” Now I wasn’t forced to admit this fact, but I did because I was tired of being inside a pressurized echo chamber of attacking liberal thought.

I know that even though I continued to explain myself, all people kept hearing was what they were equating me to. I know that even though I said a frank truth that I do not support anything that Trump does or says, along with half the GOP party that I will still be branded as anti-gay, anti-women, anti-white, anti-anything non heteronormative, etc.

The irony is that I don’t fit some of those categories, especially as a minority. Yet my words I know still fell on deaf ears, and everything that has defined me until this point has been effectively erased. Because higher education hates me for being a conservative. Albeit a neo-conservative who is probably more socially progressive than some liberals.

Higher education, as evidence by dialogue, hates giving me any space to explain which policies I believe in and which I don’t. Higher education tells me that I am inherently wrong and backwards. Higher education has those of us who do identify as progressive republicans whispering to our friends.

“yeah I am pretty liberal with most things,” *leans in closer* “but fiscally I tend to swing conservative”.

I have been thrusted into a space that is violent to my identification as a minority who happens to be republican. And thats because the republicans are idiots and have set a precedence of being awful human beings in the past. But I do not identify with old archaic conservative rule. I identify with neo-conservative policies that encompass balanced aspects of social reform and fiscal conservativeness.

But even when I expressed my fears of being involved in a violent forum, very few people on the opposite end assured me that I was in a safe space. A few assured me that my voice was being heard and that my feelings were validated. But no one could even confidently say that I could post semi-conservative material in the group without it being torn to shreds.

I know too, that from this moment on, every other moment in my life has been voided — cashed out. Because now people will see me and most likely think, “Oh, theres that backwards ass non progressive republican kid from Kansas who probably hates his own race and doesn't understand shit about social justice.” Err- you’re wrong.

In fact in undergrad I participated in multiple social justice seminars, symposiums, and weekend retreats. Last year I laid down outside Chicago city hall to support the BLM movement. I have consistently lended my voice and any aid that is needed to my fellow colleagues of color, of varying sexualities or genders. Being a republican, does not equate to being a hateful individual who wishes to see people suffer at the hands of the wealthy.

And personally it hurts, and its sad that all I will be seen for as now by some individuals is exactly that. They have erased my humanity. Because really, politics means next to nothing in terms of my identity. I don’t even follow them close enough to give my opinion which is why I don’t 98% of the time.

At my core I am a loving, kind, passionate and altruistic guy. I love everyone around me in varying capacities. I am a lover of people for all the things that make them who they are. I forgive more times than I should. I hold on to the hope that people can be gentler to each other and I have never once flinched when someone says, “I’m a democrat.” But I know people flinched when I admitted my standing. So yes, higher education hates me and is violent to me in more ways than one.

And that breaks my heart that I, Dante Mesa, have been erased from being someone who spreads love and have been redrawn into someone that is hated and hateful.