Asad Rahim is a 2L member of Lambda who was recently asked by the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition to write a letter to his younger self.
The letter, available here, has been reproduced below.
At this point in your journey you think the hardest part about being a gay kid in an exclusively straight environment is that you don’t have a template to model your life after. There is no one to show you what you can hope for or what you should steer away from. No one to take you by the hand and assure you that everything will turn out fine. Blind and unguided, you’re left to fend for yourself, to piece together a good life when you have no idea what a good life is supposed to be for a gay black man.
But as you grow older you’ll realize that what you once thought of as a burden is actually a godsend. Unconstrained by others’ definition of normalcy, you’ll be able to live your life on your own terms. No one will pressure you to have a kid or get married. You won’t be caged in by dominant beliefs about what role you should play in your relationships. And rigid definitions of masculinity won’t compel you to mask your emotions, interests and desires.
Blessed with a blank canvas, you’ll have all the space you need to paint a picture that will be beautiful enough for an audience of one and praised by the only critic that ever mattered—you.
Given that freedom, you owe it to yourself to revel in the outer realms of possibility. Allow yourself to embrace the contradiction inherent in you. Be the black-power-shouting, white-boyfriend-having, gospel-loving Muslim that you are. Until you’re not. Then be whoever that person is. Don’t worry if you don’t make sense to anyone else. As long as you make sense to you.
And that’s the great thing about coming out. Once you build up enough courage to live your truth, you’ll stop caring what other people think. The whole shuck and jive to win external validation will just seem silly. You’ll learn to do as you please, and do it with ease.
It’s true: life is much better outside the closet. But I don’t want you to think that it will be a crystal stair. Navigating gay life can be a pretty harrowing experience. The constant performance that closeted gay men must put on coupled with the stigma attached with defying social norms will leave many of your peers psychologically wounded and those wounds will still be fresh long after they’ve come out of the closet. So you have to be careful about who you give yourself to—for too many people won’t what know they have.
Don’t let a chiseled jaw and a few muscles blur your ability to discern a person’s character. Anyone can live in the gym and binge on creatine but you’ll be surprised by how few good people are out there—people who are compassionate and funny, who awe you with their intelligence and see the very best in you even when you’re at your worst.
I know, I know—you’re not trying to hear all this right now: you’re too fixated on snagging yourself a cutie with a booty. But if for a moment you allow yourself to have what you need instead of focusing on what you want, you’ll find that getting what you need is much more satisfying than anything you could’ve ever wanted.
Finally, know that being gay does not have to be “your thing.” Who you sleep with is only a big deal because you live in a heteronormative society that deems it as such. Be sure not to conflate what other people find interesting about you with what you find interesting about yourself. Embrace your sexuality, but don’t be held hostage by it. It’s silly to force connections with people just because you happen to sleep with the same sex or to take on a cause that is not dear to you because it’s the gay issue of the moment. Clear out enough space to grow independent of any label that purports to define you.
Yesterday you woke up in a cold sweat. Overwhelmed with fear—afraid of yourself and for yourself. Not knowing how that self was going to survive in a world so hostile to its existence. Tomorrow you’ll push through those anxieties and find the courage to chase your happiness. Free to pursue your joy without being disoriented by someone else’s map, you’ll find that the happiness that you’ve always longed for was never as far away as it seemed.
With love for all that you are and excitement for all that you will become,