(This piece is an autobiographical letter I wrote to one of my professors earlier this year. The people who have seen it have said it really helped them find what they need, and that it has helped them deal with being a gay youth.)

Dear Judy,

I am a man, defined by myself, and no one else. Sure, I don't fall into the stereotypes that society, friends, and even family want me to fit into, like some sort of puzzle piece. I'm that cone trying to fit in the cylinder space. I don't chug beer until I throw up, or ogle women at the beach. I don't like tools, or building things. The last time I tried, I ended up with a twisted hunk of wood: the spice rack from Hell. Sports bore me, and I never played little league. I used my imagination instead. Who would have thought that G.I. Joe would raid the cabbage patch, disguised in my cousin's Barbie clothes: high-fashion camouflage, you've got to love it. I played, and had fun, just in my own way. Does being different make me less of a man? No. I figure, if nothing else, I'm adding to the definition of 'manhood.'

Now, before I start sounding as if I have some sort of huge delusion of grandeur, let me explain. The way I've always seen things is that, by being different, you push the boundaries, and definitions of what something is - and usually for the better. Gender is full of differences, both between genders, and inside of each one. If there were no differences, people wouldn't have their huge dating rituals, or embark on a never ending search for 'Mr. Right,' because everyone would be the same. More importantly, having no differences would be boring! What fun is love, and companionship without the dizzying highs, and heartbreaking lows we all crave so much? Being different isn't 'wrong' or 'strange' it's okay - it's a good thing, it keeps people guessing. By being different, I become another shade on the palette of manhood. Somewhere in between Leonardo DiCaprio (I wish) and that guy at the store who always talks to the cucumbers.

This summer, things changed a lot. I spent hours on end, cooped up in my cubicle of a room at home, thinking about everything. 'Who am I?' was a frequent question, mind-boggling at best. I'd wrack my brain for what seemed like an eternity, ignoring, likely on purpose, this feeling eating away in the back of my head. I knew something but, what was it? I knew. I had known for years, but I couldn't even tell myself. I was scared of what people would think, what people would say, what people would do. It was killing me, I hated myself for not being able to be honest, and I hated everyone else for not letting me. Then finally one day, I was sitting on my bed, reading Giovanni's Room, and I came across THE passage. You know the one. Giovanni is in tears, and he tells David how he'll never love him, or himself, because he is afraid to stink. I read it, and, that cliché light bulb clicked on in my head. I did not want to be like that. I realized that I had been hiding from myself for so many years, because I was afraid to stink. I was afraid of how I would seem to other people. I realized that I am gay.

Judy, you are the first person I came out to. I swear it took me ten minutes to write those two words in my first paper for your Literature of the 1950's class. I sat there in my room my fingers poised over the keys, aching from sitting idle for so long, then, finally, when I was alone in the room, I typed it. I came out.

Immediately, I began to tremble slightly. Was it joy? Was it my body fighting off every fear I had ever felt? I was falling, without a net below me, into - something. I didn't know what it was - Hell, I still don't. All I know is that this is what is right for me. It doesn't matter what anyone says anymore, or what anyone thinks. I am finally me, and it is the best feeling in the world, and at the same time, it scares me because it's so new. It's a part of me I've never really had to deal with before - my sexuality.

It's so odd. Before I discovered I was gay, people couldn't care less about my sexuality, but now, it suddenly seems to have become everyone's business. Suddenly, I've gone from mild-mannered Ryan, that kid in the back of the class who never talks, to Ryan, the sexual deviant. It makes no sense to me.. I mean, maybe it's my anger, or some bitterness talking, but, society is very hypocritical. I am basically the same person that I was before I discovered I was gay, except now, I'm happy. I'm still the same Ryan who ran track in high school, but not the same Ryan who wrote all those angsty poems in high school about how much everything sucks - because it did. It's horrible to be so confused that you don't even know who you are. I'm not the same Ryan who sat in the back of your Lit class, and never said anything because I was too afraid to be myself. This is something new about me, and it's something that I'm proud of. It has made me a much better person. Why should I worry about people who can't get past my being gay, something that isn't really their business anyway? I mean, I don't harp over the sex lives of all the straight people around me, no one does, really, and that shouldn't change because I'm gay.

I'm not going to pretend that I know everything about my sexuality, and it's outrageous for other to pretend that they do, when they don't even know me. I'm a virgin. I've only been on one or two dates in my life, and I've never even kissed anyone. Good night kisses from mom don't count. I know I'm ready to take that leap out of virginity, but not with just anyone, you know? I'm looking for Mr. Right. I want love, and romance, flowers, candlelight dinners, long walks holding hands in the woods, or on the beach. The whole nine yards. I don't want just sex.. I don't see any point to it if there's no love - no emotion involved. Maybe I'll have to wait longer this way, but it's okay, to make sure it's special - not something I might regret the next morning. I know it won't be easy to find. Everything I want goes against what tradition wants - against how it's 'supposed' to be. Ideally, 'dating' is supposed to lead to marriage, and I can't marry the man I love, unless the law changes. It's not fair, and I don't think that homosexuals will be accepted until our love is acknowledged. People need to realize that what people love shouldn't make a difference, it only matters that they do love each other.

I am a gay man, and I'm proud of it. Everything around me tells me that I'm not, but they don't bother to see who I am, they're stuck on what I am. It's sad, but it's their loss, not mine. They can live in their own little fantasy world where everything is restricted, men love only women, and women only love men, but someday, reality is going to hit them, and the world is going to leave them behind. I was a man before I knew I was gay, and I'm still a man now.

Sincerely, Ryan Franson

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