Growing up Gay in the Midwest: Collin’s Story

Feeling Like a Fraud Living Someone Else’s Life

Meet Collin

  • 25-years old
  • Native of McCook, Nebraska
  • Son of farmers/ranchers
  • Older brother to two sisters
  • College graduate- BS Marketing Management
  • A 6-year financial services career professional
  • Omaha resident, and a
  • Gay man

Defining Gay

As a teenager, Collin understood the term “gay” to mean someone who liked men, often times was feminine and usually was seen as less than an individual for liking the same sex. He and his peer group said “gay” to jokingly describe something they didn’t like. It was “gay!”

In his household and community being gay was seen as a negative thing. “You didn’t want to become someone like them, meaning-gay.” The term was always used in a derogatory way.

He, himself, used the term to describe others in negative way, which he apologizes for today.

“I think it was such a normalized term to show a thing or a person is not like the rest.”

Signs & Symbols

Even while he and his peers were calling something/someone “gay” Collin wondered if he might be. He

  • Had an attraction to other men his age
  • Didn’t feel a connection to girls other than friendship
  • Read and researched “what it means to be gay”
  • Was interested in things classified as “gay” while growing up-like décor, landscaping, keeping a tidy room, etc.

I’m Gay

Collin acknowledged to himself that he was gay just before his 2013 college freshman year, although he kept this understanding to himself.

 “It was a pretty lonely feeling having admitted this to myself but not sharing it with anyone else.”

He was scared and had tremendous uncertainty about what his future held.

“I was in stress overdrive not knowing what lay ahead as a recent high school graduate already. Adding “gay” to the mix only compounded it.”

He hinted to his family but didn’t openly discuss it until June of 2017 when his dad flat out asked him if he was gay. “Yeah, yeah, I am.” To Collin’s surprise, the chat with his dad went quite well. He’s so grateful for this.

“My dad was a little more okay with it in the beginning than my mom, which is something I didn’t expect.

My sisters were pretty chill and so were all of my friends who already knew.”

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d have come out sooner, and get to enjoying my life a lot quicker.”

Filtered Behavior

Looking back, Collin acknowledges that his spirit and overall well-being were hindered as a teenager.

“I filtered what I said, how I acted, talked and dressed, which was upsetting.”

He just wanted to be himself without things like, “He’s gay or look at that homo,” being said about him.

Collin lacked gay role models but looked to his grandmother and a close family friend, neither let others determine their self-worth.

City or Country

Collin moved from rural Nebraska to its largest city to attend college and work. He never felt like he’d have to move to Omaha to be accepted.

However, he acknowledges that it’s easier for a gay person to be accepted, and perhaps happier, when they have gay friends and/or someone who understands them in a way they need to be understood.

He hasn’t detected any barriers to employment but does admit he catches himself filtering certain parts of his life with co-workers.

He tries not to be known as “the gay one” and fights thoughts about worth because of his sexuality.

“Even though I do this, not once have I ever been rejected or felt out of place by sharing my life with co-workers.”

Filtering is a deep-seated habit.

Not Easy

Collin admits there’s room for improvement regarding acceptance in Nebraska.

“I would like to walk down the street and not think twice about grabbing my partner Cody’s hand.”

Though he hasn’t felt unsafe in Nebraska, he has gay friends who have.

He’s an advocate of prioritizing mental health as high as physical health and regularly sees a counselor.

His visits are not for living as a gay man but for maintaining good mental health.

“Every part of my life has benefited from attending regular counseling.”

Rural Youth

Collin has a passion for listening to and guiding gay individuals, especially in rural areas. Here’s his best counsel:

1. Be yourself, if you can and it’s safe to do so. People will talk or look or maybe even make a snide comment, but being comfortable in your own skin is worth so much more.

2. Take steps to educate your parents, teachers, peers or friends on what it actually means to be gay. It’s more than likely not Ru Paul’s Drag Race in real life. Ignorance is a voluntary misfortune, and sometimes it only takes knowing one gay person to change that person’s perception.

3. Support other gay individuals you know who have yet to come out. Don’t belittle them, or go along with what your friends say around them. “This is the one thing I regret deeply from high school and early college years.”

4. It is okay to be different. Homosexuality is a part of me. It doesn’t solely define me. I have many straight friends and me being gay would be one of the last things they would use to describe me.

“Having said that, the one thing I’m most disappointed in about being gay is seeing others still treat gay people differently after knowing me, and accepting me for who I am.

Ahead

Today, Collin enjoys life with Cody, a paramedic in a pre-med and emergency management program.

He likes to travel, hang out with family and friends and tackle DIY house projects.

Someday he’d like to have a family, including children.

His greatest wish is that all struggling with their sexuality are somehow taken care of.

Adding, “I hope I never have to hear the word “faggot” or “gay” used in a demeaning nature to describe someone again.”

The most joyous part of his identity journey has been the individuals he’s had the pleasure of meeting, and those unexpected allies.

A wish, for all.

Cody & Collin. Traveling-his favorite pastime.

What Can You Do?

  • SHARE this story. You know there’s someone who needs to hear Collin’s story today.
  • Drop a positive message for Collin below.
  • Stop judging others. Start helping.
  • Have an accepting heart.
  • Even if you don’t agree with a gay lifestyle, love the person.

Resources

https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth-resources.htm CDC

http://assets2.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/resource_guide_april_2014.pdf HRC.ORG

https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Pages/LGBT-Resources.aspx American Academy of Pediatrics

https://lgbtqa.unl.edu/welcome University of NE-Lincoln

http://www.pflag-omaha.org/ PFLAG-Omaha

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Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories along with feature articles. Her work experience includes a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.

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