Being Out

In the comments of the Stealth Mode entry, RJ raised a good point: to what extent are we obligated to be out? Is it okay to slowly open the closet door? Or are we obligated to kick it off its hinges?

This is not an academic question for me. There is some chance that in the near future I will be doing public speaking on a semi-regular basis, about subjects that have nothing to do with sexuality. Am I obligated to disclose? (And what it is it that I would disclose, exactly? It is not as if I know myself.) My inclination is not to disclose anything, and let my fey mannerisms speak for themselves. But that is cowardice again.

The truth is that I demonstrate cowardice on a regular basis. Even though I participate in activities held at the Lurkville LBGTQ community centre, there is a strong argument to be made that I am still fairly closeted. I did not explicitly disclose my sexuality to people at my former workplace. I don’t own a single rainbow-coloured item of clothing. In 2011 I made a public declaration of non-straightness because a celebrity told me to. At that time I made a promise not to lie about my sexuality if asked directly. These days I sometimes go a bit beyond that, but usually I do not go much farther.

I have dropped enough hints (eg by mentioning the LBGTQ community centre) in my personal life that many people around me have confirmation that I am not straight. But that is about it.

What obligation do we have to be out? Dan Savage says we need to be out so that straight people realize that they know people who are not straight, and thus can normalize us instead of viewing us as the Other. This normalization has won us greater acceptance in broad society, and has made my own existence as a non-straight person much easier. So being out is a mechanism to “pay it forward”.

On the other hand, the marginal utility of having one more person out is small. In my case, it might be negative. Nobody wants me on their team any more than Buddhists are happy that Sam Harris meditates.

I don’t want to be anybody’s role model, but this is probably the most compelling reason to be out. There is some chance that other people struggling with their sexualities will see that I exist, and that (somehow) this will make them feel less alone. Honestly, I am not very good at being LBGTQ. My love life is nonexistent, I am a neurotic mess, and I am a prudish contrarian. But maybe that is okay? There are some people who claim that being gay and being Republican is impossible, and I strongly disagree. As much as I may disagree with their politics, visibly out gay Republicans probably help gays with Republican tendencies feel more safe. I endorse people (even Republicans) feeling more safe. So maybe me being out would make other pathetic, prudish, neurotic non-straight people feel safer? Maybe.

Then there is the argument for self-actualization: that being out of the closet makes you happier and helps you live a more authentic life. I am all for living an authentic life, but I am not sure this argument holds much water for me overall. Being non-straight has not done me much good so far, and internally I have probably accepted myself to the degree I am likely to in my life. Coming out more seems of little benefit.

I think this entry has ended up arguing that being out and visible is not that important. I don’t feel comfortable with that conclusion at all. Something in me wants to vehemently claim that being out is super important, and that we do have obligations to the broader LGBTQ community by being out. Unfortunately, other than the argument for paying it forward, I am having trouble articulating why it is important.

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Saving Alex

Recently I read Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began by Alex Cooper with Joanna Brooks. It is well known that I have a short temper, and I can often be heard shouting angrily at podcasts. Usually I am calmer with the written word, if only because books can be closed until I calm down. Not so this time. I cannot remember the last time a book made me so angry.

The long subtitle of the book indicates its subject matter: Alex was a teen growing up in a Mormon household. She caroused more than a good Mormon girl should, and more importantly she fell in love with girls. Then her parents sent her away to an unlicensed “residential treatment program” (aka a home in Utah) where her spirit was broken and she was emotionally and physically abused. Among other things, she is forced to stand against a wall wearing a backpack full of rocks. For multiple weeks.

The people who ran this “treatment program” are monsters. I cannot express how much ill-will I feel towards them. Of course, they get away more-or-less scott free, which just makes me angrier.

This book reminded me of two others. The first was a psychological horror book for teens called The Fog by Caroline B Cooney, which also featured authority figures gaslighting children. The second was James Loney’s memoir Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War, which documents an international incident where he and three other Christian Peacemaker Teams workers were kidnapped and held hostage. At least in the latter case we identified the Iraqis as kidnappers and terrorists. We would never call nice Mormons who psychologically torture troubled kids the same, but in some ways they treated Alex and her housemates worse than the Iraqi kidnappers.

The thing is that this kind of psychological gaslighting is happening to kids all over the world right now, and not just to LGBTQ kids either. I can’t deal with it. It touches some raw psychological wound in me; it reminds me of some of the garbage that was going on in my household when I was a teenager. I cannot express how damaged I feel I am because of those experiences. Intellectually I know that this stuff is going on, but psychologically I just cannot bear to face it. Never again am I willing to feel as helpless as I did back then.

Some people (including Alex Cooper) are using this story as an argument to outlaw reparative therapy. Some people (not including Alex Cooper) are using it as an argument against Mormonism in particular and religion in general. I see why people make these arguments, but my argument is much broader: children are controlled by authority figures, and sometimes those authority figures are abusive in horrific ways. You don’t need to be religious to be an abuser (although certainly religion can be used as a justification for this kind of abuse). You need not be trying to turn the child straight. All you need to do is gaslight them and isolate them so they cannot get help.

I should never have signed out this book. I should have known better. That does not mean it is a bad book. To the contrary: I doubt I would have been so enraged had it been poorly written. But unless you are made of stronger stuff than I, I am not sure I can recommend it.

Stealth Mode

In the midst of alienating my remaining blog audience, I skipped two chances to disclose my sexuality this week.

The first was during a discussion group I occasionally attend. One of the participants was a real live social conservative who felt uncomfortable with the idea that everybody else in the room supported gay rights. In contrast, he put his career on the line to oppose Gay-Straight Alliances at his Catholic school, and was plenty upset that GSAs were now being mandated. He wanted Catholic schools to respect the fundamentals of Christianity, and to distinguish themselves from secular schools.

I could have piped up with my sexuality, but I remained silent. Other people in the room claimed affinity with LGBTQ people, however (for example, one participant claimed to have a trans child).

The second missed opportunity took place during my weekly community service at a local market garden. Some fellow gardeners and I were talking as we casually murdered innocent plants that had the temerity to grow alongside our food crops. It was a wide ranging discussion. One of the gardeners spoke about her seven kids and her work in the Mormon church. That brought the topic around to other people’s family statuses. I was directly asked whether I had kids and whether I was married. Like the disciple Peter, I denied, denied, denied. I denied having kids. I denied being married. And I denied the opportunity to clarify the status of my sexuality.

So much for Pride Month.

Honestly, it surprises me that anybody thinks I am straight. As I have written previously, I don’t pass particularly well. Fortunately for me, many straight boys have gone metrosexual, which I suppose muddies the waters a little. Even if I do not pronounce my identity with flags and rainbows, there is an argument to be made for people coming out whenever the opportunity presents itself. So in addition to everything else I guess I am much more closeted than I thought.

Honestly, I do not regret remaining in stealth mode during the discussion group. Social conservatives are fascinating, and I would like to know how they work better. This was the first time I met this person, and I did not want him clamming up because I was in the room.

I probably shoud have disclosed at the market garden. I have been working with these gardeners for several weeks, and despite being Mormon and having seven kids I doubt the woman would have rejected me if I had said I was not straight. I do not get the sense that she is that kind of Mormon (but I could be wrong).

I feel that the difference between the two situations is trust. The most effective situation in which to come out is when people already know you and trust you outside the confines of your sexuality. Otherwise you run the risk of being an exemplar for the entire demographic, or being a label for others to project their stereotypes onto. There was a greater risk of that happening in the first situation than the second.

Or probably this is all cowardice, and I feel that others will feel less uncomfortable (and thus I will get by easier) when people presume that I am straight. This situation will surely come up again; it is unclear that I will handle upcoming situations with any more courage.

The Downfall of Milo Yiannopaulos

Having touched the third rail of homosexuality in my last entry, let’s finish the job and sabotage my reputation entirely. Those who are upset about discussions of pedophilia/hebephilia will want to avoid this (and probably everybody else will as well).

To start, consider this statement from my last entry:

Let’s be clear. Sexual abuse is awful. Period. Full stop. I believe that almost all sexual activity between children and adults can be classified as sexual abuse, and it almost always has traumatizing consequences for the child, even if the child thinks they are a willing participant.

Now let’s talk about Milos Yiannopoulos, who is the gay male version of Ann Coulter. He was an alt-right darling who became famous via Gamergate. I am ashamed to admit that he is openly gay (even though he advocates that gay men should be closeted and have kids, neither of which he does). He has made himself rich by espousing deliberately provocative positions on all kinds of social policies, courting controversy for publicity. As such, I feel he done many evil things in the world, provoking a lot of hatred for others for his own personal gain. He is bad news.

The alt-right loved him because he was gay, and every social movement idolizes turncoats to its side (see also: Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Jeff Rubin, Warren Buffett). He is also articulate and charismatic, and is very good at writing plausible-sounding arguments that are full of rhetorical fallacies, but which are engaging enough that a bunch of people believe them. He is bad news, and he is dangerous.

In February, he finally got in trouble with his alt-right base. After all of the vile positions he espoused, what finally went over the line? The third rail of homosexuality, of course. He made statements defending some relationships between adults and 13/14 year olds, and defending his own sexual relations as a 14 year old with a Catholic priest. (He subsequently walked back on these statements, claiming that he was 17 in his relationship, even though it was pretty clear from the transcript that he was talking about being 14.)

I am not here to defend Milo Yiannopaulos. I am not here to defend relationships between grownups and 14 year olds. There are so many ways in which discussing this subject at all sounds like rape apologists (“It’s okay to rape because the victims want it”) or NAMBLA defences. But can we at least admit that this is not the first time we have heard these sentiments?

The reality is that these kinds of intergenerational sexual relationships do occur. I have read accounts of them and I have heard people discuss them in person. And although I have never read/heard the younger partners in these interactions advocate that others go through the same experiences they did, I sometimes have read/heard people express some positive sentiments about these relationships. I have even heard the younger partners not regret the fact that adults were having sex with them as underaged teens.

I certainly do not feel such sentiments are universal. Many, many people who had this kind of sex describe it as sexual abuse. I do not think I know of a single person who has been in such a relationship who does not struggle with mental health issues today (although that’s correlation, not causation, and in my experience well-adjusted healthy gays are thin on the ground). It could be that any defences of these experiences are simply cognitive dissonance, because the alternative to finding positive meaning in such interactions is too upsetting to deal with. Even taking into account all those caveats, the fact remains that not everybody who has experienced this kind of intergenerational sex feels uniformly negative about it, and some feel it was a consensual positive experience.

What are we supposed to do about that? Do we deny these positive feelings, and shrug them off as cognitive dissonance the way I did in the previous paragraph? Do we claim that these people (whom we already classify as victims of sexual abuse) do not exist or do not matter? Or is that just throwing the younger partners of hebephilic relationships under the bus because their perspectives are too inconvenient for our broader narrative?

Certainly opening the doors to relationships between adults and minors is not the way to go. Even if young people occasionally come out of such relationships unscathed, I feel that they are much more often traumatized, and furthermore that the adults who would enter into such intergenerational relationships are predatory and often unconcerned about the emotional scarring they induce.

As with the discussion of pedophiles, this is not an easy discussion to have. I am less convinced that it is as important as the discussion of pedophiles in terms of keeping children safe. But it irks me that this is a phenomenon that happens, but we as LGBTQ people are largely unwilling to address because we want to appear respectable. And although I am happy that Milos Yiannopaulos finally suffered a setback, I am unhappy that it was on these grounds, and not the other awful things he has said and done. How alienating must that feel for those people who have shared Yiannopaulos’s experiences of intergenerational sex and felt the same way?

Sympathy for the Devil

The third rail of homosexuality is pedophilia. The queer community does all it can to distance itself from people who are attracted to youngsters, whether they be pre-pubescent or teens under the age of majority (which is technically called hebephilia and ephebophilia, but which I will lump together in this entry). There are some good reasons for this aversion, but the primary reason seems to be that accusations of pedophilia have been used as a bludgeon against gay rights for a long time.

Thankfully, this entry is not a Shocking Diclosure of Sexual Perversion. I personally have no sexual attraction to children or teenagers, or even to the twinkish young men that grace gay publications everywhere. I am grateful for this for many reasons. Being in the closet is difficult enough for mostly mainstream perverts like me; living in the closet for one’s entire life with no hope of being open is another matter entirely. Yet, that is the situation many people with pedophilic tendencies face. In addition to the legal consequences of acting on one’s sexual impulses, there is also the traumatizing children and destroying their lives part. Even for those “gold star” pedophiles who never touch a child, there is enormous stigma. Even the pornographic material one might use when masturbating is illegal in many jurisdictions, even if no children are involved in making the porn. (Romeo and Juliet gets a pass, however, because that’s art or something.)

Let’s be clear. Sexual abuse is awful. Period. Full stop. I believe that almost all sexual activity between children and adults can be classified as sexual abuse, and it almost always has traumatizing consequences for the child, even if the child thinks they are a willing participant. I remember back when I was going through puberty, and I harboured unclean thoughts about the Grade Four teacher Mr S. I spent too much time thinking about his moustache and chest hair, and although my fantasies were not fully articulated it is clear to me that I felt desire. But if Mr S. had compliantly carried out those scenarios in real life, I would very likely have been traumatized. It would not have been okay, no matter how much my hormone-laden brain wished otherwise.

If we accept that the prohibition on sex between adults and minors is justified, we still have a problem: some people are sexually attracted to minors. Now what do we do? Our solution has been to throw these people under the bus. At the same time we claim that we were “born this way”, and that our sexual attractions are not under our control. Thus it is societally acceptable to discriminate against a class of people based upon what they are, not what choices they have made.

I find myself thinking about this a lot. As revealed in Shocking Diclosure #3, I tend to be attracted to elders, often in intergenerational ways. It is no surprise that I harboured unclean thoughts about Mr S. and not about my classmates. Some kind commenters maintained that I am not an unlovable freak for my paraphilia, because lots of people are into daddy-types. Really, I am unbelievably lucky. Daddy-types can consent freely to sexual relations with freaks like me, and we presume that children cannot. Pedophiles are just the mirror image of my own fetish.

As such, I do not feel comfortable throwing pedophiles under the bus so that the rest of us seem more respectable. I do not think closets work for anybody, and that includes pedophiles. In fact, I think the closet results in a lot of sexual abuse, if only because pedophiles never learn healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with their urges, and then they give in. I do not believe that pedophiles should have open license to follow through on having sex with children, but there may be other avenues that the rest of us would find squeamish but which might be appropriate. It might not be wise to ban pornography that does not harm children in its creation (eg fictional text pieces). Even weird sex dolls that look like children should probably be permissible. This is creepy, but that is not the question. The question is whether allowing these things does more to protect children or harm them.

As I wrote at the beginning, pedophilia is the third rail of homosexuality, so we cannot welcome those with pedophilic tendencies into our communities even if they commit to never having sex with children. But I think this taboo is irrational, and I suspect that it harms more children than it helps.

Maybe we keep going down the path we are going down, decide that the existence of pedophilia is a threat, and conclude that the only ethical resolution is chemical castration. I have my doubts that this will work well (it didn’t work so well for Alan Turing) but at the very least we should then allow this as an acceptable treatment for other unwanted sexual desires as well, including mine.

Suffice to say that I feel we are dealing with the issue of pedophilia in unhealthy ways, and that we in the LGBTQ community are as much at fault for this as anybody, because pedophilia raises a lot of uncomfortable questions we are not willing to face head on. As a result both children and those with pedophilic tendencies suffer.

There is another side to this, but that is better left to another entry (or maybe never written at all).

Two Months In

Don’t worry. I doubt this will become a monthly feature. But some additional thoughts have been rattling around about this experiment:

  • I think I have firmly established the theme of this blog as “Old Lurker is a prude and unbelievably neurotic”.

  • I have started dipping my toes into more controversial topics, and it has not been going well. But things will likely get rockier in coming months.

  • It is fairly apparent to me that this is not going to be a “forever blog”. I am running out of things to write already. I expect the shelf life to be six months or so.

  • On the one hand, I am upset that I have not grown my audience this month. On the other hand, who cares? There is lots of great blog product out there; I have little to offer that makes me stand out from the crowd.

Sweating to the Oldies

Wasn’t my good judgement from the last entry heartwarming? Now it is time to undermine that sentiment and transform it into something creepy. Yes, it is time for Shocking Disclosure of Sexual Perversion #3: elders.

I would not classify myself as a gerontophile; my debaucherous tastes run towards those in their 50s and 60s as opposed to those in their 80s and 90s. But given the choice of cavorting with one of Mistress Borghese’s houseboys vs somebody in his 70s, my tastes run towards the latter. When I am in town, it is best to hide your uncles and lock up your grandpas.

This throws my motives for walking with the elderly gentleman during the Pride march into question. Was I extending a kindness and showing respect to an elder? Or was I perving out?

I have to second guess myself on these matters all the time. On the one hand, I really do value elders even when they want nothing to do with me sexually. It really was a gift to hear a few minutes of my walking partner’s story. I really do appreciate the generations that came before me for making my existence so much easier. I enjoy spending time with my elders independent of whether I find them personally attractive. On the other hand, my hard drive contains plenty of incriminating evidence that suggests my motivations were not so pure. Probably on some subconscious (or semi-conscious? I hope not fully conscious?) level I was showing kindness in the hopes of getting something in return.

I just hope that this fellow did not feel uncomfortable in my presence. I worry about that a lot; it is my fault that I have inappropriate sexual attractions, and other people should not have to bear the consequences of that.

The sad thing is that I am probably not as attracted to middle aged people as I think. I am very likely more attracted to the abstract concept of middle-aged people, without taking into consideration the ravages of time; bodies sag and libidos diminish.

As I hurtle towards my 50s and 60s myself, I question whether I will maintain affinities for this particular demographic, or whether I will always gravitate towards people who are older than me.

There is a lot more to write about this topic, but I have embarrassed myself enough for one entry.

Slow Walk

To say that Lurkville Pride was tough this year would be accurate. I have never felt that enthusiastic about Pride overall (internalized homophobia?) and as previously documented I had several bad experiences. But there was one positive that may be worth documenting, and (surprise, surprise) it arose because I overcame my social anxiety long enough to think about somebody else.

The context was Lurkville’s Pride march, which consisted of walking from City Hall for one entire block, all the way to a local park. While waiting for the event to start, I milled around with a few people I knew from the LGBTQ community centre. At the periphery of our group stood an older gentleman. His dress was not particularly rainbowesque (for example, he was not wearing one of the cheap dollar store leis the organizers were passing around) and he was standing by himself. I did not know whether he was a participant in the event or just an innocent bystander.

It turns out he was a participant. The community centre was passing out ridiculous signs for us to hold while we walked, so we passed one to this fellow and he accepted it. Then we started walking.

It turns out that this fellow was fairly elderly and fairly slow. The rest of the marchers were leaving him behind. Then I made the one good decision I have all Pride: I slowed down too, and walked with him at his pace.

We started talking. He told me that this was far from his first Pride; he had been participating in Pride marches since the early 1970s. He had a picture taken of himself with a big GAY PRIDE sign. He told me what brought him to Lurkville, and how his family farm had been appropriated by the government. It was not a long march, but I learned a lot.

The fact is that this man was an elder. It is because he was brave and came out in the 1970s that I enjoy relative ease as a non-straight person today. And there are so few elders left. He is 73, which means he was in his 30s during the plague years. But he survived. Far too few did. Now many of those who survived the plague are dying of old age. But for now he is still here and still being visible.

I am sorry that the group left him behind. I am glad he did not have to walk completely alone.

Of course, I screw up everything I do, and this was no exception. I did not learn the man’s name, and I probably would not recognise him again were we to meet. But I am grateful that he marched, and I am grateful that I was able to spend time with him.

Unchristian

Sometimes I wish I was Christian.

I am fortunate to live in a social bubble filled with Mennonites and Catholic Worker types. Thus my perspective on Christians tends to differ from those who feel assaulted by socially conservative evangelical types. As it turns out, many of the people I admire most are either Christian and/or grew up with strong Christian upbringings.

The Christians I admire tend to be strong in their faiths, but thoughtful and humble. Many of them treat unpleasant, uncharismatic people as people. Working with poor people at my former job probably made me more judgemental and more intolerant; in contrast, many of my coworkers were able to maintain both realism of and compassion for the people they worked with, some of whom are very unpleasant indeed.

It is also true that I have known my share of Christians who handed me interesting tracts telling me I was going to Hell. But even many of these were genuinely good people who probably believed as much in helping those around them than they did in tallying converts.

Floundering around in my midlife crisis, paralysed by anxiety and existential angst, my life savings smoldering away as I realize I am much less employable than I originally thought, I often wish I had some clarity about what (if anything) I am supposed to be doing here, and why. Christians have that clarity. I doubt I ever will.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever be Christian. Not to go all Christopher Hitchens (peace be upon him) on you, but I find the central tenet of the faith abhorrent.

Think of the person in your life you look up to the most. Maybe this person is very kind, or very compassionate, or very kind. Maybe this person works tirelessly to improve the well-being of those around him or her. Maybe this person is generous to a fault. Even the most cynical, nihilist member of my readership can picture such a person.

Now I will make you a deal. I will take this worthy person and first humiliate him or her, and then torture him or her, and then kill him or her. The blood sacrifice of this person’s torture and suffering will somehow absolve you of all the bad things you have done, but only if you believe this torture and suffering was a good thing to do.

If you refuse to believe this, then you are condemned to eternal suffering. Eternal. Like, forever. To avoid this, all you have to do is agree that the person you look up to the most should be humiliated, tortured, and killed.

The analogy to Christianity is obvious. As far as I can tell, the death and resurrection of Jesus is central to Christianity. A blood sacrifice absolves us of our sins.

But what about the resurrection? What about it? The resurrection does not absolve us of our sins. The humiliation, torture and death of Jesus is what counts. Does it make it better if your worthy person is tortured and killed, only to rise later on? Does that make the humiliation and torture and death less painful?

Christians are supposed to celebrate this humiliation and torture and death. They are supposed to see it as joyous. It puts the good in Good Friday. But I see it as abhorrent. Why should others have to suffer for the bad things I have done? How is that just?

Of course, nobody says that reality has to be just. For all I know, Christianity might be true. The deal really might be that three days of death for Jesus is worth much, much more than an eternity of suffering for me. Maybe blood sacrifice really does work. Nobody says that reality is pleasant or pretty. But this is not a reality I celebrate.

That is not the worst of it. The worst of it is many of the Christians I admire, the ones who take that central tenet of Christianity seriously, are the very ones I would least expect to agree to this blood sacrifice. Not only do they seem unwilling to sacrifice worthy people for their own benefit, they go out of their way to humanize people the rest of us see as unworthy. These Christians deal with the consequences of smelly, aggressive, inarticulate, needy, agitated, annoying people every day, but instead of hardening their hearts they open their hearts to touch the insecure, traumatized, abandoned people underneath. They develop relationships with these people. They care for their well being, even though they know full well that most of them will never “get better,” that they will screw up again and again until they are dead. I cannot imagine these Christians agreeing to condemn even the most difficult of the people they work with for their own benefit.

And yet God — who is infinitely more caring than his sheep — loves us so much he is willing to let his only Son be humiliated, tortured and killed. And then (depending on what sect you believe) God loves us so much he condemns us to Hell if we refuse to acknowledge this torture as a great gift. The distance between the tenets of Christianity and the works of the Christians I admire is difficult to reconcile.

No doubt this distance is reconcilable, and I am just too proud to see it. No doubt blood sacrifice really is joyous. But I do not (or refuse to) see it, and thus when I am dead by heart attack or diabetes or suicide, I could well be looking at eternal damnation. I can’t get my head around that concept, so I pretend to be atheist and wish the dilemma away. I ought to know better, but I don’t and I doubt I will.

Alone Forever

This is another mopey post. Sorry. I will try not to make it a habit.

So I went to the Lurkville Pride music festival/day in the park for a few hours. The day was nice. Some of the music was okay. There was a talented three piece band that got little applause, and (once again) I chickened out by not dancing or whooping in appreciation.

I visited some of the booths and talked to some people I knew. Other than that I sat on the lawn alone. Some people I knew walked by and I waved at them, and they ignored me.

That’s not the point. The point is that if I want to find someone cute with a leg cramp, then these are the kinds of events to do so. There were some cute people at the festival. Some of them were even sitting alone. I did not introduce myself to any of them. Why would they want to associate with me?

If I sit alone on the lawn and do not reach out, I cannot expect to meet others. I will spend the rest of my life alone. Intellectually, I know that’s okay. Despite what I write here, emotionally it is okay as well. But at the local Pride festival, feeling isolated even as I am surrounded by LGBTQ people, it felt less okay.