June is Pride Month and to celebrate that I wanted to write about Pride. To me, every event during Pride is about celebrating our authentic selves and knowing who we are. Finding and maintaining my authentic self has been a little bit of a struggle at times, but I am happiest when I am true to me and life is the most rewarding.
Finding My Authentic Self
I was a weird kid growing up, like espurr weird, and I knew I was different. My father made it easier to be unapologetically me. When I would get down about being different, he would always tell me the same thing. “Look at the great artists of the world’s history. What made them so great was that they were different. They saw the world differently and brought that beauty to the rest of the world. They didn’t become great by being the same.” This always picked me back up and strengthened my determination to just be me.
I had my art to comfort me in being different and by middle school, I also had my pokémon. I loved the characters, creatures and how they took me to a place where being different was celebrated. I was the only kid taking down the elusive Team Rocket after all. By middle school, when my parents would give me $5 to go to the movies, I paid for the $2 ticket and pocketed the $3 for snacks. I didn’t want the snacks and candy if it meant I could use the money for Gold and Silver later. This was when I started to learn being frugal was part of my nature and my authentic self.
I was so excited by Gold and Silver, that I started incorporating the games into my homework. This was how I met a classmate who was closeted about liking pokémon. They were "popular" and couldn’t talk about pokémon with their group of friends because they were too cool for a kid’s game. However, we would chat about pokémon once or twice a week. I remember thinking about how awful it must be to feel a need to hide a part of me from my friends just because they might not like it.
Doubting My Intuition
I thought about this often while going through high school. During my first year, a friend asked me if I was gay. I replied, “If anything I’m bisexual, I like girls too much to be gay.” In my mind, I knew I liked girls and I felt that I might eventually be attracted to guys too. I didn’t want to limit the possibilities when I was only 14 years old. What did I know about sexual orientation, let alone my own?
In the same statement that could have offered clarity, I found doubt. What did I mean by “I like girls too much”? Would I ever be willing to give up girls to be with a guy? What if I fell in love with a guy, would I miss girls? Would I still be attracted to guys if I fell in love with a girl? I had all of these questions and didn’t feel like I knew anyone who could answer them.
In order to find my own answers, I started self-reflection by journaling. I wrote about the crushes I had on girls and guys, and debated what was a crush and what was infatuation. As I analyzed my thoughts and emotions at home, I also worried about feeling like that pokémon trainer classmate. I did not want to hide.
I didn’t care if I was gay or straight. I wanted to be out battling for those who felt like they had to hide. If I was gay, I knew there were people who would keep me safe. If I was straight, I thought I would make a good ally to any gay students at school. When I saw other people getting picked on for being different, I couldn’t move. I found myself frozen in battle. Because neither gay nor straight felt right I couldn't figure out how to battle or what attacks were even available. Whould I need to raise my deffense first or just attack first.
Once I reached college, an upperclassman asked if I was gay. I said, “Not yet.” They replied, “Are you Bi? You know... it’s ok to be Bi.” Then they listed off three people in our department who identified as bisexual. After spending the first day upset, because I was called out, I started to realize they were right. October 11, 2005, National Coming Out Day, I wrote in my journal that I was bisexual. It was ok to be attracted to girls and guys. I didn’t need to pick one or the other, I just needed to be me. That little 14-year-old schoolboy knew exactly who I was, and had I just embraced myself then, those four years might have been a little easier.
Discovering New Authenticities
Realizing my sexual orientation was an aspear berry that thawed my self-exploration and broke a barrier. As I dove deeper into myself and explored, I learned that with an open mind, I could discover new forms of my authentic self.
Growing up, I knew I was built to be an artist. I enjoy creating things for people. By the time I graduated high school I wanted to become an animator like my role model, Glen Keane. It combined drawing and acting and sounded like the ideal job for me. However, the most affordable school for me did not offer any such program. Glen never intended on becoming an animator, but he got put in the wrong program and kept an open mind. Now, he’s one of the greatest animators of the late 20th Century. Following in his footsteps, I entered college with an open mind hoping to find my route.
Over the course of the four years, I discovered that I really enjoy costume design. I then continued the education with three more years to earn a Masters of Fine Arts. I enjoyed combining what I was learning from the art department and what I was learning in the theatre department to bring characters to life. Bringing a drawing to life was all I wanted to do with animation and now I get to do it every time I design a play or my day job gets a new project.
Reconnecting With My Past Self
When I was in high school, I was told to never change. I know that things need to change and that change is good. But I also think back to that moment when I need to reconnect with my past self to make sure my authentic self is still Tojo.
Once I was old enough to go to bars with friends, I started to spend more money than usual to socialize. The trend continued into grad school, where it was joined by eating out for lunch. By my first year in New York, I didn’t think twice about spending money to hang with friends at the bar or paying for lunch. The authentic youngster who once saved his snack money for Gold and Silver, was spending it and still buying the "Gold and Silver."
Since my financial downfall of 2013, I have been working on reconnecting with that younger version of myself. I have become more social since then and have been working to satisfy my past and present selves. Some of the solutions I found are actually from the past. Friends and I have gone for runs together. I also have some friends that we play Dominion together about once a month to hang out. Sometimes, I will just go to the park and walk around to be social. I feel at peace with these hangouts. My frugal self is happy I'm not spending money and my social self gets to see people I like.
Another solution has been to go out with friends and not order anything to eat or drink, except water. It may be strange, but I really like it. Meals are a very social time for the people in my life. This way, I can still be a part of the experience, but I don’t have to spend money every time I go. Like battling with a kecleon, it’s a little awkward at first, but then we get used to it. Some friends now are more surprised when I order something than when I don’t.
A good step to finding peace and happiness is to find our authentic self and start loving that person. I am lucky to have found someone who I can celebrate our authentic selves with. In almost two months, we will be celebrating ourselves with a wailmer full of our family and friends. As RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else.” Now, go be you!
Let’s chat: What does Pride mean to you? How do you celebrate your Pride?
Remembering Brenda: An Ode to the 'Mother of Pride'- The Advocate
How to Discover your "Authentic" Self and Live the Life You Really Want- lifehacker