Aaron, what has been one of the most challenging things that you’ve experienced or are currently experiencing?
“One of the most challenging things I am going through right now has actually been ongoing. I came out about two years ago as gay, and the reaction from my family has been strange. It started with my sister asking me and I told her—she asked me why I didn’t say anything before, and I said, ‘Obviously, you know why: because out family would not approve.’ And, of course, they didn’t, as it moved down the line. For some odd reason my aunt told my entire family without my permission. She said they took it well, but I didn’t know what that meant. Then Mom found out and she was heartbroken. She said things in the house were going to change. I said, as opposed to what? The family is still adamant in their beliefs. Pretty Jamaican, Christian home, so it’s somewhat aggressive, very emotional but not very understanding of certain ideals—I guess I am more progressive.
“It’s been a struggle of identity, because I want to be outgoing and fun and friendly, just happen to be gay as well, but I feel like I can’t do that within my own home, I can’t do that around my family, I can’t do that when I am around members of my own community. I was especially worried that if it hit my church, my original church home, then I would probably be crucified or excommunicated or something, because they are very anti-gay. I wanted to walk in that truth, as would say. Well my mom probably said something like that, or Oprah, I don’t know, but something along the lines of ‘walking in your truth.’
“And I wanted to do that, but I felt like there were so many outside factors thrown at me. Even social media played into that, because I befriended many gay archetypes on Facebook, you know ‘club kings,’ ‘party arrangers,’ models and artists, and all these people who happen to be part of the LGBT community. I feel like I got some sort of family going on with them, even though it’s electronically based. I get kind of jealous when I see them doing big things, getting published in magazines, having big parties, meeting celebrities, getting photographed. There’s a bit of jealousy there because it’s like, ‘Oh, why can’t I be doing that? Why can’t I be free enough to express myself like that, or do what they are doing?’ Meanwhile, I’m stuck over here, trying to get through school and this job and looking after my sister every single day. It almost feels like you’re kind of trapped. I feel like, if I hadn’t come out right now, if I hadn’t come out two years ago, I probably would be suicidal or probably in a situation that I don’t want to put myself in, like probably with a girl, breaking her heart or something, you know. I didn’t want to ever put anyone through that, but the main struggle of being gay is that a lot of people see that first and nothing else. Being gay is not the entirety of my identity and I didn’t want it to become that, I don’t think it has. I guess the main thing that has been keeping me from really enjoying myself and being myself is what my family thinks of me and what my church would think of me, because they are all I’ve had from the very beginning. If they turned on me, as much as I feel like, that shouldn’t matter too much, it’s tugging at my heart and telling me I’m nothing without them. That’s the thing that stops me in my tracks most of time.”
What are some of the obstacles that sharing, that piece of yourself with your family or friends with—Have you shared it with you church, at all?
“I have not shared it with my church. I have not attended in a couple of years because of my former job. Thankfully, that was one of the benefits of it, I worked Sundays so I wouldn’t have to go. Granted, I’ve been dragged there every week from day one, so faith has never been something for me to kind of enjoy. It’s been something enforced and latched onto me from day one. Granted, it’s literally my mom’s middle name, so it’s kind of important to our family, but honestly I saw it more as a parenting tool than as a spiritual resource. It was just something to be there and ingratiate me while Mom went off and did her thing in the church, or whatever, but that’s something else.
“I have trouble sharing this with my family and my church, because they don’t see eye-to-eye with me. Mom even told me when I came out, ‘I think you need to seek mental health help. I think you hate women. I think you have some problems going on. I think you need to get fixed. There’s something really wrong with you.’ I knew there was something wrong with me—not that being gay was it—but I just knew that I was very anxious and depressed when I was younger, about middle school, starting end of elementary school into the present day, and a lot of it was because I had to keep this in. I was very anti-gay from fifth grade on. Fifth grade was when I found out in myself, but from that point on, I said, ‘Okay, you need to keep it low-key. You know about this, but you can’t do or say anything, otherwise’—I was ten or eleven at the time, so I am like, ‘I could get kicked out of my house, my mom could like spank me or beat me,’ and I didn’t want that issue. I didn’t want any rifts in the family, any rifts in my house, and I just endured it for a long time. And in that time I kind-of joined them, just to stay safe: I gay bashed, I stayed away from it, I name-called, I tried to do anything to distance myself, to save my own behind. I feel bad that I did that, but at the same time I couldn’t relate myself with that being a good thing, with me being a part of that, or else I would suffer consequences from all sides. Mind you, back then even in school, back in late 2000s, it was not very hip to be gay; you were still a social pariah in that sense, you still got bullied, there were kids killing themselves. I remember seeing them on Ellen. There were kids killing themselves over being bullied, over being harassed, over being cyber-bullied, and I didn’t want to be one of them. I felt awful, but I did not want to be that. As much as I want to explain myself, I’m constantly met with the argument from my family that sin is not supposed to make sense, so they don’t try to understand or figure out or anything like that. There is no retort, there is no conversation. A lot of it is also just frowned upon in the black community as well, to be honest. Like being black and gay don’t go together at all. They are two separate things that aren’t supposed to mesh. And, of course, there is hyper-masculinity, toxic masculinity, and all that other junk I have to deal with. I don’t know how I slid by that when I was younger, but, as you see today, I’m this amalgam of emotions and gayness. For my family and my church, it was always one and the same, to be honest, because they took on that same kind of authoritative spiritual figure. So that was kind-of this weird—I felt like if I was talking to my family, I was also talking to my church, so it was just—nothing was sacred, nothing was safe, ironically nothing’s sacred. I felt like I couldn’t tell them anything, because I was, I like to call myself the white sheep of my family, because it was just a little—it was a little scary releasing that info, and I was always the weird kid. I was always that one they asked, ‘Why aren’t you like the other kids?’ I’m would say, ‘Because I am not. I wish I was, but I don’t know how.’ That translated into, ‘He’s just going to be that weird kid. He’ll probably grow out of it. He’ll be normal one of these days.’ Then I laid this bombshell on them and they’re like, ‘Umm, okay then. We are just not going to talk about that.’ Two years ago, that Thanksgiving and Christmas was, like you could feel the wall, there was no communication from family other than a hello or hi, and I just sat there. Even when we went around the table saying what we were thankful for, everyone was agreeing with each other and it was nice, but when I went up to speak, there was silence. You could hear a pin drop. It kind of hurt. I even asked Mom about it later on that day. I said, ‘Why was the family so averse to me talking?’ She was like, ‘Aaron, look at you. Do you know what you’ve become? Do you know what you are?’ I didn’t know I changed into another creature or anything like that, but it was kind of heartbreaking to look at your family and have them look at you and see you as something else, like you weren’t the same person you were before. I feel like this whole thing makes me separate from everyone honestly, it doesn’t make you black, it doesn’t make you a man, it doesn’t make you part of God’s kingdom, it doesn’t make you a human being. They say they love me, they say they still care about me, it’s just this one major detail that kind-of gets in the way of things. So it’s a little bit strained, and I’ve never really talked to my family much, not so much for this reason, but I have never really been able to relate to them because I was that white sheep of family. I didn’t necessarily separate myself, but it was hard to get into any of that, because a lot of the topics were things that I was averse to, like sports, politics, the gay agenda—that was literally what they would talk about every Sunday dinner, after church.
“It would be a serial thing and I am just sitting on the side, you know what, I am just not going to say anything, because I don’t want to start anything, I don’t want to have a controversial opinion and then be ostracized for it, but it all came to a head that day my sister talked to me and outed me and—well, she didn’t out me, but I told her, after that, when the family found out it was just like—it was as if almost nothing changed, to be honest, because I was not that close to them before, still not that close with them now, but this just gave them a reason too. I have been trying to go with it for a long time. So far, I haven’t hurt anyone and I have made a few new friends, there’s a plus, but otherwise it’s been—it’s a very personal issue that you can only deal with yourself, you can’t really tell anyone about it.”
What impact has this had on how you feel about yourself and how you interact with others?
“In a sense, I feel like this has freed me a little, like I don’t have to hide anymore, though I still feel a little bit separate. Sure, family and church aside, you start going into the world, and you start viewing life outside of that bubble. You start to meet friends, you start to see people, and it feels like I’m like one of the only gay guys within a five- or fifteen-mile radius from my space, so you feel a little alone and you get that electronic relationship through your fancy glowing rectangle, but you don’t get to see guys or contact guys or really get involved with anybody else that’s male and understands where you’re coming from, i.e. gay. It’s slightly empowering to me, to be honest, I mean a few good opportunities have come out of this. A friend of mine got me involved with the Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus. I met him at the Pride Rally when they legalized marriage equality that day. I was a keynote speaker at the One Big Event in downtown Hartford last year, totally didn’t expect that, but it was an honor and a privilege. That was like an apex to my declaration. To be honest, that was kind of bizarre, when I look back on it. I didn’t think it was a big deal when I did it, but looking back now it’s like, wow! I did that, that’s a little weird. I am trying to assert myself with this identity that, I am still Aaron but a little newer and improved and also gay too, but I want to express that through my outward actions rather than just internally, because the idea is there, the execution isn’t, and I don’t necessarily feel like the look is either. I really want to change my entire life. I want to fix up whatever anxiety and depressions are getting me down, I want to change my wardrobe, get my life in order. It sounds a little bit superficial to fix the outside too, but I know that the heart and the brain are so under construction and they are going to be under construction, but I just want closure, you know. I want to go off and do something.”
Do you feel like the need or the want to change things externally is because you have been doing work internally for so long that now you want the outside to represent what you have done internally?
“Yes. The reason this is such an easy story for me to tell is that I have been harboring this forever, really. Because when you don’t have much of anything else—I go to work, I go to school, I look after my sister, there’s not much extracurricular activity going on, except the chorus. I don’t watch TV, I don’t have cable or anything, so I can’t binge-watch or—that’s another thing too, I can’t relate to anybody in my own generation, that is the weird part, like twenty-somethings, they just don’t get me at all, I vibe a lot—a few friends of mine are in my age range, but I just vibe with mainly older guys, and I have been okay with that. It hasn’t really had any negative impact at all. I feel like you are kind of out there to your family and your church and then you are out there to the rest of the world except this little, not a little niche group, but this other kind of group and it’s—I’m not sure how to take it most of the time because there’s being liked for who you are and then there’s being fetishized. And, I realized that as soon as I came out as well, when some guys would try to come up to me they kind of only want you for one thing and they turn you into a fetish, they turn you into an object, and it was kind of demeaning to me. I really didn’t like it. There are also multiple times where I would overlook it because I never really cared that much about myself to say, you know what, maybe that’s not right, rather it was maybe I deserve that. I’ve done that multiple times with getting insulted, getting hurt, either placing myself in a situation of my own devising or of a situation outside of my control, I just kind of think to myself, you know what, I probably deserved that, it wasn’t a big deal, I was just kind-of, I wasn’t doing the right thing anyway, that’s fine, somebody else can get that or whatever. I kind-of dealt with life lackadaisically and I don’t want to do that. I want to take control and I want to assert myself and have a more aggressive attitude, but I’ve always seen that as kind of cocky and arrogant, and I didn’t want to look like someone I’m not either. There’s a fine line—there are extremities and there’s the middle ground, and I didn’t want to have any vices getting in the way. I just wanted to be normal, I guess, that’s my main concern. I wanted to be normal to everyone, and I’m the farthest thing from that, but I’m okay with it.”
What is your idea of normal? What does that look like to you?
“I want to be kind of a straight male, just one of the dude bros who go around and, you know, I guess, it is a little different than that because I would be kind of a gentleman I guess. If I were to want a woman, I would go after her respectfully and I would treat her nicely. I would be that weird guy who’s into all those other things that regular straight guys aren’t. The more and more I have thought about that, I am like ‘Wait, my idea of normal, is gay.’ I’d be all romantic and everything, and I’m like maybe there wouldn’t be any sex involved if I were a little bit—oh no, no, no, no that would not be the case. I wanted to be someone who was palatable, I wanted to make sure I didn’t rock the boat with anybody, that there were no confrontations, no anger, no misunderstandings. I just wanted to be somebody everyone liked and loved and didn’t have any issues with. And, I tend to be that kind of person. I mean, I will be the one where if mutual friends are in a conflict, one will come up to me with their story, the other will come up to me with their story, while they fight ,and I am just sitting in the back. I am kind of the shoulder to cry on, I’m kind of the voice of reason in a lot of places, so in a way I am kind of a mainstay. But I just don’t want to be the reason for the discord. I don’t want to be the reason for the chaos. I don’t want to make myself out to be a problem for people, so that involved a lot of self-sacrifice and forsaking my own needs for another. I mean, I look after my sister all the time. As I probably told you, she’s my twin. She’s autistic and I’ve been doing this for about a decade or more. I am hoping that one of these days Mom will find something for her that’s more stable, but she goes to her little day program in the morning, which is great, but once I get out of college and eventually move out, what’s going to happen to her? I can’t be looking after her all the time. Mom kind of sees me as—well I finally got the chance, I finally had the realization that I am seen as having a familial obligation rather than being a volunteer, and I didn’t like that. That’s actually the main reason my older sister, who I came out to first, moved out first. She and Mom were having problems, and she didn’t want to deal with it, so she moved out and she is doing great now. They are even repairing their broken relationship that they had as a result of that, but I didn’t want that separation to be the same way between me and Mom. Because she and I are very close.
“Even on my birthday a couple of weeks ago, she called me her only-begotten son, and I am like ‘Oh, dear lord,’ this is—she’s like having a real faith complex going on and it’s made life uncomfortable. That’s another thing: I was never able to see life through an unfiltered lens, because everything was seen through the eyes of religion, through the eyes of faith, so nothing was ever pure, nothing was ever nice, nothing was ever palatable, nothing was ever acceptable, and you get held back from a lot of stuff. I was sheltered, I had no idea that I was being sheltered though. That was one thing I realized a couple of years ago, when I first went to college and guys and girls were around me and they just looked at me and went, ‘Dude, you were pretty sheltered, aren’t you?’ I’m like ‘What? No. What does that even mean?’ ‘You didn’t live much, did you?’ I was like ‘No.’ ‘Have you even been anywhere?’ ‘No, I never left New England. Why?’ ‘Oh, lord.’
“A lot of people knew I was gay before I said anything. Even when I did a little bit of radio, I heard my voice for the first time, on the radio, and I was like ‘Oh my god, how did they not know? I’m literally spouting rainbows out of my mouth, I sound so cringe-worthy.’ But that’s one thing that’s held me back a little bit too. There is a slight issue of transparency with me. When people say, ‘What was your idea of normal?’ I wanted to be the mysterious guy, they guy who people admired, but didn’t really know about. They know of him, but they don’t know who he really is. I felt like that for a little while because of how distant I was from everyone, but coming into my realization and after watching, there was show on last night or the night before called ‘Bull’, with a jury selector who psychoanalyzes everyone so he has the right jury for the right case, and it made me think of all the psych majors I’ve met, all the philosophy majors I’ve met, and a few random friends I’ve met who can read me like a book. Without me even saying anything or doing anything they get a basic idea of who I am, and they can see right through me, and I’ve hated that. It’s a very painful thing for me when someone can see right through me, because I feel inadequate, I feel like I’m having an inaccurate description of who I am based on an outward or an inward thing, like body language or whatever, I feel like people are miss registering something that isn’t true. ‘Yeah, I’m awkward and shy and skittish at first, but please give me a minute. I swear, the objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.’
“I know I can’t control people’s perception of me, but first impressions are everything, so if I leave with a bad one and then I all of a sudden start acting like someone else, then I might seem two-faced or something like that. I really do want to have the best look for everyone else. I never thought about having a look just for the sake of you looking like something, because I never cared about it. I guess I relate that to all the problems going on in my life—this whole gay thing, and work and school and all that other stuff, I just attributed that to, ‘Well, you got all this going on for you, so might as well put your time and energy into that instead of caring about your appearance, your opinion, how you look, how you relate to others and all that stuff, you don’t really’—I don’t look at myself in the mirror very often. I try to take a little note of my appearance every now and then, but for the longest time I never really liked looking at the mirror. I never really liked seeing myself and seeing myself in relation to other people. A few people have told me if you want to know more about yourself, put yourself in the third person, like ‘Oh god, I could never do that,’ because I always saw everything I did as cringe-worthy or awkward or just kind of too ‘other’ for everyone else, kind of socially unacceptable. And, I guess that translated into my current mindset my routines of not so much caring about how I look or how I view others or how others view me, how others thought I looked. Mom always said I was the man of the house, which was probably a bald-faced lie, but I never really felt like a man. It was just kind-of this—because I thought it was a visual thing and also an action thing, and I never seemed to exude that or perform that, so I just felt less of a guy, less of a person and never really—that’s one thing, I always felt like there was something every other guy on the planet had that I didn’t, and I still didn’t know what that is, but I keep feeling like if I have that then maybe, just maybe, I got a shot in this world. I know it’s all in the head. I want to make sure that I can exude that and maybe help somebody else see that in themselves or something. I don’t know. I want to see that in myself first, whatever it is.”
Tell me about the relationship you have with yourself. It sounds like you are at a crossroads of wanting to improve yourself to be received by others but also wanting to improve yourself just because you recognize that you’re worth it. That’s the place many people could identify with.
“My relationship with myself is kind of love-hate, it’s kind of 70/30, 80/20, 90/10, no, it can be mostly defeatist. I will have some days when I can look in the mirror and go ‘hey,’ but otherwise it’s a lot of ‘oh, you again.’ I guess that has carried over into everything I do: my studies, my social interaction, how I deal with my family, because I never really gave a hoot about myself. I don’t know why, to be honest. I guess I got a few comments from family when I was younger, like my sister, my older sister used to call me ugly a lot, and she was joking, but I kind of felt it and my family would definitely give me the whole ‘Oh, guys don’t. Guys aren’t supposed to do that. Be a man. Act like a man. Why are you into that stuff? Don’t do that.’ It was the shaping and all of that, making me into a malleable personality rather than just being myself. I feel like I have the freedom to do that now, but I need to give myself permission to do that. I keep not giving myself permission because I am worried about, what my family is going to say, what’s your church going to say, what are they going to say. I’ve become so wrapped up in what other people think that I haven’t really developed my own opinion about myself, and that’s carried on into a ton of other things. I don’t even have an opinion on faith anymore or a higher power, or dating too. That’s another thing. I have never had a girlfriend or a boyfriend, and a question that I got a lot of the time before I came out, especially from church too, was ‘When are you going to get a girlfriend? Oh, I just bet they’re just knocking down your door, Janeen! They are just going to be all over him.’ Every time I heard that I cringed internally. After coming out that wasn’t a big issue with those immediately around me, but with my new friends now it’s like, ‘So when are you getting a boyfriend? What are you going to do? When are you going get with someone?’ I’m just like, ‘Ahhhmmm.’ I’ll take unknown answer for $200, Alex, and it was just—you can’t escape that whole cycle of ‘so when are you going to get with someone?’ I’m trying to get right with me first. I know that I’m not going to be a complete and total ready-made person to say, ‘Okay, now I’m ready to go out and get someone.’ That’s should be fun, right? It’s not that someone out there is going to be my other half either, because everyone is a whole person. I’m not fully at terms with myself yet, but I feel like I am getting there. But I also know that if I am looking to go out and meet people and maybe get a potential partner, then I need to have some things in mind, whatever those are, and I need to not be so afraid of love, because I am terrified of love. I guess it is the whole thing, the commitment, the caring, the thinking about someone, the caring about someone—I am terrified of it, because I have not really even cared for myself or looked after myself, so why are you out there trying to do it for somebody else when you don’t even know the first thing about taking care of yourself? And that’s made me wonder if I am even going to make it. Am I going to move out? Am I going to do the things that all my friends are doing, or am I just going to sit here and turn into a depressed lump?”
You mentioned the word depression and experiencing anxiety and awkwardness. Tell me about some of those experiences, and how you cope with those feeling of depression, anxiety (and you mention also becoming suicidal). Had you not come out when you did, had you actually experienced thoughts of suicide before that?
“There was one time when it was a very serious thought, but I never took any action into it. I guess that was when faith did step in, because suicide was a sin or whatever, and it was also—Mom told me that’s no way to try to fix anything. And I never considered it; like the thought came up every now and then, but it was just ‘No, that’s just not a good idea, I probably shouldn’t do that.’ But a few times that was a result of depression, and usually depression, sometimes it was a mood, sometimes it was my whole condition, never really clinically assessed or anything like that, but it was medically assessed. It was something that came about when I did something—I slighted someone in a minor way, or I forgot to do something, or there was a miscommunication, and it would hover for the rest of the day. I guess I was kind of triggered by a lot of little things, because my emotional fortitude isn’t what it is supposed to be. I coped with it, basically, by ruminating and sulking, and sometimes I’ll listen to music too, but it was either facing it by getting sad or distracting myself with music or art or something. It was just sometimes that I thought, once again, maybe I deserve this, maybe I just need to get sad for a little bit and not deal with it. It was constant and even stuff from years ago, like little faults I’ve done to people or in school or at a church or at work or anything, and someone scolded me for it, or anything, I’d still think back on that awkward moment and get all cringed up again. It’s kind-of crippling, because you feel it and it affects how you go about your day, and I want to stop that too. I want to say, ‘Dude, it was a little thing. Just get over it. It’s not even important anymore. It happened ages ago. Why are you still thinking about it?’ but I can’t stop, like it just sits in there and now any time I was feeling all right my memory bank could just flip through its little Rolodex and say, ‘Hey, remember this?’ The cycle would start up again. Same with the anxiety—that was usually brought about all of a sudden by, again, minor situations, probably like talking to someone important or if someone told me, ‘Aaron, can I talk to you for a minute?’ All of a sudden I get a little on guard, because I always felt like I did something wrong and that I was going to get punished for something and it was kind of something that carries on until after the fact that I deal with it or I realize, ‘Okay, maybe it was less of a deal than I thought, so I come down from that,’ but the anxiety comes socially too. If I’m with a bunch of people I don’t know, if I see somebody I like or admire a lot and I start talking to them, I start to get a little freaked out and, you know, with family, with my church, definitely too because I never wanted to—it was like walking on a tightrope or walking on eggshells with certain people, just so I don’t say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. It might just leave a bad taste in people’s mouths, and I guess I felt like I had to micro-manage everything so that I don’t, you know, get anxious or get depressed or set the other person off in some way, shape, or form.
“I had a time when I was just really good at saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, like I didn’t even mean it either, but I said something that I probably shouldn’t have even, though I thought it was the right thing to say, and it just ends up offending or slighting someone, and I just kind-of recoil and get into that whole mood again.
“I guess I never really have coped with anxiety. I just let it pass until it comes up again. I want to learn to chill, to relax, you know, let things pass, but a few friends have told me, ‘Aaron, all you really need is some weed. You’re getting all worked up over this. Just smoke a blunt and you’ll be fine.’ I’m like, ‘No, no, no, I don’t want to take any of those routes,’ because I’m the kind of guy who’s kind of an all or nothing. If I can’t get everything done at once, then I won’t do it, and it’s super-perfectionistic and it’s very superficial and I know it’s unhealthy, but I haven’t been able to bust out of that. It has been kind of ruining me in some sense—academically it’s been straining, socially it’s been straining, and just mentally too, because it’s like, do this or you’ll let them down, but if you do this you’ll let yourself down, if you do this you’ll end up letting both people down, and you and that other person down. It’s a balancing act, making sure this person is happy, make sure you are doing the right thing, make sure that nothing goes wrong, or else. I don’t know what that ‘or else’ was, but it was just do this right or nothing matters.”
Do you think it’s possible that trying to please other people and not create any conflicts and please yourself, you still may be hurting yourself or hurting someone else or upsetting someone? Perhaps a path you may want to choose at some point is to follow your heart and learn to accept that being who you are and moving forward on your journey may upset people. Some people may not understand it, but ultimately it’s your life, it’s your path, and to be able to accept that, may make some people uncomfortable and some people might not be a part of that journey, and to be okay with that. Sounds like it’s very draining and exhausting to try to manage things that are out of your control, essentially. You don’t have control over how people react or respond. You only have control over the actions that you take and the way that you respond to the way people react to you, or respond to you. Does that make sense?
“Yeah, it does. It’s just this constant feeling of inadequacy, I don’t know where it came from but it is just, I guess I got a lot of ‘you should be doing X, Y and Z by now.’
“So, I’ve always found it a little hypocritical but I still go through it, how others, family will tell me, Oh, you’re supposed to be doing this, or you should be graduating by now, you should be having a career by now,’ like ‘Why aren’t you doing this, why aren’t you getting somewhere, why are you still in my house?’ like it was a lot of that, but at the same time I keep getting the ‘you’re not going to be young forever, you need to go out and do stuff, you need to go out and live, have a life, go do something already.’
“I can’t necessarily do that when I’m here looking after my sister all the time and going to work and school. I can’t have a life. A lot of people are also saying, ‘Oh, you’re young, you’ll have your whole life to do stuff,’ then why are you making me feel like my life is already over?
“You don’t understand what you’re doing to me when you tell me all this junk. I already don’t have much direction in life, and then you’re just giving me a sign, you’re giving me two signs in the opposite direction that are telling me one-way, so I don’t know what you want from me. And, I don’t even know what I want from myself.
“So you kind of have to stay still, you can’t move, otherwise you’ll risk hurting yourself or ruining everything, making a mistake and having the world judge you for it and you not caring about it.
“That’s miraculously how I just gotten through life so far. It’s just been a series of, I made a mistake and deserved it and I’m probably going to make another one. It’s not healthy. I know it’s not healthy.”
Yeah, some things come to mind as I’m listening to you. One of them is to practice forgiveness, forgiving yourself, and that mistakes are signs that you are trying new things. It sounds like the fear of hurting yourself or making mistakes, or making someone else disappointed in you, or not meeting your expectations of what they think you should be doing or how you should be doing it, has immobilized you to the point where you’ve delayed progress in areas that you would like to see more progress in. But it sounds like your awareness of this may bring about more change and hopefully some more confidence in who you are, your potential, and your capabilities. Being gay myself, I’m going to make a reference to a very popular gay film, ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ There’s the moment in the movie when the Good Witch Glinda says to Dorothy, ‘You had the power all along,’ and that’s something I think many of us struggle with. We think that some outside force is going to come and tap us on the shoulder and say ‘here you go,’ or ‘this is the way,’ when really we have ability always, within us, at any point to determine what direction we are going to go in and how we are going to get there, We talked about the relationship you have with yourself, we talked a little bit about the relationship with your church and the fear you have with that and with your family, and you’ve mentioned your sister, you’ve mentioned your mother and your older sister, but I have not heard you mention your father. What is the relationship with your father?
“Okay, here’s the wild story about my father. When we were born he had a condition called Randolph Syndrome. It’s not that rare; actually, it’s pretty common. Basically, when me and my twin sister were born he ‘Rand’off.’”
“I know it’s my little dark joke for the situation, but I handle it well. He was never present, until my late teenage years, he started to make a motion towards me through cards, through pictures. I met him on Facebook, I met my half-sister and I met my paternal grandmother. He started to tell me, ‘I want to know about your life, what you’re doing, what you’re up to. I love you. You’re my son. I hope you grow up to be just like me.’ Just like who? Just like who, to be honest. Aside from that, I took it for what it was, and I’m like, ‘You know what, at least he’s trying, so I’ll give him that, whatever.’ Then I talked to him on the phone one time, for the first time, and that was freaky because there’s nothing like talking on the phone and hearing yourself. It’s very jarring, but we talked about life and whatever, it was pretty relaxed, there was no ill will from me towards him. I never had any, but a lot of it came from my mom and my family, because mom always thought he was a scumbag. I even asked her a few years before he made contact with me, ‘Mom, why hasn’t my father talked to me? Do you think I should try to look for him, or something?’ ‘Woah, woah, woah, Aaron,’ she told me, ‘if he cared he would look for you, so don’t get it twisted.’ I’m like okay, all right, fine, just hope he can do that sometime, then a few years later that happens.
“It was still kind of strained because whenever Mom heard from my paternal grandmother or him it was just kind-of—we were on good terms with my paternal grandmother, that was great, but from him it was just animosity and probably border-line hatred coming from them. But the big thing happened three years ago, because, by the way, he had no sense of tact, he kind-of said whatever, whenever. One day he was telling me about, throughout our conversations, he told me he had cancer, but it had in remission, so he’s been pretty clean from it for a while and that’s good. He also was a religion hopper. According to my mom, one day he’s Muslim, one day he’s Christian, one day he’s atheist, it just went around and around, so he was never really stable in that sense. Then three years ago, the big thing happened. I get a message on Facebook from my paternal aunt, his sister, said, ‘Hi, Aaron. I’m your aunt, Jeffrey’s sister. I want to let you know that your father is in the hospital. His non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma came out of remission. He is halfway in a coma and this could be it.’ I said, ‘Oh my god.’ So, after my class was over, I got out, I ran out of the building. I call up the hospital and I get on the phone to his room, his current wife picks up (mind you, he has four different families, and I have about nine half brothers and sisters, but what can I say: ‘Papa was a rolling stone’)—but that’s not important, I get on the phone with his current wife and say, ‘Hey, can I speak to him? This is his son.’ She put the phone up to his ear—I know this sounds so much like a soap opera, but this what went down—I get on the phone with him and I say, ‘Look, Dad,’ and I’ve never called him dad before, but I thought to myself, ‘This is it, so why, why, why harbor anything, why try to make it what it isn’t?’ so I said, ‘Look, Dad, I just want to let you know that I love you, I care about you, and I forgive you for not being there, for doing whatever you had to do for this other family,’ with a special needs daughter, mind you, ‘I just wanted to let you know, I harbor no ill will again you, I don’t want any animosity between you and me,’ not that there ever was, ‘but I just want to let you know that I care about you very much, I hope that you’ve gotten your house in order, I hope you realized—I hope you got all your ducks in a row, and tied every knot, I hope you’re secure and you’re safe and if this is it, goodbye.’ His wife told me he nodded an acknowledgment, I said, Okay, thank you, goodbye.’ Hung up the phone, told Mom what happened that day and she was shocked, because she didn’t think, she’s known this dude for a while too, she’s just like, oh, he’s in the hospital, oh my god, that’s pretty serious. Mind you, that day that happened was the day before Thanksgiving vacation, so Thursday, mind you, this is three years ago, and two years ago I came out, so this is back when the family was on decently good terms with me. We were going around the table saying what were thankful for, and I said, ‘I’m thankful for my father,’ and my family was like, huh? I proceed to tell them the story, and they are all just sitting there with their jaws on the floor, because they all to a degree had some kind-of animosity towards him, and I’d imagine a family would, after something like that. That’s understandable to me, but I didn’t harbor it, and they just looked at me and thought, ‘Oh my god, Aaron. How did you do that? How are you able to do that to someone who hurt you? How are you able to just kind-of just brush it off?’ I told them it was because I didn’t feel anything, I didn’t feel any hurt, I didn’t feel any pain, he was just—sure, he was absent, but I didn’t hold any animosity, for the longest time I actually held him in high regard because I thought, okay maybe he can be the daddy that I wanted, maybe he could do something for me—maybe he could come back and do something like that, I always kind-of held that hope out, and I realized a little time before, way before he died, I’m like maybe he won’t, but that’s okay. At least he made an effort now or whatever and he’s just doing whatever he needs to do, I guess.
“My older sister heard the story and cried because she comes from a different father and she never met him, so she got a little emotional at that point and I comforted her too. My family just told me, Aaron, you just broke a generational curse, you just like cleared all that air. All the junk that we had against him you just kind of threw aside and said, ‘were good.’ I’m like, there was nothing hard about it. It just seemed like the right thing to do. What sense is there to just harping on. The man is at death’s door, basically, it looks like. He could go into remission again, but we don’t know that. The family was very proud of me from that point. We got together again the next day, on black Friday, for leftovers and schmoozing, that day I found out that he passed. I managed to clear the table with him, say goodbye and get closure before that man even died.
“I still didn’t think it was a big deal until my family came up and told me about it because they’re like, ‘Aaron, don’t you realize, not many people get the chance to do that, not many people get to send somebody off like that, no one gets to have that last degree of separation with someone, like that’s just—you clinched it, you really kind-of, you hit it and that was it.’ I was like, well this was a man I never even met, never even got to see face-to-face who apparently fathered me. It just seemed like the right thing to do. In the few weeks after he passed I felt very strange. I had some serious bouts of depression, more so than usual, because a few emotions where coming up. I was like, ‘Okay, why wasn’t he more involved in my life while he was here? Why did he have to go and do that?’ because now that kind of stuff was kind-of coming up in me a little bit. I didn’t act on it, but it was there and it just tore me up inside a little. A lot of it, I felt like I was waving goodbye to a ghost when he died, because it was like—who am I saying goodbye to, who—I still don’t know who you are, you’re supposed to be my father, you’re supposed to be this man and I don’t even know who you are, so it was a very strange feeling of anger, depression, sadness, and regret, to a degree. I kept saying, ‘I wish I got to know him,’ but really, I wish that he got to know me. It was a little heartbreaking because it did affect me in a few areas, but then one day it kind-of cleared up and I was like, ‘Okay, I guess I’m good,’ but that filtering of emotion was definitely what I needed during the time, because I don’t know what was with me, it was just strange, granted my twin sister’s autistic, she doesn’t even know I’m gay, she doesn’t even know our father exists, like she doesn’t have to deal with that.
“My sister has her own battles that she deals with, but otherwise this was something that I was dealing with for myself, and Mom saw I was going through it, and didn’t do much about it, she’s just like, ‘I don’t know why you’re acting like this.’ So I guess there was some degree of animosity even in the death, but still it was something that I felt I had to personally wrestle with myself because this is my father and you guys have no specific connection to him, so this is something that I had to deal with myself, and I’m glad I did. It would have been nice to meet him but Mom always told me no, in the spirit of animosity, of course, that if I, if he were involved in my life, if I met him or gotten some influences from him, I wouldn’t be who I am today. So that’s Jeffrey.
"Are you okay, by the way?”
Yeah. Of course, I just naturally get emotional hearing things like this, because I can empathize and I feel it, and everything has to come out and it comes out in my eyes. Through some of these experiences, fear of being who you are, and taking control of your life and the issue with your church and religion and faith and your mother and your father and taking care of your sister and just feeling delayed from being where you want to be—what have you learned about yourself? What are some gifts you’ve uncovered in all this?
“I have learned that I can be pretty resilient. In spite of everything that has been going on I can—even in the spirit of, oh well, next time, there’s a degree of perseverance there’s some—I’ve always retained hope that things would get better. I don’t know what that hope was or what that hope was in, but it was there and I always thought, okay, maybe one of these days you’ll get to where you want to be and you’ll have what you’ll need and you’ll make a life for yourself and you’ll be over that hill and things will turn around. I’ve also realized from the job I just left, from two years, it’s been two years that I have worked there, up until this point. I would have been there today, had it not been for me resigning, but I have a very good personality, I’ve realized. I make people smile, I make people laugh, I try to brighten their day whenever they approach me, so it’s not so much a cover for the depression and anxiety but it’s just been the best option there is. It’s helped so many people, because a lot of the time people would come into the place and say, ‘Well, Aaron, the food’s sub-par and your bosses are whatever, but the main reason we come is, honestly, to see you. You’re the only smiling face in the place.’ It’s like, someone has to be. Ironically, I can’t go through life being all mopey and depressed, like everybody around me. I guess that’s one thing that, kind of, it’s like an extrovertedly happy introvertedly blah mood thing. If everyone around me is kind of depressed I try not to be that, and try to bring myself to be that happy person when everyone else is kind of down, and it can spread, it can definitely spread. When I see people who come in who are happy to see me, it’s a very good feeling and I know that they are here to see me, they’re here for me and it’s something, it makes you feel important, it makes you feel like you are doing something right.
“Even before I came out there were people who came up to me and said, ‘Aaron, you know, you’ve got this thing about you,’ I don’t know if they would describe it as je ne sais quoi, but they said there’s this thing about you that I don’t know what it is, but you’ve got it and I like it a lot and I don’t, I can’t put my finger on it. I think someone told me that ‘Aaron, it’s definitely your heart, it is definitely your heart, because not a lot of people possess the attitude that you have or the degree of kindness and niceness from you that you have, you need to share that, and you need to never’—like one guy over there, he’s like eighty years old, he told ‘don’t ever change, Aaron, don’t ever, EVER, ever change. There are not many people like you in the world and they need people like you.’ That did make me feel like I was doing something right, even if internally there was a battle but, externally there’s a smile.
“It’s not so much fake it till you make it, that’s in other areas. But it’s that someone has to be the nice guy, some has to be altruistic, someone has to be an agent of change, an agent of good, you know, someone has to be that, so why not me?”
I love that line, ‘Why not me?’ Is there a cool piece of advice, a song lyric, or something that resonates with you, that you would like to share?
“Yes. A biblical verse that Mom always told me whenever things were going weird in school or at work or a lot of people were bullying me or being nasty to me. I kind-of took it, because I was just that kind of guy. I’d think to myself, ‘I’m okay. Throw it on. I deserve this.’ She told me, first of all, don’t take that, but second of all, the verse was ‘Let your light so shine that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.’ Even in the non-biblical sense I’ve heard it from many other people: ‘Let your light shine, dude. They’ll see who you really are and that will give them the permission to shine theirs.’ People will see that, people will be attracted to it, people will be led by it, and it can do a lot, if you let it shine, so I guess I have.”
Why does that resonate with you?
“It showed up when I left my old job. I had been there two years, and it had given people time to warm up to me and really enjoy my presence there. When I told them I was leaving, they suddenly started to get a little emotional, telling me, ‘Oh my god, Aaron, I wish you the best. Thank you for all you have done for us over the two years, even if it’s just giving us breakfast in the morning. You are so happy, you’re so joyful, and we need that. It’s hard to find anybody with it, but you’ve been so nice, and that doesn’t go unnoticed there. We want you to know that, and please come back sometime.’ I’m like, ‘I’ll visit. I’ll be around. I’m not leaving the country.’ It’s good that there a lot of people who can recognize your niceness, recognize your good works and, I guess, give you some credit for it, give you some sort of approval. I don’t necessarily need approval, but it was nice. I figured being nice was enough and they saw it and recognized in anyway, but I didn’t need somebody telling me that I was doing well. It definitely helps, but I guess I didn’t need that. It’s like, have you ever seen ‘The Devil Wears Prada?’ You know that end scene where Anne Hathaway is on the train or the cab and she’s just smiling to herself because she is like, ’Oh god, I got everything done, I didn’t mess up, this is great,’ and meanwhile you see Meryl Streep in her cab smiling for the first time throughout the entire film. It was that scene that made me think, ‘Wow! She did all this and she was fine without any of her bosses’ recognition or a smile or saying you did a good job, thank you. She knew she was doing a good job and she didn’t need that, even though her boss approved of everything that was going on, she didn’t see that, but she didn’t need to see it. I feel that’s kind of what I get most of the time. I feel like, behind the scenes some people are like, wow that was really cool, thanks, Aaron—it’s pretty interesting to see what people are, what people think of you. In a good sense, anyway, because I already think about me as is, but when I see a good outcome from that, it’s like ‘wow, okay, that’s good.’ It’s very relieving and it’s very comforting.”
What advice would you offer to your ten or eleven year old self, having been through what you’ve been through to this day and what you’ve learned?
“Do what you need to, be who you are, don’t sweat the small stuff. Relax, pretty much relax. I was always so tense because I had to watch what I did in front of everyone to keep myself from being perceived as something that I am not, but now I definitely say relax and just be yourself, honestly. Because I always felt like no one liked me for myself. A lot of it was true at the time, I was anxious and awkward and annoying—and thank god I changed over the time—but I was always wishing I was better than myself, that I wasn’t myself, that I wasn’t this or wasn’t that. Now it’s like eventually you’re going to be the best, but right now don’t worry about it.”
Are you doing the best you can with what you have and where you are?
“I am tapping into that, yes.”
I think it’s fair to say that you’re the best, the best you are right now in this moment. Fair enough?
More than enough. How has it felt to share these experiences and feelings with me today?
“It felt very good. I’ve always had this story on my heart and I was honestly just waiting for the right person to tell it to, and then you came along. So I am very thankful and grateful for this privilege. I do want others to hear about this too, because it articulates it in a way that may just telling someone upfront wouldn’t understand. I feel like this is the most absolute truth that I can give, without being misconstrued, and if people can see that and take it for what it’s worth and understand me to a degree, then that’s all I really want. It’s like what Oprah said, ‘The three main things people want in life are: do you see me? do you hear me? and does what I am saying make sense to you?’”
Three things that I think are most important in being human and sort of the platform for what Hearts of Strangers is, is ‘I see you, I hear you, and I value you.’ So, it’s very similar to what you just said about Oprah. Do you think it’s possible that by someone else who reads your story may understand themselves a little bit better and know that they are not alone and that there is hope?
“Yes, indeed. That’s another thing I have done throughout my emotional roller-coaster journey: I’ve always come to people when I’ve been that shoulder to cry on, when I’ve been that person to talk to. I always try to boost, I try to bring somebody up, I always try to give them a piece of advice or make them laugh, or try to uplift them in some way, shape, or form. Even though I couldn’t do it for myself, I figured someone else could use this. Rather than remedy my own situation, I always try to remedy else’s situation. I should try that on myself, most likely, but I’ve always been one to inspire or boost another person, so I really hope that seeing my life story will bring about, heck, maybe an epiphany for someone."
Listen to or Download Xavier's Interview