I am a 30-year-old, gay, bipolar Black man with high functioning autism. I knew I liked guys starting around age four or five. I was diagnosed with Asperger's (a condition on the autism spectrum) at 12, a late age to be diagnosed with a developmental disorder. It took many years to face this reality and accept myself. I honestly wondered if there could be such a thing as being both gay and autistic. That's how close minded I was. As the years went by, I met other gay guys who had different types of disabilities. It felt pretty good knowing that I was not alone.
I had certain experiences in my childhood that confused me but led me to understand my sexuality. I would always hug and kiss my male friends on the cheek, and sometimes grab their butts. I always liked the way men looked, especially one of my mother's friends. When I was around seven years old, we had one of those hot boxes for the TV, and I found porn on the Spice Channel. The choices were either straight or lesbian porn. I never understood why they wouldn't show two guys. If you could show two women, you could show two men; that's how I saw it. I was very sexually confused. I would often ask myself, "Dontai, why do you like boys?" and I would always say, "I don't know." I thought something was wrong with me. I would question God saying, "Lord, why didn't you make me a girl?" I seriously thought I was going to hell for being attracted to guys.
At age 11, my sexuality drifted. I felt my hormones raging. My attraction to guys faded, and I was girl-crazy for a while.
When I was 14, I attended a summer day camp and had my first sexual experience with a boy. (I had only ever kissed a girl at school before.) After swimming in the pool, I went to the showers with a boy named Jovany and another male friend. One thing led to another, and suddenly Jovany started giving the other boy oral sex. I was shocked and didn't say anything because I was aroused. Then, I gave Jovany oral sex. Did I like it? Yes, but I didn't want anyone to know. Someone must have told, because my mom and I were called to a meeting at the pool. Fortunately no one seemed angry or upset, not even my mom. In a shaking, embarrassed, and small voice, I confessed to the sexual activity, and put my head down and covered my face. My mom may not have been mad, but she was still concerned about her young son. I am glad she showed concern instead of just getting mad and lashing out, because she wasn't keen on her son having feelings for boys. We headed home and she asked, "Did you like doing that?" Of course I liked it, but said, "No." Toward the end of our deep and emotional conversation, I broke down and started crying. My brother Kash, a cute toddler, heard me crying and said, "Mom, why is Dontai crying?," but she was too teary to explain. We may not have been the best family throughout the years, but we have truly stuck together and accomplished a lot in life.
It took a long time for me to be ready to search my soul and deal with my own sexuality. I came out to myself at 19, but kept it a secret from others at first. Whether you are gay, lesbian, bi, or trans, so much goes into coming out -- admitting it not only to yourself but to the world.
Bullying is a serious issue, whether it is online or in person, and it needs to stop. I have flashbacks to being bullied and I get so upset that I want to travel back in time and handle it much better than I did then. l was called the r, f, and n words. I got hit. Stuff was thrown at me. At age nine, I was living in New York when a kid pinned me against a wall and pulled a knife on me while yelling slurs. Today, I can remember the fear I felt while being bullied. I never really stood up for myself. I used to cut myself, and I tried drowning myself at age 10. My mom came to my rescue and gave me CPR. Another time I tried hanging myself, but could not go through with it.
It truly breaks my heart when I hear about someone ending their life because they have been bullied for their sexual orientation. Sometimes I start bawling, crying out with a desire to hug and kiss them and tell them it is going to be okay. They were ashamed and embarrassed to be gay, and felt alone and isolated. I felt like that plenty of times throughout my childhood, but I got through it. I sought help and was in therapy for years.
One thing that really helped me was watching a ton of YouTube coming out videos, and many of them inspired me. Most of them were very touching and sometimes heartbreaking. I truly felt all of their pain and I would talk to the video screen and say over and over, "I love you. You're beautiful, and brave, and strong. Welcome to the family. You rock!" I didn't feel so alone anymore. Now I understand that gay comes in all colors, religions, abilities, shapes, and sizes.
I went to high school with someone who was transitioning. At the time I had no idea what being trans meant. I'd see her getting targeted or talked about behind her back, and I wanted to stand up and say something, but didn't out of fear of being the next target.
Do we all have to have the same lives to have the same rights? I thought diversity is what this world was all about when I was growing up -- having people of different races, religions, sexualities, genders, and abilities in the community. Every color of the rainbow is glorious because each one is special and unique in its own way. Being different is the spice of life. What a dull world this would be without differences.
Being gay and Black with Asperger's makes me somewhat unusual, and these attributes have left me ostracized from many social groups. I now know I need to embrace those differences. Anyone can find something to pick on you for, but just know if you have ever been bullied and made it through, you are a survivor. Yes, I am still depressed, and I suffer from bipolar and trauma. But I'm here, breathing and living life one day at a time.
Dontai Carmon lives in Newport and works for Advocates in Action Rhode Island.