Erik Pocock

When people think of tradition they generally think of heteronormativity and strictly defined gender roles. North Attleboro, the town where I have grown up, is no different. It is a town that is proud of its hometown traditions: its sports-centered culture and its clearly defined gender roles. Many female students dream of being cheerleaders, while male students dream of being star football players. Trying to break into the tradition as a gay man has been a daunting task.

My story is for anyone who is suffering in silence and can`t find hope. I want to inspire others to come out and be themselves. To seek their true identity, and to know that it is okay to be who they are–because no one should have to be afraid to be themselves. In writing this, I hope to connect with others, to support others, and to serve as an example that everything can be okay. It may take time, but things do get a lot better. It is possible to be your authentic self and to be accepted for who you are.

When I was young I was so happy having fun with lots of friends. During that time I knew there was something different about me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I was always interested in what my sister was doing like playing with Barbie dolls so I would play with them too. My parents got me a G.I. Joe doll, but I still wanted to play with Barbie dolls. I didn’t think anything of it, I was just doing what I wanted to do. I never thought about how these interests would reflect on me as a person.

Fast forward to middle school: I thought that going to a new school would be fun and that I would make a lot of new friends and be popular. I thought it would be a fresh start and that I would be able to be myself. However, this was not the case.

Three months into the year, there several rumors that started to go around. One of the rumors was that I had asked a guy in one of my classes out on a date. After this rumor went around the whole grade, a lot of boys made fun of me. Oftentimes boys would tell me that I was gay in a negative tone; they would make fun of the way that I talked. They would even sometimes call me gay slurs. Even though the outward harassment stopped, the inward harassment continued long after.

The thing about harassment is that after a while it becomes your own inner voice.

At school I received clear messages that I could not be who I was. These messages were sometimes inadvertently reinforced at home. Later that year, in sixth grade, I was sitting on the couch watching American Idol with my mom, and I said, “Scotty McCreery is cute.” And she responded, “You`re not supposed to think that.” It shocked me that she said this. It made me believe that I couldn’t be myself, and that my parents would not support me if they were to find out that I was gay. It made me think it was wrong to think another guy was cute. Even though this happened in sixth grade, this remains in my memory to this today. When a parent says something very shocking like this, it usually stays with you forever.

Seventh grade was no different than sixth grade. I still faced name calling and isolation; however, I did start to make some new friends. There was this one incident in seventh grade that showed me that I would not be protected by my teachers either. I was sitting in a classroom with two female classmates and the teacher. One of the girls kept saying, “I know you`re gay. Just come out already. Everyone knows you`re gay.” I just kept denying it no matter what she said. It was a very difficult time to deal with. I was sitting there and being bullied and no one did anything about it; not even the teacher who was about ten feet away. I didn`t have anyone that I could talk to about these issues, nor did I have anyone to talk to about the confusion and isolation that sometimes comes with being gay. Being gay was something that nobody ever really talked about, and if they did talk about it, it was usually in a negative way. People would say “Oh he`s so gay” or “He`s such a f**got” or “That`s so gross.”  Hearing these phrases tore apart my self-confidence.

This experience continued into eighth grade. I kind of knew that I was gay, but I couldn’t accept it. I wanted to be like everyone else. Ever since middle school started I had become kind of a loner. Most of my friends were girls, and I often got teased about that too. Ending middle school being depressed and lonely was hard, but it was even harder starting high school with those same feelings.

Thinking back about my experience in middle school, it could best be described as toxic. As Garrett White put it, “I had to hide as a method of survival. School was absolute hell for me.  The happy, fun-loving kid that I once was had been beaten down, and I was living day-to-day just fighting to survive” (White).

This may come as a shock to many people, but there was a time when life seemed unbearable. Unknown to anyone at the time, I was suffering in silence, with constant anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. These thoughts and feelings never seemed to go away. They just got worse. These feelings got so bad that at one point I almost killed myself.

I write about this experience to continue the conversation about mental health. Others need to know that they are not alone. It`s okay to not be okay.

One day during my freshman year of high school, all of my emotions and feelings had boiled over and I had just had enough. I was tired of hiding who I was, and I wanted the pain and suffering to end. I went home just like any other day. Later that night, overwhelmed by my emotions while lying in bed, I began to cry. I remember crying and praying to be like everyone else, wishing that I didn’t have to suffer any longer. I just wanted to be the Erik that I used to be: always smiling and having fun with friends.

I had everything ready: the note, the outfit that I was going to wear, and I was even about to send a goodbye text to all of my family and friends. I thought that it was going to be my last night alive. I just kept crying and praying that the suffering would end. With the thought of suicide lurking in my mind, death was more inviting than life. This is the first time that I am telling the story of what happened that night. No one at school knew what I was dealing with. Not even my family or friends. Every night began to be the same. Lying in bed and crying and wishing that I didn’t have to go through this. My life was a living HELL.

The hallways in high school were really lonely. It was like walking down a dark hallway and waiting for that “light” to turn on. I would always wait for it to turn on but as I kept walking and waiting, It didn’t turn on. I was waiting for hope, but the hope never came. It didn’t come until one day when I finally accepted myself for who I am.

Most of the time when I was in class, I was happy, smiling, and having fun, but these were just ways to try to escape the feelings that had taken control of me.

During my sophomore year of high school, I started being comfortable and open about my sexual orientation around some of my really close friends–but I never said to them, “Hey! I`m gay.” I also joined the Gay-Straight Alliance, which was, at the time, a step in the right direction. This was a step in the right direction, because being in the GSA really helped me start to be more comfortable with myself in school, and it showed me that there are many people at the school that do support me.

While struggling to accept myself I found this website called outsports.com, where I read Conner Mertens’ coming out story. His story was really inspiring to me. If you don`t know who Conner Mertens is, he’s the first openly gay active college football player at any level. His story showed me that people would accept me for who I was. It was the first time that I read a story about someone who could be themselves and be accepted.

The summer before my junior year of high school, I finally accepted that I am gay and that there is nothing that I can do to change. One day during the summer, I woke up and walked into the bathroom. I stared at myself in the mirror as cold tears covered my face. I  looked myself in the eyes and said “I am gay”. Before this, I had never accepted myself for who I am. I knew that I could not keep denying who I am. I had to start living a true authentic life. After years of hiding, I just wanted to stop running away from myself and just be honest with who I am. I was wasting time trying to be what society wanted me to be and I was wasting time trying to fit in.

The first person that I came out to was my former assistant principal. A few days before September 23, 2015, I emailed him and asked if he could meet with me during school because I wanted to talk. For me, sending an email was scary enough. Now I had to tell him something, in person, that I have never spoken about to anyone. A few days after sending him the email, I got called down to his office. I walked into his office and sat down. My heart was racing, fingers shaking, and my body was numb. The only thought that kept running through my mind, was “What the hell did I get myself into?” I started to tell him, but the words would not come out. My mouth just hung open. Finally, the words “I’m bisexual” came out, and there was no better response that I could have gotten than a smile, and hearing him say, “That`s awesome.” This was the turning point. If I could tell one person, I could tell the world.

The day after I came out publicly, I received an email from my former assistant principle, it said,

“I still recall that day you came into my office, concerned, worried, and you told me that you were gay. I breathed a sigh of relief and told you that that was wonderful news and that I`d be honored to support you as you navigated your way to being out to the world. You did it all yourself and I am so proud of you. You are an amazing person and you deserve the love and support you are receiving in response to your post.”

Another big step in my coming out journey was tell my sister about my sexual orientation. Since she was at college, I had to drive to her school. I met her outside her dorm and I had my camera with me, and she kept questioning why I had it with me. I just told her that I wanted to get her reaction. We sat down on her couch and I started to tell her. I said, “There has always been something that I wanted to tell you.” And she replied, “Okay.” And after a few seconds of fidgeting with my thumbs I finally said, “I’m bisexual.” Her response was perfect. She said, “Okay, that’s fine. I still love you no matter what.” She started to get emotional and said that she just didn’t want anyone to hurt me in anyway. I had to reassure her that everything was fine and that I had a lot of people who support me. After that, we got a few selfies together after.

Saturday August 27, 2016: The day that I thought would never come; the day that I came out to my mom and dad. I was at my parents’ summer house and we were sitting on the couch, and I just told them that I wanted to talk about something. I told them that there had always been something that I wanted to tell them. And both of them started to smile, just like they knew what I was going to say. I started to talk again and the words “I`m bisexual” just came out of my mouth. Coming out to my parents has definitely brought our family closer together. Coming out to them was a big struggle. When I finally came out to my parents is was such a big sigh of relief to know that it didn’t matter to them at all. They still loved me no matter what.

On November 2, 2016, I came out as gay on social media. The amount of love and support that I received was overwhelming. I have received 100% love and support from everyone. I have been through everything. I went from being extremely depressed and nearly committing suicide to coming out publicly and being the happiest that I have ever been.

The day after I came out publicly, I was in gym class. Class had not started yet and my friend said, “Come here.” I walked over to him and he started telling me that he saw my coming out post on Instagram, then he put his hand out to shake my hand. He said “I’m proud of you”. After I came out, I wasn’t sure if one of my friends was going to accept me for who I was. Thankfully, he had no problem with me being gay. When I asked him if he`s okay with it and if we can still be friends, he replied, “Yes of course we are still friends and I don`t care. I am just happy that you came out and said it because it is nothing to be ashamed of. But this would not change our friendship.” When I told my class president that I am gay, she too had such kind words for me. After I told her that I was gay, she said, “Erik. You are an absolute inspiration…I support you 100%. Whatever you need from me-I am happy to help.”

After I came out, a lot of people told me that I was brave. Personally, I don’t like it when people say that I am brave for coming out because you shouldn’t have to be brave to be yourself.

All of this worrying that I was not going to be accepted for being who I am was a waste of time. All of my friends rallied around me and they all said that it truly did not matter.

Accepting myself for who I am and starting to come out to my family and friends was by far the best decision that I have ever made. I would like to talk to anyone who is in the same situation that I was in. If you are struggling with accepting yourself, and don`t think you can deal with it any longer, trust me I know what it`s like. If you don`t fit in or don`t have many friends. I know what it`s like. If you are suffering in silence and struggling to find hope, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind. One: you are who you are and there is nothing wrong with that. Two: you were given this life because you are strong enough to live it. Three: it does get better. Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has taught me to embrace myself and to celebrate my true identity. If it wasn’t for you then I would not be where I am today.

Everyone in my life loves and supports me. I lived for far too long in fear.