I did not always believe in the LGBTQ+ community. For a long time, I viewed it as a group of fragmented and unrelated identities shoehorned together under a false umbrella. I refused to align myself with radical queers, protected my social territory from other gay men, and felt a distant sense of sympathy for LGBT+ people of color and transgender individuals.

When I first realized I was gay I was terrified because I knew my sexuality was something that would make me a target for bigotry, so I hid it from myself and the world. I prayed to God to make me straight, and I cried and screamed any time I was accused of being gay. And then when I could no longer stomach my secret identity, I came out. As a gay white male from Massachusetts, my sexuality was almost universally accepted by the community of straight people around me. I was welcomed into the arms of the majority and told that my homosexuality was a small, almost unimportant facet of my identity. In fact, I was told if I played my cards right my identity was something that could help me advance in straight society. So I learned to play into gay stereotypes to win over friends and peers and wore my assigned identity of “sassy gay kid” with a false sense of pride. Family, friends, and peers led me to believe that identifying with the LGBTQ+ community would do nothing but ostracize me from my friends and family and create an “other” identity that was not needed. And I believed that it was better to be the token gay of the straight community than it was to be part of a community of disenfranchised “freaks” that I was told I was different from.

For the first few years of college, I played the role of the socially acceptable gay man. I acted as the lapdog for popular straight girls who cringed whenever I mentioned my sexuality or progressive thoughts, and I bit my tongue whenever I heard someone mock trans individuals or gender nonconforming folks.  I shamed sex-positive people, played into gay tropes, refused to rock the boat, and in the process became a hollow shell of a gay man. I rejected the unconditional love of the LGBT community in exchange for the popularity and acceptance of the majority.

Last night I attended a vigil in Boston for the victims of the shooting in Orlando. As I stood with my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, I felt connected to the community I had been told to avoid. I felt a unified sense of anger, heartbreak, fear, and love. I felt a sense of home in spite of the tragedy that had brought us all together.  And I realized then that my homosexuality is not just a small facet of my identity, but an integral part of who I am. A part in need of nourishment from the community I had been told was unnecessary. A part of me that will always be in conflict with the majority, and that will only ever be truly understood by my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.

There is something comforting about being accepted into mainstream culture. There is something comforting about meeting expectations people have for you. What I have learned, however, is that assimilation robs us of all the beautiful things that make us unique. It is our differences from the majority that shape who we are as people, and giving up those things to fit in will never truly make us happy. I know from this tragedy that true equality has not been reached in this country. Acceptance for the most part is a myth. The majority simply wants us to become complacent and homogenize so that it can continue to shape the way our society works.  But that is the last thing we should be doing. We need to own our differences and scream loudly and not be afraid of “other-ing” ourselves.  We need to unite under one umbrella, as messy as it may be, because at the end of the day we have each other’s backs when the majority doesn’t. We need to realize that acceptance without acknowledgement of the beauty of difference is not real acceptance at all. If people refuse to accept us at our most political or most angry than they do not truly accept us at all.

I refuse to play a role the majority wants me to play to get ahead. I refuse to distance myself from my own community because of its political views, and unwillingness to bend to the will of hetero-normative standards. I refuse to forget the struggles the LGBTQ+ community has faced, and I will never disown my community members because they threaten the majority’s way of safe living. We do not need to agree on every subject, nor do we all need to come from the same background. What we need to do is remember that we are a family full of wonderfully different individuals who need each other to get past horrific events like the shooting in Orlando. I love my LGBTQ+ community because it is full of beautiful, loving, uncompromising, and most importantly, unshakable people, and I will never again distance myself from it.

Originally published here.