In high school I gained enough social intelligence to figure out how to fit in and even become popular by playing sports. Unfortunately, I was terrible at everything except one thing: cheerleading. My junior year I became the first boy on the varsity cheerleading team - and in Texas, this was about as close to coming out as I was going to get in high school. It was at first, totally miserable as none of the boys I was cheering for seemed, to put it lightly, particularly respectful. Unwilling to give up, I carried on and made the best of my role as the only boy cheerleader by adding my own flavor to the cheers and routines, soon winning the hearts of my classmates and the football team.
Popularity has, until recently, been more important to me than authenticity - despite my sardonic claims to the contrary over the past few years. I think there are a lot of people who feel this way, even if they can't admit it. When I first moved to LA, I hunted for friends. Cool ones. The coolest I could get my hands on, and what I got was a group of people who didn't get me, who thought of me as needy, and I'm pretty sure didn't really care to have me around (I wouldn't either). I often found myself out of joint with a lot of these friend groups, but would do my best to fit in. The truth, as it turns out, was that I was out of joint with myself. Then, 3 years into living in Los Angeles, I found myself in a similar situation to high school - I was using athletics as a means to be more accepted, only this time I was playing West Hollywood Dodgeball and I was actually good at it. Without going into too much detail about this recreational "sport," I was a good strategic player who got invited to join strong teams that won several championships in leagues all over Los Angeles. For the first time in my life I had medals and trophies - and that was surprisingly empowering. My teammates were fun-loving athletes down to put on a silly costume and wail on another team. Soon, I wasn’t just playing to feel accepted, I was also learning to actually accept myself as I grew to understand that these free spirits were just like me.
As this self acceptance grew, the emotional structures and habits on which I had built my identity began to crack and breakdown. I had a thriving career as an actor, and yet I wasn’t fulfilled by it the way I thought I would be. The boy who dreamed of being other people, was now a man who actually just wanted to be himself. Luckily, I was also on this journey during a time when our unions became recognized by the government. This was tectonic stuff for a gay man like me who is part of the first generation to grow up alongside the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s. Imagine going through puberty in a world where the only "role models" the culture ever talks about are dying because of the way they have sex. That's terrifying, and it makes me so grateful to see how much the world has changed, and how much I have changed with it.
What I wasn't ready to understand when I first moved to LA, was that what I was truly questing for wasn't popularity, it was Tribe: the circle of chosen family who deeply offer their authenticity, love and support of each other to the point that it doesn't make sense for them to be out of your life, even when things ain't cute. Over the course of the decade I have lived in Los Angeles, some friends fell away in a natural discovery of who we were and the need to be authentic to that. More important, are the ones I stuck around with; the ones who made me feel safe to let the tiny bit of my true self start to shine through. I am so far from the twenty-something who had no idea how to be himself, and I'm insanely grateful to my Tribe who stuck around to watch the evolution. Who called me out when my asks were too big. Who held me close when my heart got broken. Who laughed with me when I made mistakes. Who gave me hope when all I could see was negativity.
The thing is, these people didn't show up over night. I didn't meet them on an app, or even at a bar. I met them through an experience: through dodgeball games, and costume crafting. Through weekends in San Francisco or camping trips in the desert. Through music festivals and through Burning Man. Experiences: scientifically proven to make you happier.