I am gay. I am free. I am in love. The struggle was long, and the fight was hard, but freedom comes to us all in the end if we search for it. For me, it meant dealing with my sexuality, my identity, my anxiety and risk of suicide and my core belief in freedom for all humankind. But it all started with a young boy not accepting he wanted to screw other boys.
Anyone who has been through the process of acceptance that comes with being gay, they will know it is one of the hardest situations you will ever find yourself in. No one ever admits to it being easy, and it is full of obstacles that continuously wish to keep you imprisoned inside your mental closet. But it is also a period of significant personal discovery that you won’t find anywhere else. As Marcus Aurelius wrote, “What stands in the way becomes the way.”
I am twenty-five years young, and my journey into stoicism has been intertwined with my quest to accepting my sexuality and becoming who I am today. It began thirteen years ago when I was twelve. That was when I first felt a desire for two of my best friends to fuck me. Two clear signs: one that puberty had struck and the second that maybe I wasn’t entirely straight.
Safe to say at twelve, neither of those two friends had sex with me. We were too young, and one of them was and still in totally straight. The other appeared straight (as much as you supposedly can) but is now not. More on that to come. But this was a time when I wasn’t strong either physically or mentally. I was a weak, twelve-year-old child. I gave into the denial of what my heart, mind and lust were screaming at me. Instead, I just wanked off over the idea of them sleeping with me and tried to find a girlfriend in reality.
Two years passed, and at the age of fourteen, my journey began. The best friend I mentioned who slept with me did so on the 1st January 2007 for the first time. I lost my virginity in my brother’s bedroom with my girlfriend in my room next door. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t just. It was seedy and immoral. But I was fourteen, and I was lost. I had neither freedom (Libertas), truth (Veritas) nor love (Amor), but by the end of this tale, I will have found all three.
Searching for Veritas
When he first screwed me, we were a secret. We weren’t anything else. No relationship. No declaration of commitment or love. We were merely a secret. A secret born of sex, which meant there was only one place for both of us. The Closet. The place where our true selves, our truth was hidden. For two long years, we messed around and stayed hidden. No one knew. No one discovered us. It was just us and our lust. We screwed in my bed with my parents downstairs. We screwed in school. We screwed in his house – in his mum’s bed. Then I reached the age of sixteen, and I knew life had to change. I realised that I couldn’t deny that some part of me didn’t just want to sleep with guys, maybe even fall in love with someone day.
In that two-year period, I lied so many times it became second nature. I knew how to lie to everyone. My family knew nothing. My best friend who could tell I was lying on every other subject had no clue. I had mastered the art of deception. Ironically the truth is that those who learn the art of deception do so because they are ignorant of their truth. You lie easily because you are aware of the truth and denial does that to so many other homos out there in the world. So at the age of sixteen, I made a choice. I came out to my friends. My best friend first and then some of the others. It went well with the majority. No one was particularly fussed about me being bisexual (I committed the crime of claiming bisexuality to hide from still admitting I was gay).
Following my coming out as bisexual, I found a new guy relatively quickly, and we became intimate. For three weeks to talked, kissed and made love and I admit I came close to falling in love with him despite it being such a short period. It is likely down to the fact that for the first time I had someone who wanted me intimately because they liked me rather than just wanted sex.
However, I was not ready to accept my truth despite the acceptance of others. After a month of being out as it were, I fled back to my prison, ending my relationship with the new guy in a cowardly fashion. Determined to be straight, I focused all my energy on denying my urges. I failed. I screwed the guy I had been screwing since I was fourteen.
But deceit comes at a cost. Denial of your truth comes at a price. Refusing your freedom comes at a price. Refusing to love yourself for who you are comes at a cost. In my case, it resulted in anxiety. That civil war that rages inside your mind and beats you down. There are two sides. The one who speaks the truth and other is filled with false whispers, double agents and outright traitors. The enemy within that twists your perception towards paranoia and the darkest assumptions on life. Anxiety is a direct enemy of Stoicism because Stoicism is about our perception of the world around us. However, stoicism is also an agent of reality, helping you win back ground lost in the mental civil war raging in your mind. Sadly for me, stoicism almost came too late.
When I hit seventeen, the traitors were winning, and suicide was their end game. My mind wanted me dead because I refused to accept my truth. I refused to take my freedom. Rejecting your nature and reality results in a splintering of your mind that is not managed carefully with erupt into the most ferocious battle and force you to the very edge of sanity.
I almost lost the battle that broke out that year. I considered throwing myself off a roof, which is ironic because I’m terrified of heights. I stood at the foot of my building of choice: my city’s bus station and stared up at the point when I would leap from and realised something. I wasn’t afraid of death. I was ready to surrender and accept that death was prepared for me and I was prepared for death.
However, in that long moment, I came to realise something else. I was afraid of something far worse than merely dying.
I was terrified of the unfulfilled potential within me.
Seneca wrote, “Sometimes, even to live is an act of courage.”
I turned on my heels and walked away from the bus station and have never considered suicide again. On the journey home that same day I realised that to fulfil my potential, I had to accept who I was. Screw the opinions of others. Screw the views of the traitorous bastards inside my anxiety-riddled mind. Screw them all.
For years, I had chosen the views of others over my own and allowed myself to be shaped by those foreign views. No longer. It would not be immediate, but the edge of death forced me to realise that I had the strength within me to fight.
Stoic Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius wrote, “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” (I have it printed on a coin from the Daily Stoic, sitting next to me as I type this.) That realisation of coming close to ending my life through suicide let me determined to free myself from all that held me back, starting with my deceit and denial about my sexuality. I wasn’t bisexual. I was a full blown homo.
Veritas leads to Libertas
Once you accept a fundamental truth about yourself like my acceptance that I am a homo, you experience a genuinely liberating feeling. You realise that by denying who you are, you are shackling yourself to the place where you cannot develop as a person. You regress and remain trapped within a corpse that breathes, sees, hears and touches, but feels nothing. Once you accept that truth, you find that life has a fresh array of colour. The colours of the rainbow no less.
My acceptance of me being a homo is not the end of this story. It isn’t even the beginning of the end. In truth, it is the end of the beginning.
De Oppresso Liber – To free the oppressed
What came next brought me closer to stoicism than anything that came before. I went to university. Before this, I was a home bird. I’d never been away from home on my own for more than a week alone, and I’d never enjoyed those weeks away alone. So, moving out at the age of eighteen to Liverpool was terrifying. I didn’t feel prepared. My anxiety went into full battle mode, trying to convince me that this was the worst idea possible.
It was the best decision of my life for a few reasons. The first being that I explored my truth even more at university. I fully accepted my sexuality and began to explore what that might mean for the rest of my life. I didn’t explore it sexually as you may expect but instead took three years of celibacy (a subconscious choice) to be able to find myself without the pressure of sex. It wasn’t specifically university that helped me finally accept my homosexuality, but more the freedom of a new city. I was free from those who had moulded me into that cowardly creature without even realising they had done.
I focused on learning. Not just my university studies, but my worldly knowledge. I studied Creative Writing, so education was an obvious requirement. However, I read books beyond the realms of fiction, stage and poetry. I read the complete works of George Orwell and learned the importance of liberty and human freedom – Libertas. I discovered the brilliant Christopher Hitchens and through his words freed myself from the shackles of religion – releasing myself from the “mind-forged manacles” as William Blake eloquently puts it. Robert Harris brought me to the feet of Cicero, and T.E Lawrence took me across the sands of the Middle East. It was three years of learning and becoming.
When you are studying, there is a crucial tenet that must be understood and followed. Knowledge can come from anywhere, and therefore all must be studied. That means that you must read, listen and watch everyone who has something to say on a topic you are interested in. If you do not like that person or disagree with that person, you can do one of two things. You can legitimately argue their point of view with your arguments that are built on reason and facts, or you can ignore them. One thing you cannot do is claim offence and censor them.
No person’s opinions, words or actions should fundamentally affect you. If someone insults you, ignore them and move forward. Let no one slow you down. Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Choose not to be harmed, and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.” The offence is entirely about perception and therefore your reaction to it is neither logical nor reasonable because it is based on your emotional perceptions.
Writing is my first love and therefore having an opinion, and something to say is core to me. The right to have my words read and heard is more important to me than anything else, and so if I have that right, privilege and opportunity, others must have it also. This is the single fundamental lesson I learnt while I lived in Liverpool, studying, writing and learning from just of the names mentioned above and many more. Freedom is the right of all.
The second thing I learned was that life gives you nothing. Nothing is handed to you on a plate free of charge. I am owed nothing. I love it. Everything I have I have earned. This is not a gloat, but a continual promise to me. I have a degree because I earned it. I have a Masters degree in International Journalism because I earned it. I have a job writing in marketing because I earned it. Was it easy? No. This past decade has been the hardest period of my quarter century on earth. But I have my truth, and I have my liberties, and I have my love. I need no more than those.
Only in recent years have I realised that I have followed the tenets of stoicism throughout my life and how they have helped me because the man I am sitting here typing this. Most recently, this is down to the fantastic works of Ryan Holiday such as The Obstacle is the Way, Ego is the Enemy and The Daily Stoic. It is his Memento Mori coin that sits next to me as I write this.
To me, stoicism is about freedom. Freeing yourself from the shackles of yourself and the world around. I did not know that it was stoicism. I did not realise I valued and practised its central tenants throughout this period of my life. Instead, I escaped death because I refused to give in to the hardships of life, but to accept them and better myself as a result.
Instead, I chose to search for my truth and found it not just in my sexuality, but in what my journey delivered to me. I found my freedom by defeating the tyranny of the closet and the tyranny of foreign opinion. Finally, I found amor within myself for me, my life and those around me because if you cannot accept the love within, you cannot gift it to others either.