The Art of Growing Up

The developmental years are never a fun time for anyone. Everyone struggles with the awkward teenage years: finding yourself for the first time, developing into your body, and discovering your strengths and weaknesses are not easy tasks. Picture Blue Ash, Ohio circa 2008. An unremarkable, gangly Indian boy with a unibrow and a mustache well ahead of his years stands with a group of friends in a gym class. That boy is me in 8th grade. During my few years at Sycamore Junior High School, I came to realize that I did not have much in common with my peers. As other boys around my age were talking about what girls they were crushing on, I began to realize that I was less interested in the stories and more interested in the boys themselves. It was confusing at first. No one ever really warned me that it might happen. My mom, who was used to raising my straight older brother, was more concerned about making sure that I didn’t have premarital sex and knock up a girl rather than my inclination to do so in the first place. Coming from 30 some odd years of living in a relatively private and conservative India, my mom later told me that she had literally zero exposure to the phenomenon of homosexuality. Fending her off proved not to be too difficult because I didn’t have to lie about my interest in girls. Ultimately, I began to realize that I was the only one who could actually understand what I was going through. At the crossroads of my ethnic background and my sexuality, I found that I was an anomaly. Not only did I not have a single gay friend, I didn’t know a single gay person, friend or otherwise. It didn’t help that my peers seemed to understand the peculiarity of my situation just as well as I did. I can’t count the number of “Are you gay?” queries I received and the corresponding number of “No’s”, followed by the name of any blonde girl on the playground who got to be my imaginary crush for the day. All kinds of emotions swirled around: confusion, surprise and concern to name a few. It took quite a while for me to come to terms with the fact that no matter how much I lied about it, it wasn’t going to change.

Flash forward to March 2017 (present). The same boy has now evolved. Picture him several inches taller. He has somehow managed to tame his facial hair into a state that could be described as attractive. He has two, cleaner eyebrows now instead of the one bushy growth and they are balanced out by a couple days’ worth of stubble. No longer gangly, he’s definitely filled out and seems to have some semblance of fitness. As you may have guessed, that boy is me now. Nine years means a lot of change and a lot of memorable events. I’m now happily dating a man, open about my sexual orientation with everyone I meet, and it has been years since I came out to my family. I’ve made so much progress that my parents have no issue talking and even joking around with me about my sexuality. Although the two states are quite different, it has been a collection of tiny steps that made the difference. It starts with realizing that you are different, accepting your identity, and ultimately opening up about it.

I guess the moral of the story is that it gets better. With role models like trans woman and activist, Janet Mock, who tells her story of growing up without mentorship, money or stability and developing into a successful author and speaker, everyone should be able to find motivation to make it through the tumultuous journey of development. You don’t have to pass for something you’re not because of those you’re surrounded by. In a few years, come hell or high water, you will be confident, beautiful successful, and on your way to a happy life. So many people have similar struggles, and although no one will ever know what you’re going through, just know that you will come out the other side stronger, better, and happier, against all odds.

-Nayan Mandan

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