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Sexual health Growing up gay

By the time Patrick learned what “gay” meant, he had already wondered if the word applied to him. Some kids at school called him “faggot” and “homo” and “a walking disease.”

Teachers overheard the comments but did nothing. “It was so depressing,” Patrick says. “My opinion didn’t matter. I didn’t matter.”

Patrick started to avoid the lunchroom. Sometimes he hid away in the nurse’s office.

At home Patrick would stay in his bedroom, listening to music. He’d cry or punch a pillow in anger. When his parents asked why he was crying, he’d make up a story: it was a test he’d blown, or a spat with a friend.

Patrick’s mom, Linda, believed him. “Patrick never asked for help,” she says. “Kids that age tend to spend a lot of time in their rooms.”

When Patrick finally began to believe he might be gay, he felt afraid. What if someone beat him up? He’d heard plenty of stories about “gay bashing.”

Fear caused Patrick to isolate more. Sometimes, the nurse would call for Linda to come get him.

“He’d get into the car,” Linda recalls. “His hands would be soaked with perspiration, his face white as a sheet.” She didn’t know what to do.

“I don’t know what it is,” Patrick would explain. “I can’t be around people.”

Linda finally took him to a therapist. At last, he admitted to his therapist that he was sexually attracted to guys. He was gay.

His next step was to tell his parents. He told his mother at an appointment with his therapist.

“I’ve got something to tell you, Mom,” Patrick said. ”I’m gay.”

Linda’s heart broke. She felt guilty he had suffered so long in silence. “I got out of my chair and knelt in front of him,” she says. “I said, ‘Thank you for telling me, Patrick. I love you. Whatever it takes, we’ll get through this together.’ ”

Patrick still couldn’t tell his father, Peter. “I was afraid he’d hate me,” Patrick says. So Linda told him instead.

“Listen to me,” Peter said to Patrick. “It doesn’t matter. I love you. I want to be a part of your life.”

With acceptance at home, Patrick started to defend himself at school. When kids called him “faggot,” he asked, “Why would you say that? So what if I am?”

Bullies began to leave him alone. And the more Patrick stood up for himself, the less fearful he felt.

Patrick feels like the luckiest guy alive. “If I’d known my parents would accept me the way they did,” he says, “ I’d have told them years earlier. It would have saved me so much self-hate.”

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