Mike Yost: Why I Volunteer
July 12, 2012
Shades of Grey: Why I Volunteer
by Mike Yost
Growing up in a Baptist home, being gay was not just an abomination, it was a sickness. A scourge in the eyes of the Lord. So terrifyingly reprehensible that the subject never came up in conversation. Not with my teachers at the private Christian school. Not with friends. Certainly not with my parents or my older brother.
I remember as a teenager coming to the horrifying conclusion that I was gay: a one-way ticket to the eternal lake of fire. I hated myself for it. Pushed it inward with all my strength. Tried (very poorly) to play the straight guy. Ended up dating a self-proclaimed tomboy. She was better at sports than I was.
But my repression manifested itself into something dangerous. Depression can be compared to ash falling from the sky—thick, heavy, quietly blotting out the sun and extinguishing all color.
When I graduated high school, I left home and joined the Air Force. The ash grew thicker. I wanted to talk to someone, but Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell kept that closet door sealed. I worked harder to play the part of the straight guy—clubs, strip joints, posters of blond women in bikinis.
It was during this time I found a temporary respite, paid for with headaches, bloodshot eyes, and lost memories of the night before. Friends joked I was a functioning alcoholic. It helped me keep my secret.
But when I moved back to Denver as a civilian, I was choking on the ash. My older brother and parents wondered what happened to that ebullient, laid-back kid who built snow forts, played the drums, and did card tricks.
I wondered, too. So, one day I walked into the library looking for answers, trying to remain inconspicuous as I strolled over to the section on human sexuality.
I grabbed a stack of books at random, sat cross-legged on the floor and opened the first one. The top paragraph was an echo from my past: Homosexuality is a disease. It is a perversion of nature. Hell awaits those who choose to be gay. I lowered my head and set it aside. Unable to bring myself to open another book, I left.
The ash became too thick to breathe. I wrote multiple notes, different drafts. The first sentence always read: I am gay. The rest of the letter outlined what to do with my corpse.
My volunteer work for HRC stems from a very personal, very visceral sense of obligation to those who occupy those same billowing clouds of ash I wandered in for too many years.
As is evident from this blog, I never taped those notes to my apartment door. My family, my older brother in particular, became my lifeline.
When I finally came out, I was surprised to discover organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, declaring with a loud voice that homosexuality was not a perversion of nature—that I was someone who deserved love and respect, no different from anyone else.
I still struggle with depression, and not everyone from my past accepts me for me. But I am now surrounded by a network of friends, family and colleagues who love me for who I am.
There are many who are not so fortunate. There are many who have no lifeline.
The iconic rainbow flag is a reminder to me of where I came from—a world consisting of shades of gray. I volunteer with HRC to help wipe away that thick blanket of ash so that others can breathe. So that others can see those vibrant colors for themselves.
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