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Congratulations, you’re out of the closet. You may have said those courageous words to a few friends or to your parents. Regardless, you looked the most terrifying existential moment in the face, spoke truth and arrived on a far shore. You are probably feeling a mix of emotions right now: exhilaration tinged with anxiety, dread and worry. This is good. Simple emotions never accompany moments of greatness.

For one moment in your life—one brief moment!—you were the freest man in the world. Never before had you been so completely you as you were during that utterance. You stood there, freed from all expectations, all hopes and all disappointments. In spite of the tears and the frowns, you shook with glory. This moment is worth all the years of sadness and hand-wringing and private crying and sitting through bad sermons on how queers are hell bound. This moment is worth it, trust me.

I must warn you, though: the world hates free men, free women. Many, many gay men and lesbians move from the tight chains of a conservative upbringing to the looser shackles of the gay community. Do not fall into this trap. Be yourself, regardless what communities demand of you. Burn, burn, burn, burn, burn, burn and burn ever brighter. Let them rise to you, O freed man! Let them contend with you at your level, O freed woman! Give your freedom to no one and find your salvation therein.

Remember, you’re moving to a community who gets its thinking from vacuous Buzzfeed listicles of hot abs and x things every gay man should _______. You’re moving to a community full of self-loathing narcissists who hear the siren call of pectorals, and, with the gold key of gym membership in hand, are preoccupied with body-image perfection. You’re moving to a community that gathers for critical sharp-tongued bitching and gratuitous sharing because hookups did not happen unless you have bon mots to share afterword. As long as you are hot: higher and higher they will lift you with a loud shallow shout of a merry noise.

Remember, you’re moving to a community that will look at your handsome averageness with dead eyes, ignoring your very presence for peacocking twinks and muscled torsos. A community that ridicules you for not being gay enough, for not being gay in the way that everyone else is gay, for not loving all the television shows and pop music you should, for not being as promiscuous, for being fat, for being average, and for not being recreated in the perfect image of gayness. Those gay heroes (the bartenders, actors and porn stars) might brand you as a judgmental, self-repudiating closet case. And, after disappointing evenings and hurtful words, you’ll look up to the ceiling fan and ask: “This? This is what I left Egypt for? This is what I came out for?” They will call these bounds, freedom, and this torture, acceptance.

Yes, it is true, O freed one, there is much about to be bitter. God made you gay. He put you ‘mid people who do not understand you. He put a loneliness in your soul that no sex, friendships or relationships can abate. He put a hate in your heart that will never quite leave, no matter how loved. No one understands this.

Life is beautiful, though. Do you believe this, O freed one? The symphonies of birds in trees and eternity in a falling leaf are here for observant eyes. There is enough glory in one sunset to content the heart for a thousand years. And an evening with friends—true friends—who bear you up from the waves and scuttle stones from your path with true laughter. No matter in what community she finds herself, and even though it might not get better, life is beautiful. More life, more life.

Since you are freed, I’ll tell you a little secret: most everyone is lonely. Most everyone hates themselves—everyone from the over-sexed at the gay bar to your conservative friends. But this is no excuse for bitterness or hatred. You will be kind to them, O freed soul. You will seek to understand, not be understood. Listen as they lay out the secrets of their hearts with their mouths and with their hands.

Yes, I want to believe in community—whether it be gay or straight or Christian or whatever—but I have yet to find one that sacrifices as much as her members. One that gives back as much as it takes. Maybe you and me, maybe we can start one together.

We’re doing that right now while you read these words, even as I write them before sunrise on a rainy morning overlooking my Appalachian town in the drizzle. You’re reading them across the country or in decades to come when equal marriage is legal and being gay isn’t momentous. You’ll find these words relics of a quaint and embarrassing time. You, my reader, whoever and whenever you may be, are more in my meditations than you might suppose. I understand, I understand and I know. Sit with me awhile, O freed one. I will listen.

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