Losing and finding my Identity: Tommy's Story
We are delighted to have been contacted by Tommy who wanted to share with us his story of growing up LGBT in the Traveller world and to show us what it was like for him as well as what has helped...
Sometimes I feel so much shame, shame about my cultural history, about my family history, my sexuality, my physical appearance, my career, or lack there of. I've always wanted to just fit in.
As a child I knew I was different, I was sensitive which is something that young gypsy boys shouldn't be and often weren't. At age fourteen back in the 'pre Internet days' the boys would share porn to one another's phones via Bluetooth. It was during that time I realised I was gay. It confused and enraged me.
I remember not being able to bring myself to even say the word, not even in my mind. I prayed so much begging for a miracle which never came. For years I denied it to myself more then anyone.
At age 18 I withdrew myself from the community in the hopes of finding a sense of belonging in religion via religious studies - it didn't work.
At age 19 I slowly came to terms with who I was and started to feel better about myself and my future, I have YouTube and YouTubers to thank for that!
At 20 I had an opportunity to get away and explore a whole new world called 'the gay scene'. At first it was all vodka and saunas but after a while I realised someting about it, the scene rarely outcasts, instead it consumes - weather it be drink, drugs, sex, quickfire relationships or whatever and hey! Who am I to judge? I've at some point gotten lost in all four. I have good memories from there - don't get me wrong, but at first I thought I found my people, my community - I didn't.
As the years have gone by I look back on my endeavours to feel included, and although I never really succeeded in feeling a part of something, I am very fortunate to have formed close friendships with LGBT people who mean a lot to me.
I'm 27 now and have realised that that in life, shame is my biggest foe.
Shame is a really 'REALLY' horrible little emotion that nine times out of ten isn't even warranted. It's an emotion that feeds itself to (equally untrue) insecurities. Shame is the confirmation low self esteem and addictions need to continue.
Insecurities such as
'I'm not good enough'
'I'll never make it'
'I'm not attractive'
'I'm not a real man' '
'I'm a falliure'
'I'm not worth it'
are all fed by the same thing, shame.
Being born anything other then straight and cis means, for a lot of us, we face extra difficulties and obstacles that we must work through in an already difficult life. Being different means we've had a life of not living up to expectations placed on us from outside sources such as our parents and family, community and culture, TV and entertainment and more. All of those things for many people lead to innate feelings of shame.
I find it difficult to think about how hard it is for LGBT people, especially those who are from conservative communities like ours. We get ostracised by society for being different while also being ostracised from our own people because they are unable to accept us. That's a lot to deal with! That's a big deal! I was genuinely convinced that if my family ever were to find out about my sexuality I'd be homeless - I'm lucky, many others not so much.
I would love nothing more then to tell you that I've found complete and utter happiness, with bucket loads of contentment and fulfillment and I'm here to share that secret with you all, but I can't - I'm working on that still.
I have read a few books about growing up 'non straight' and the extra difficulties that can bring us. Three books that I would recommend to literally anyone are as follows.
Straight Jacket: How to be Gay and Happy by Mattew Todd.
The absolute number-one problem that came up time and again while I was researching this book is loneliness and lack of a community feeling. Young people had nowhere to go to get support. People had nowhere to socialize apart from apps, bars and clubs. Older people had nowhere to go to feel part of a community. HIV-positive people feel left out. People from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds feel excluded and objectified. We need to re-install and reboot a new sense of community.
The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World by Alan Down.
As with any true addiction, life is unimaginable without it. Hopelessness and shame begin to rise higher and higher, and the addict secretly wonders if it's worth going on without the addiction.
Not until the gay man develops another way to manage his emotions can he leave his addictions behind. When he learns how to authentically connect with his world and achieve the contentment that he craves, he can relinquish those old behaviors and break free from their suffocation. Here lies the boundary between stages two and three. The gay man begins to leave behind the inauthenticity of his past, and moves into a place of becoming himself-a true self that is shown to all the world for the flawed beauty therein. But first, he must pass through another ring of fire: the crisis of meaning.
The Adonis complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession by Harrison G. Pope Jr.
There's a widespread crisis among today's boys and men-a crisis that few people have noticed. Men of all ages, in unprecedented numbers, are preoccupied with the appearance of their bodies. They almost never talk openly about this problem, because in our society, men have been taught that they aren't supposed to be hung up about how they look. But be neath the tranquil surface, we see signs of this crisis everywhere.
These books have given me a lot of understanding about not just myself and my past, but my story and society at large. Believe me when I say it's a painful read but one that is ultimately beneficial.
I see the work Traveller Pride have been doing and I couldn't be more happier. Viewing the photos of LGBT+ Traveller representation during Pride feels really validating and inspiring. It gives me hope for the Traveller community which quite frankly had diminished till recently.
Hope for a good day is what drags us out of bed on an early morning. Hope is what gets us through not only the turmoil of growing up and living life as a Traveller in a non Traveller world, but also, it's the thing that keeps us going in regards to our issues with sexuality, phobic hate and gender/gender expression.
The hope to truly love ourselves must never fade.
Tommy Dean Gilheaney
If you would like to share your story to inspire others as Tommy has, contact us. We are fine to make it anonymous if you'd like.