There was a time in my life I was the everyday Texas teenager. I liked to tell myself that I was unique in my interests — limited to enjoying music, playing in my school’s Praise Team and maybe being a bit alternative in my tastes of movies and music — but in hindsight, I was no one. I wasn’t cool, I wasn’t unpopular, and I wasn’t lame. I was just there. I was that person who people could get along with, but sort of just put up with. My voice was high and worked at a semi-popular fast food chain where I was mistaken to be a girl over the speaker. Obviously, I couldn’t help that puberty hadn’t hit me yet (and thank God I’m long past those days), but I could have easily changed my attitude and interests.
But I didn’t. I never had a desire to, because what’s the point?
I ended high school with the same mindset, albeit I was opening up a bit more. My voice had finally changed by that point, so I was standing in the shoes everyone else had been standing in for years now. Our Senior Trip in Colorado was a week before we graduated, and it was the first time I distinctly remember feeling open and free. Gone were my reserved habits and gone were my speaking so quiet no one could hear me. In a lot of ways, I genuinely feel bad for people having to come and talk to me in high school because I was just a fucking mess all over.
College came that August, and I guess you could say it was liberating. I never went crazy (because how can you at community college), and I did a handful of cringeworthy things in class and on the newspaper, but something in myself and my friends just felt captivating. We talked about how ‘free’ we all felt while we hung out in Wendy’s parking lots. Even in small-time Amarillo, Texas, we felt original and free.
For months, I would ask myself what it was that made myself suddenly feel so much more relaxed and comfortable with myself. It’s the “college feeling”, I’d tell myself (and agree with), but that never sat right with me. It was more than that. And whether or not my friends ever came to a conclusion on their own time, I think they would agree it wasn’t just that we were in college and out of high school. Stepping onto the college campus with a hundred other students going to and from felt like the real world. I knew none of the people I walked past, and while I didn’t see it at the time, that’s what made me feel so ecstatic to go (or not go) to class.
You see, for two and a half years, when I would think back to my time in high school and my first semester in college, there was a distinct, heavy and blatant change in atmosphere. I had finally accepted that I was becoming an “adult” at 18, but again, that never really sat well with me. Because for all I cared to know during that long period of time, what I knew was what I took in.
Politically speaking, I was also one of the many “believe what you think you know” teenagers in Texas. I definitely had opinions of my own that turned out to not be opinions of my own. Again, all I cared to know then was what I took in and lived in. Nothing wrong with that when you’re in it, right? What else do you know besides what you’re told to support? I didn’t move one foot on my stance from the time I was 14 to late 2012. (I even wrote a paper in my 8th Grade English class about why Rick Perry was the governor Texas needed. Like, why? As awful as it was, it both became the featured paper in the middle school way and restarted my interest in writing.)
I even voted for Mitt Romney!
One night, though, a close friend of mine came back in town and told me something no one else I had personally known revealed: he was bisexual. I immediately had three thoughts in my head:
– “Holy crap, why are we sitting in a car when it’s like thirty degrees outside?”
– “Why is my other friend not saying anything at all?”
– “God, it’s really cold.”
I was genuinely happy for my friend. And I still am. His first return back after a few months marked a different, much more lively friend. He was the same awesome person, just much more comfortable in himself. And though my other friend hardly spoke up that night, I had to do the talking. Being the homophobe I was back then, it did feel a bit strange momentarily, but like I said then and what I’m saying now, I was happy that he was finally being himself and I’ll support him no matter what.
Why? Because he’s my best friend. Because we’ve been close since we were at least five, even though he said we weren’t friends anymore on the playground at the age of five. That didn’t matter anymore, because friends are friends and if they’re good to you, be good to them.
Admittedly, that night changed one thing, and one thing only: my political stance. It felt like I was backing out of a sketchy alleyway as quickly as I could. Within a week or less, my entire opinion on gay marriage and gay rights flipped from, “Ew, gross.” to, “Why can’t we just show everyone love?” It was actually so amazing it became comical. I stopped calling myself a Conservative, and started calling myself a Moderate. But since I’m me, I started researching what it meant to be a moderate over a Republican or Conservative. Even that was exciting, because it was the first drastic in my life change in a long, long time.
For the months following, I started marking myself as a Moderate-Conservative-Who-Goes-A-Little-Left, but just like my ‘freedom’ at AC, it didn’t feel right. I knew deep down I no longer had anything in common with support for the right, moderate-right or far-right. When I left Amarillo for St. Louis last June, I was starting to change to a Moderate-Democrat, but one that didn’t have much to base it off of.
St. Louis began to change me in ways I wasn’t necessarily aware of, and I could never figure out why. Was it because I’m here with only the money I saved up and my lonely apartment? Or was it because my car lost two tires in two weeks time, on the exact same street, in the same spot? And then just like that, the winds of change suddenly made sense.
San Jacinto Christian Academy was severely sheltering me, my friends and everyone who goes there. We had no idea what the real world was like because they wouldn’t let us see it. I denied being sheltered from the time I was a freshman to the year following my graduation, because I was still living like high school Joel. How would I know I’m sheltered when I’m lurking in the shadows? What better would I understand?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret going to my high school because it introduced to amazing people and amazing teachers. But the condemning of anything not socially acceptable by their standards was just nauseating and cringe-inducing.
Spending time on a college campus with total strangers suddenly made sense, too. I wasn’t ‘free’ because I was in college, I was freed from the world of seeing the universe through a peephole. All the opinions of students and of professors, while mostly hilarious or inane, were breathtaking because I was living in the world I just got to.
My first year in St. Louis was essentially dedicated to expanding on all of that. I became my own person – independent, free-thinking and unique – and actually loved how I looked and felt for the first time in my life. And while there are still dumb things to work out, it’s a fantastic feeling.
But, of course, there are always critics. Through the diet of ‘I Don’t Know What I’m Doing But It Works So I’ll Take It’, I lost a ton of weight within my first six months. I had a small handful of people question if I had become anorexic or bulimic in my time alone? What? Why would I do that? Anyone who halfway knows me should know better. So, I’m just going to go ahead and cut out that right now: I’ve never been anorexic or bulimic, and never will be. I’m just glad I like the way I look for the first time, because let’s be honest, time was not on my side in the past.
In the past year, I’ve secured tightly into my mold I so desperately wish I could have at least viewed when I was in high school or even during my time in Amarillo. There’s something oddly poetic about seeing life as it’s meant to be seen, but I guess I’m not in the position to want. Fate is fate, and clearly, life was waiting for the right moment to show itself myself. Even with all my political changes and personal changes, I’m still the same old Joel; stupid, with a dry sense of humor and a face that belongs in 10th Grade. I love the news more than I should, cats are the shit and no matter how hard I try, I’ll always end up upgrading to a 16GB iPhone. But that’s alright. That’s me, and I’m fine with who I am. It’s what I subconsciously wanted all those years, and to finally have it is breathtaking in every way imaginable.
Just, you know, keep ventriloquist dummies away from me please.