In my small town in rural Ontario, I grew up thinking that the feelings I had made me an abomination. I learned from a young age to hide that I was gay. Those around me that did not learn that lesson faced years of bullying. As a child, I thought it was a phase and that I might be able to “pray away the gay” if I tried hard enough. “Please God, make me normal,” was something I remember praying many times. Later, after a few years of trying, I realized that it was not just a phase and decided to bury my feelings. I could still make my family proud by being successful, even if I would never get married and give them the grandkids they talked about so often. My goal was to be a son they would be proud of. That determination was what drove me to study hard enough to make it to engineering at UofT. One of my fondest memories is the pride on their faces the day I got my acceptance. My accomplishments let me forget about the secret I carried. It was something I thought I would deal with in the future, or maybe never.
Moving to Toronto was one of the most exciting, and one of the hardest things I have done in my life. As exhilarating as it was to leave home, it did come with challenges. My first year in Toronto I discovered I was a bad cook, hated cleaning, and that I missed my family and town much more than I thought I would. In my first year, I did not like this city. It was busy, smelly, and dirty. In the City of Toronto alone there are 250 times as many people as the town I was from. Such a change came as a shock and required time to adjust to. Despite the damage my town had done to me, I still loved the good parts of it. I missed my friends and my family. Since I had managed to remain in the closet the whole time that I had lived in my town, I had a “normal” life there. I was spared the direct abuse that other LGBTQ+ people faced in my town. I missed the friends I had grown up with there, even if I could never be fully honest with them. Moving to Toronto made me realize that a chapter in my life might be coming to an end. I was reluctant to leave my “normal” life behind.
It took a while for me to love Toronto. And yet I loved engineering from day one. Nowhere before had I felt like I could truly be myself, and while the scars from my small town took a while to heal, after a few years I built up the courage to come out, and I found acceptance. The first person I told was my roommate during third year. I had been building up the nerve to tell him for months and I was terrified when I finally decided to do it. He had been my friend since my early days at UofT, and while I knew he was supportive of the LGBTQ+ community I have never been more nervous than I was the night I told him. I could feel my heart beating in my chest and every possible outcome was racing through my head in the moments before I told him. What if he said he wants to move out? What if he doesn’t want to be my friend anymore? These horrible thoughts raced through my head but I was determined to come out anyway. I fought back against the urge to run and continue hiding. In the end, his reaction was anticlimactic. He nodded his head when I told him, and said he had had no idea before I told him. After that, the conversation moved on, and it was as if nothing was different. I had never felt so relieved before in my life. The experience was surreal after growing up in my town. If I had come out to my high school friends, I would have quickly found myself friendless. Later, when I came out to my other friends in engineering, I went through that stress and anxiety all over again, but it was easier the second time around. Again, I found acceptance and I felt like I had taken off a mask. What I found in the engineering community was true acceptance, something I had dreamed about finding for years.
Outside of school, one of the best parts of moving to Toronto was something I did not explore until my third year in the city. Church St. always seemed so intimidating to me when I first moved to the city, and despite living beside it in first year, I never visited. My family called the street trashy when we first went apartment hunting and worried about me living so close to it. That sentiment kept me away from Church St. for a long time. However, in my third year, I met someone who would become my boyfriend. He took me to Church St. for the first time. It was a Wednesday night and the bar we had picked was almost completely empty but we grabbed a seat near the stage anyway, and I watched my first drag show. It was spectacular, but when the drag queen started to go through the crowd, picking people and making them a part of the show, I spent the rest of the time trying to remain as unnoticeable as possible. After the show ended, I got the chance to look around. Being amongst so many gay people was a new experience for me. I had never felt so comfortable before. In Church St., I found a new place to call home.
I went to my first Pride Parade in 2018. Objectively it was just a parade, but it meant much more to me than just a fun event. Going to the Pride parade felt like the culmination of a chapter in my life. It took years but I shed the prejudice and self-hate that I carried with me to Toronto. I wondered what my life would have been like had I not come to Toronto but, standing on Yonge Street with someone I could openly call my boyfriend, and watching the parade go by, I realized that I did not want to think about how my life would turned out otherwise. I was proud of who I was now. I came to Toronto hoping to make my family proud, but going into my fourth year in the city I am learning to be proud of myself instead. I still want to make my parents proud, but I will not sacrifice who I am for that anymore. Over my three years at UofT, I gained a better understanding of happiness. Coming to Toronto gave me the freedom to grow until I was ready to stop hiding. When I finally came out, at least to my friends in Toronto, I realized I could finally be happy with who I was.