By: Tatianna Muniz
When I was a freshman in high school, my Spanish teacher introduced us to the famous artist, Salvador Dali. I loved his artwork and was intrigued by the man himself. Dali is often characterized as an unconventional and slightly strange man. He was not afraid to be himself and channelled that authenticity into his artwork. He once said, “Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure: That of being Salvador Dalí.” How lucky was he to be so self-confident in who he was, so authentic to himself, that he woke every morning completely content - even when the general public thought he was bizarre. I think we can all agree that there are not enough people in this world that feel as he does. I wanted to wake up every morning, happy to be me. And I wish I could say that there was an immediate shift once Dali came into my life, but that was not the case. There was, however, a spark. Dali had planted a seed and I didn’t even realize it until years later.
At 23 years old I can now say, that like Dali, I wake up every morning happy to be me. It took almost 9 years to get to this point, but I made it. You see, I’m a gay woman and I grew up in a predominantly white (and straight) town in Long Island, New York. I was 15 when I started coming out to my friends and family; and in Smithtown, being gay was a big deal. Like most, my coming out story has its ups and downs. I’ve lost friends, experienced bullying, and things were weird with my family for a long time. Despite all of that, there were some serious advantages to being open about my sexuality. First and foremost, I wasn’t lying to myself or to anyone anymore. I was given the freedom to be exactly who I was and, let me tell you… nothing has ever felt so great. Once I was out, I refused to go back in. By the time I was 17, I was unapologetically me.
I’ve realized a few things over the 8 years of being out and proud.
Number One: Everyone needs a support team.
When I was growing up, the media wasn’t as public about their support for the LGBTQ+ community. Lady Gaga wasn’t singing “Born This Way” and the It Gets Better Project wasn’t around for my viewing. I was alone and, therefore, resorted to people on the Internet for help. Playing online games like Runescape, Habbo Hotel, and Second Life gave me access to people who saw things differently. It was much easier to talk to people about who I was when I could hide behind the anonymity of an internet persona. On the Internet, I was surrounded by people who supported me. In the real world - in my family life - it was a lot more complicated. Thanks to the people on these computer games, I was able to get through it. They were there telling me it gets better before it became a campaign, so as a baby gay I was instilled with the confidence that all would be okay if I just stayed true to who I was. I have to give a lot of credit to people I never met because if I didn’t have them to talk to, who knows where I would be. The scary truth is that I could have easily gone another route - like six feet under.
Number Two: By being authentically you, you serve as a positive role model for others.
I can’t stress this point enough. There are countless kids right this second who are in the closet, unaccepting of themselves with no one to guide them through this complicated time. I know that when I was trying to figure myself out I didn’t have anyone in my physical world to talk to. I was handcuffed by the fear of losing my social circle. By being out and proud, baby gays will automatically turn to you for a glimpse of the future. You serve as an inspiration to others. You survived the homophobia and all of the challenges that come with being out. When I was in high school and in college people would tell me how inspiring I was for staying true to myself. I received anonymous messages asking for advice, I was idolized by people who weren’t out to the public yet, and a couple of kids even came out to me before anyone else. Once you step out of the closet, it’s important to realize that how you carry yourself may be watched. If you embrace yourself and are happy to be who you are you’re showing the people that are scared to come out of the closet something really important - it’s okay to be gay.
Number Three: People Grow.
Like I said earlier, when I came out I lost friends and my relationship with my family changed. I’m happy to report that the majority of those people who left me behind when I was 15 are no longer homophobic. I will never forget when I saw on social media that the girls who dropped me for being gay, have gay friends years later! Although it was heartbreaking back then, I had to acknowledge the fact that people grow. I don’t know when and why their opinion shifted, but it didn’t matter. They are not homophobic anymore, and that’s a win. My mom is also a great example of this. My mom was raised in Peru and that side of my family is very religious. For her, being gay was most certainly not okay. She had to face the fact that her dream of having a Peruvian Princess of a daughter who wore makeup and sun dresses was not going to happen. She had to face the reality that her only daughter wasn’t going to marry a man and have the traditional lifestyle she had envisioned. Things were very tense and awkward and we did everything from ignoring the elephant in the room to going to therapy for it. Eventually, I decided I wasn’t going to apologize for being gay and so she had to watch as I held hands with my first girlfriend, fought and cried over an unrequited love, and she had to deal with the fact that I was going to cut my hair and wear what I wanted - which at the time was men’s boxers with my jeans pulled down. Almost 9 years later, I can say that we don’t fight over my sexuality anymore. Don’t get me wrong, things aren’t perfect (she still has trouble calling my girlfriend’s just that - my girlfriend) but she has grown so much over the years that my mom is one of my best friends. She was there for me when I was going through a life changing heartbreak last year, she had my back when we went to Peru this past December ready to take on any homophobic family members (we fortunately faced none), and we even talk more about my dating life now. Moral of the story? People grow, but it takes time. Friends and family members who don’t understand now, may not have that same opinion later on.
Every day, I wake up and I smile. I’m genuinely in love with the life that I live. I’m proud of who I am, what I've done, and where I'm going. I don’t accept homophobia in my life and I don’t hide who I am. I live every single day as my most authentic self. I do it for the love of me. If I acted any other way, I wouldn’t be living the life that I was meant to and I imagine there would be a lot more stress, depression, and anxiety involved. So I ask you, dear reader, to follow my lead. Wake up every day, and be your most authentic self. Do it, for the love of you.
"Tatianna Muniz is a 23 year old New Yorker who has a long history in the Food Industry. She is passionate about nutrition and is studying to become a Registered Dietitian. During her free time you can find her volunteering for HER or writing for The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics."
Follow Tatianna on Facebook and IG @tatiannamuniz5 !