Coming to terms and learning to love yourself / by Kailee Haong

***This is an article I wrote for The Gonzaga Bulletin for our section: "Our Stories."

There’s something in suppressing such an integral part of you for many, many years that makes it so difficult to truly accept and love the person you are once you’re finally able to come to terms with the very thing you were suppressing. 

Then one day you’re staring at yourself in the mirror, bawling like a baby for no reason, and it clicks. The “aha” moment, if you will. 

For me, that moment was realizing that I am gay. While I’ve been out to most of my family and all of my friends for a few months now, I still shake while typing this, because learning how to love your idiosyncrasies is not an easy task. I’ll commend you if you’ve found an easy way around it.

I grew up suppressing. I grew up cramming myself inside of a box I didn’t fit into for the sole purpose of trying to do just that — fit in. I had boyfriends. I gossiped and gushed about crushes and cuties and who was boyfriend-material and who wasn’t. Girls liked boys, boys liked girls. It was a black-and-white issue in high school. Simple. Girls didn’t like girls, and boys didn’t like boys and that was that. Nobody argued it. Nobody defied the limitations of the box. We all just sat happily inside, harboring our naïveté and confusion on our own.  

For a long time, I didn’t have a problem with the suppression. I rolled with the metaphorical punches, I kept dating my boyfriend. I resumed life as per usual, until I got to college. Disclaimer: This isn’t one of those “experimentation in college” types of stories. This is just the cold, hard truth, and the truth isn’t the only thing coming out in this tale. 

We can start with the cheesy caveat of meeting someone, crushing on them, and entering into full-panic mode when you’re not sure where to go from there. That’s precisely what happened to me during my sophomore year. I met someone. I crushed on them. And I went into full-panic mode when I found myself in a situation I had never been in before. That’s right. This crush was on a girl. 

Surprisingly enough, there’s no gay-handbook on how to secretly date a girl when you are also a girl attending a religiously affiliated school, so I was stuck trying to figure it all out on my own. Being in the closet is one thing, trying to share the tiny closet space with another person is a whole new, even more complicated thing. 

I spent the majority of my relationship behind closed doors. Running from myself, running from the truth, and running from the person I’ve never wanted to accept but have always been. I disregarded questions. I avoided discussing the topic of sexuality. As much as I wanted myself to believe that I was done with the suppressing, I wasn’t. The suppression of my relationship mimicked the suppression I had done before because that’s all I’ve ever known, and I wasn’t quite sure how to break that cycle. 

Months in, I got more comfortable, I felt more normal, and I didn’t have to keep justifying my relationship to myself. I just let it happen. The pieces of my personal, intricate puzzle began coming together and, consequently, I began to see the full picture for the first time. Slowly, I began to let people in. Anyone who’s ever been in a vulnerable situation (everyone, probably) knows how difficult it is to take down the walls and allow people to see you for who you are. 

With the growing support of each new friend I confided in, I was nearing the end of my puzzle. I saw who I was, I saw who I needed to be, and I saw the last few things I needed to do in order to be my full, true, authentic self. I told my friends from home. I told my immediate family. I was welcomed with open arms and enough support to last a lifetime. 

Today, I am finally at a place where I can look back on my first “real” relationship with gratitude. I’ve stepped up onto the balcony and can see the situation from a better view, with a new, cleaner, more authentic lens. I have reached a point where I can see through the hardships, the fights, the animosity and the disconnect — because in the end, my relationship helped me realize and come to terms with the person I’ve been all along. It’s like taking off a mask and throwing it away instead of grabbing a different mask, because I don’t need a mask to feel OK anymore. 

College has been a journey for me in more ways than just one. But I’ve learned to love myself wholly and openly. At some point, you’ve got to realize that it’s OK to nearly fail general chemistry. Not everyone is meant to be a scientist anyway. It doesn’t make you a bad person; it doesn’t make you unintelligent or inadequate. It’s perfectly fine to not play a sport (or, in my case, have absolutely no athletic ability whatsoever). Again, it doesn’t make you incompetent or less than anyone else. And finally, it’s OK to love girls. It’s OK to love boys. It’s OK to love God, Buddha, Allah. It’s OK to just love yourself, too. It’s OK, and you’re OK. Three seemingly trivial words that have affected me more than any other combination of words you could ever string together: You are OK.

It took me 20 years to come to terms with myself. It took 20 years to learn how to love myself, care for myself, and genuinely believe that it is OK to be who I am. There’s not a thing I regret in my past. It took each of these little events, every single one of them, to build the foundation on which I can triumphantly stand today. I refuse to be anything but myself and I refuse to ever let anything come between loving myself again. 

Vulnerability is an absolutely gorgeous thing if you let it flourish. Be open with yourself, love yourself, and you’ll be amazed at how far you’ll go.