So I grew up in a traditional Southern Baptist household leading a very sheltered life. I was never exposed to anything resembling sexual until probably middle school or later. Growing up I always preferred to be around guys and thought girls were kinda weird but what little boy didn't? I was just a little more odd because I looked at other boys different and wanted hugs from my friends frequently.

In middle school I started to get an inkling of what "gay" actually meant. I found myself looking at pictures of guys barely-clothed and I always told myself that my reaction to it was because I was jealous of how they looked and wanted to look like them. I did not want to be gay or different because of how I saw others that were different get treated. I flirted with some guys over the internet but was still in heavy denial.

My Freshman year of Highschool I got my first really strong crush on a guy. I started talking to a school counselor in a neighboring city who was also gay and I made a lot of gay friends that year. I started off by trying to tell myself that I was bisexual, not gay because of the social handicap that it seemed to me and my upbringing. I had a LOT of girlfriends up to this point. I think my final count by my sophomore year was about 15. I would literally cry myself to sleep frequently at night wondering what was wrong with me and why couldn't I be happy with these lovely girls?

So... Sophomore year. That year it was homecoming that made me "come out" to myself. I had been talking to a good female friend in a neighboring city and she came to be my date to homecoming but also brought along a boy that she had introduced me to over the phone and internet chat a month earlier. Technically they were both my date that night. When we were on the dance floor at Homecoming he flirted with me a lot and later that night back at my house he kissed me and it was like night and day different from kissing girls. I knew at that moment that I was truly gay and could not fight it any more.

A few months later, I had run up a $1200 phone bill talking to a guy long-distance (I was not aware of the cost, but the bill didn't care!). During that I ended up coming out to my Dad and Stepmom in the backseat of their car. They fully embraced who I was and their response was "And? We have known for quite some time now and were just waiting for you to be comfortable with it. We have no problems with you just the way you are."

Coming out to my Mom was more difficult because of her religious beliefs. She tried to tell me that it was a phase that I would grow out of (something she continued to believe until I was in my first long-term relationship and she met him and practically adopted him). It took her a while to stop trying to talk me out of it and she would cry about wanting grandkids, but she is one of my most loyal friends and supporters and source of love and stability in my life now. I really am blessed by how my parents took the news.

Coming out socially however, was VERY tough. Back when I was a Junior in Highschool, MySpace was still the go-to social media site (Facebook was for college students only and you could not join wihtout belonging to a university). A guy who was attracted to me and very much obvious about his sexuality left me a few comments on my wall. My fellow students printed out my MySpace page and passed it around the school to "out" me. I only knew because friends in that class passed the information to me. I had to deal with some ridicule and I was for sure targeted. Thankfully I had good friends among the "bullies" of the school who already knew I was gay and they made it clear that anyone trying to physically harm me would have to go through them (it pays to tutor people without judgement).

I had to develop a care-free attitude about my sexuality VERY quickly. I turned their interest in my sexuality around on them as if they were interested....TOO interested in me being gay. The more I acted like it was no big deal and made fun of them for bringing it up, the less it got brought up. I was no longer the fun target. My attitude about my sexuality is defined by me as "forged through fire" because of the friends I lost, the times I was stabbed in the back (figuratively), and the taunting/judging/verbal harassment I had to put up with.

After that experience I fully "came out" to the world both at work and at school and at home. I went off to college and joined the campus PRIDE organization. Since then I have been helping others come to terms with themselves in a much easier way than I did and help them deal with the world around them. Hopefully some find some comfort and/or inspiration in my story. Hopefully more will come join us in the Minot LGBT Community group on FaceBook and in person downtown so we can help everyone who needs and/or wants it!

Shaun Dyson
#Minot, North Dakota