Writes of Passage: Paul Lavoie & Matt Severson
Today's "Writes of Passage" comes from Paul Lavoie and Matt Severson, a couple living in Los Angeles, CA. Paul warns his younger self about the price they'll both pay for his actions, while Matt encourages his younger self to stop being afraid and start living life.
Though these are two totally different journeys, these men show how getting through the rough patches can lead one to a very wonderful payoff—all it takes is strength, faith, and being true to oneself.
You’re probably surprised to get a letter from the 46-year old version of you as I know you’ve never thought much about your future other than wanting it to be different from your present day.
I can recall the world that you find yourself in right now. Nashua probably seems very small and sequestered. The high school, the church, the mall and that non-descript ranch house on the northern part of town—they are the boarders of a world that isn’t accepting of you.
I’m telling you all this because I know the mistakes that lay ahead of you and I’d like to help you avoid them. It’s not that we can’t learn from our mistakes, but since you and I aren’t the best at taking a moment and reflecting as to what we’re doing and where we are, I think I should convince you of the value of introspection from time to time.
I’m sure it seems like a good idea to compartmentalize your life—that it’ll be safer to live in the margins—but hiding who you are just feeds into the guilt you feel about yourself.
You know how you can kill endless hours looking for sex in those places you know you’ll find it? The sex itself is always second in importance to the feeling that someone else is attracted to you or approves of you and what you’re doing. That reliance on always finding someone hotter to have sex with to get their approval will ultimately make you susceptible to bad choices when it comes to safe sex or drug usage.
No one around you is available to talk about these things. In many cases people around you don’t even have a clue that you have all that casual sex. And the friends who do know are struggling with the same demons themselves. I know this as a fact as I’m living with the results of the choices you’re going to make. That said, please know that it’s our inextinguishable positive attitude and sense of humor that gets us through all of life’s challenges.
The 46-year old version of you just celebrated his 8th anniversary with a guy named Matt. You’ll meet him at a birthday party, and like most life changing events, it’ll seem insignificant at the time—just a sweet, cute guy who makes you laugh. But over time you’ll realize that Matt is a culmination of all the key relationships in your life—Luke, Stan, Douglas—and that the lessons you learned along the way prepared you for this one, great, last boyfriend in life. He’s accepting of us—you and me and all the choices (good and bad) we’ve made along the way. He honors them, for he knows that they are keys to what makes us.
My therapist always tells me that we shouldn’t hang our hopes on the acceptance of others. He’s right, of course, but Matt’s acceptance isn’t encumbered with conditions; it’s there always, even when we’re not the best person we can be.
Hang in there, buddy. I look forward to hearing back from you and seeing how you’re doing. Let me be the one person you share your darkest secrets and most ominous fears with... and I will do what I can to steer you safely to now.
This is a note from older Matt—25 years in the future—to you, young Matt. I wanted to tell you a few things that might help ease some of the stuff you are probably thinking about right now...
Don’t be afraid. All those feelings you’ve been having about being “different” and trying to fit in—it’s all going to be okay. You have two parents who love you, and it may be hard to believe right now given all the crazy stuff going on in your world, but they will also love you for who you are. They only want you to be happy and fulfilled.
You will find many friends, family members, boyfriends, lovers, co-workers and other special people who love and support you. Even though it may seem like most of the people around you in Orange County are conservative and closed-minded, there is a much bigger world out there filled with people who have different viewpoints and perspectives. This will become clearer to you when you get into college.
One of the things I should encourage you to do is to stop fighting with yourself. You aren’t like all the other guys you want to be like in your high school—and that’s okay. You’re not going to get anywhere by forcing yourself to “like” those girls in your class. And none of those girls are going to make you any less gay.
Stop talking negatively about the other high school kids who “you can tell” are gay. They are going though exactly what you are going through right now, and later on down the road you’re going to feel bad for being such a dick. Show some compassion—for them, and for yourself.
You know how you’re constantly wrestling with your religious beliefs? Trying to reconcile what the Bible and others tell you is a sin, and saying that you’ll go to hell if you act out on these feelings? Umm... you will still have to go down the path of figuring out exactly “what” or “who” you believe in. But let me tell you, in a few years you’re not going to feel so conflicted about the whole thing.
And as you go through this process, know that the world is changing around you.
You know how it’s rare to see gay people on TV or in movies? Well, 20+ years from now that will change. Being gay won’t seem like such an oddity.
You know how when you watch Oprah or Donahue there are sometimes gay people advocating “gay adoption” or whatever, and the producers treat these guests as controversial? You always find it infuriating that they have representatives from “the other side” to voice how they don’t like homosexuality and that it’s wrong, but 25 years from now you will see gay TV networks, gay radio, gay adoptions and more.
You know that “gay panic” feeling when you mention liking the soundtrack to Fame, or albums by the Pet Shop Boys or Madonna? (Characterized by others saying some variant of “disco sucks” or “that’s so gay!”) And as a result you feel safer talking to your friends and classmates about bands like Prince, U2 or REM? Well, I’m just telling you now, be proud of the music you like. Don’t listen to jerks who tell you that “your music” sucks. If you listen to them, you’re not being true to yourself—and you’ll be missing out on a lot of fun later on when you meet others who like the same music that you do. (And 25 years from now the rest of the world lightens up a bit regarding dance music. You’ll see, it’s not such a weird thing as it was in the 1980s.)
Twenty-five years from now there is even a large movement to legalize gay marriage. Gay couples can marry in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., and there is a push for it to be legalized throughout the nation—though we’re not quite there... yet.
You are going to find a partner who will exceed all your expectations about love and commitment. You will live a happy, productive, wonderful life together. You will have many good friends, build an extraordinary extended family, and feel very fulfilled. You will create a home together, travel and learn from each other. Before meeting him you will meet a lot of other men— some good, some not-so-good. There will be heartache and there will be joy, but all of these relationships and encounters will help you get to a better place and to that incredible guy.
That person will one day say, “You are the last thing I want to see in this world before I die.” So hang in there. It's worth it.
Last few things:
•Be careful of drugs
•Have safe sex
•Let go of all that guilt
•Enjoy yourself—you deserve it
So, don’t be afraid. Open that closet door. A great life is right on the other side.
See you in 25 years.
Paul Lavoie is a 46-year-old Digital Intermediate Producer who lives with his partner of 8 years, Matt, in Los Angeles, CA.
Matt Severson, 43, lives with his partner Paul in Los Angeles, and is the Photo Curator for the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library.
Read more letters in our National Coming Out Day section on Gay.com.