Article by Adeyemi Ekundayo | Photography by Bre Mascetti | Owl Staff

“Freedom.” What a word.

To me, “freedom” was a question.

Was it a place? A concept? A relief? Or was it a truth? Before I knew what “freedom” was, I knew I did not have it. It seemed like an eternity away.

I knew what it couldn’t be. It couldn’t be concealment. The burdens of secrecy shouldn’t have suppressed me until I was but a withered mask of someone else’s face. My identity should not have felt so alien.

But it did.

From an age long lost in my memory, that cage was reality. I was instructed without words to hide who I really was.

Before I even went to school, I was taught that something about me should have scared me. It was long before I realized what this thing was. And it was something I could never say before I knew what it meant. Somehow, I knew it was wrong to utter these words: I am gay.

Actually, I never even dreamed of saying these words aloud. Instead, I thought them. And then I told myself anything that would make them untrue. I wasn’t gay. This thing I’m feeling, this emotion, was a symptom of puberty.

They told me all about how I would start to feel certain things when I entered middle school and high school.

They told me how I would grow taller and start sporting a mustache. “Your voice will deepen,” they said. But the wounds of my self-hatred deepened instead.

In my family, any sign of “gayness” or femininity was met with physical punishment and emotional trauma. If I sang a Beyoncé song, I got in trouble with my cousins. In school, my peers replicated this system.

If I liked the color pink, I was ridiculed by my classmates.

I had to come to grips with the fact that the world I lived in was not safe for me. Because I was so young, I had no idea why people were treating me the way they were.

Why couldn’t I do what made me happy? What did I do wrong?

I had no one to run to for clarity or safety either. So in order to deal with this, I created multiple coping mechanisms.

In the 1st grade, I remember hiding. In the 2nd grade, I remember lashing out. From that point on, I strived even harder to appeal to other people’s perceptions of who I was.

I spoke with an artificially deep voice in the third grade and I tried imitating the interests of the other boys in the 4th and 5th grade.

By the 6th grade, this “freedom” thing seemed like a myth.

To masquerade became such a natural part of me that it was embedded into my subconscious.

Even in my dreams, I couldn’t escape confinement.

I longed for “freedom” and I longed for safety. But in my mind, the two couldn’t coexist. In high school, my yearning for “freedom” could not be contained anymore. I expressed myself through the wildest fashion statements and the boldest displays of my personality.

“My identity should not have felt so alien, but it did.”

I was genuinely me. Sort of.

My feelings were harder to contain, especially when other boys like me roamed in the same shadows I did. The forbidden fruit became even more irresistible.

By my senior year, these shadows became a source of extreme sadness. I had pushed the envelope with my fashion and I stopped censoring my thoughts and feelings. I was so close to “freedom” but I was still hindered by one dark door that I refused to open.

The shadows I had become accustomed to were so natural to me by this point that my comfort in them allowed me to speak plainly to gay men, though I was still in the closet.

In high school, parties are a way to feel unchained from the labels of everyday life: daughter, son, student, athlete. At parties, you just are.

At one party, I remember feeling very open the entire time. Conversing with the gay men there was a relief from the other parts of my day.

A vulnerable moment later and I was out. To one person at least. It all happened so fast, I could hardly prepare for it. I basically poured out my life’s story to a complete stranger in an isolated moment.

After that, my nights became characterized by hours of crying and self-hating questions. I realized what I couldn’t deny any longer.

I am gay.

And I liked it. I loved the fact that I had “freedom” within myself. But I hated that this was the way I got it. I didn’t want to be gay and all that it meant.

I now had no defense from homophobia. I had to admit that I was lying to the people closest to me. I had to figure out the easiest way to do the hardest thing in my life and come out to the world. Life would be very hard for me afterward, I thought.

After months of deliberation, I finally decided to come out to my best friend. I’d been extremely close to her for eight years at that point and coming out to her first felt the safest. Countless attempts were made but my body fought against me. Whenever I tried moving in her direction, my muscles froze.

When I tried speaking, my throat closed. My heart pounded and I couldn’t breathe. My stomach fell to my feet.

Crippled with fear and drowning in tears, it took every muscle in my body to move my fingers and send a text.

Then I was free.

My friend’s reaction was unsurprised and we went out to eat after that.

But I didn’t have the same luck with some other friends. Not everyone was accepting, and I learned who my real friends were.

After my friends, my family was next. For my father, homosexuality is a choice. “When did you make this decision?” he asked before assuring, “You’ll get better when the time comes.”

By this time, I’d learned what my priorities were. And at the bottom of the list was what other people thought of me. Even my family.

A weight lifted from my shoulders and a pressure in my chest eased. My body finally relaxed for the first time in 17 years. This was euphoria. And I could only think one thing: “finally.”

Though my support system wasn’t fully intact, I was free to be me. And so I was happy. Every day since then has been a day without longing and a day without hiding.

This is freedom. No longer do I question what that means.


The Rainbow Alliance is a student organization at HCC. It provides solidarity and support among the LGBTQ community and its allies. (

The Safe Zone Committee, a board of HCC Staff members, is trained in LGBTQ sensitivity and aid. They provide education & support to students, staff and faculty on behalf of the community. (

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) offers services and programs for LGBTQ people and allies. (

Hearts & Ears, Inc is located in Baltimore, Maryland for LGBTQ+ individuals with behavioral health issues and concerns.(

The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization, focuses on suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.(

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