Celebrate Pride this month by fully embracing everything about who you are.

I stand at just under 6’6. For some, that sounds like a dream. For me, it’s been quite the point of contention throughout my life. Honestly, it’s still something I struggle to accept about myself.

Truth is, regardless of who you are, all eyes fall on you when you walk into a room at that height. I’ve always been among “the tallest” of people, and throughout my life, it has always prevented me from “blending in.”

Drink up, bitches
All for me…? Nahhh.

As a child, not blending in makes you “weird” or a “freak” or “different.”

It doesn’t help when there’s a few other aspects about you that bring about the same labels.

I always hate it when people ask me when I “knew” I was into other men, but I suppose, if we had to date it, I’d say I was around 4 or 5. See, I’d grown up watching this lovely show called Baywatch, but I wasn’t there for the babes. I wasn’t even there for David Hasselhoff.

I was there for Jeremy Jackson.

Ah, yes, good old Hobie was the first to tickle the heart strings and have me wondering why.

Why wasn’t I looking at Pamela Anderson or Yasmine Bleath outside of my sister’s Barbie dolls that I used to mimic the characters on the show? Why was I more enthralled with the shirtless men — or worse, more upset when they put their clothes back on?

See, part of my problem was the household I grew up in. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying anything bad about my family. I wasn’t “unloved” or “unwanted” or any of that. I didn’t get exiled for coming out. Everyone simply has their opinions. Growing up in a conservative Christian family is, statistically speaking, just not the easiest environment to grow up gay. Especially when that family is planted in the middle of a tiny-ass conservative mountain town that isn’t any more accepting.

And thus, my internal workings started lining up with my external height and brought me more attention simply because people could tell I wasn’t “normal.”

Pride with a new friend
My new friend, Yitz.

As an adult, “normal” is overrated. “Normal” is almost what everyone tries to get away from whenever they can, because as people grow, they strive to embrace their individuality. To shed the idea of “uniform” and just become more “unique.”

That is the journey I find myself on now.

As a fresh 32-year-old, I finally feel like I’m starting to come into my own and accept myself for the skin that I am in — just in time to celebrate my first Pride.

For the last… well, lifetime… I’ve felt very trapped in my own mind. I was living in Monterey after I left the woodland hills of Yosemite. I spent 14 years of my life hiding in that little coastal town. To me, gay life didn’t seem “right” for me, either. When all you have of the gay community is really Instagram, Twitter, and nowadays OnlyFans, it all just seems so superficial, hollow, and unwelcoming. Like if I don’t have a 6-pack, I can’t have a seat at the table.

So, even though I was “out,” I let myself hide. I didn’t talk about my sexuality ever, really, with anyone. Not in the sense of denial or trying to pretend like I was something I wasn’t — I just didn’t understand why it was always such a point of reference.

“Oh, this is my gay friend, Andrew.”

And why does that matter? It isn’t as though it offends me — it is the truth, after all — but I also don’t understand the idea of labels in that regard sometimes.

Pride with a new club buddy
My new club bestie, Jordan.

I am who I am. Why can I not just be that?

Well, here’s the thing.

Life has a way of finding you sometimes, whether you’re ready for it or not.

For 14 years, I’d been sitting in Monterey and complaining about my life. I hated it there. I wanted out. It felt like no one understood me. I didn’t feel like I was part of the community, but I didn’t know where else to go. What else to do. Where else I would fit. I even escaped for a year to New Zealand in hopes I could just stay there forever, perched on a mountaintop and never having a care in the world.

But again: Life has a way of finding you sometimes, and I have landed on the path I feel is right for me now — not one I feel I am forcing.

That path has landed me in San Diego, California. Some refer to this as “America’s Finest City,” and some find that accolade a bit obnoxious.

Personally, in the two months I have spent in the Hillcrest community, I feel like I’ve finally found a place to belong. I may not have found the best clothes to fit into yet (being tall is hard), but I feel like I fit into this community somehow.

For once, I feel like I can just simply… be me.

I wound up here after life came around and said, “So, here’s the thing with COVID: You’re going to lose your job. You’re going to lose your freelance clients and everything you’ve ever worked for. It’s okay, because you’ll just end up in the unemployment system and lost about your direction like everybody else, but you’ll be fine. Just save your money, enjoy your last days of freedom in this house, and get ready for your life to change.”

And me, wide-eyed and confused, sat on my bed and said, “Excuse me, life, but… what?”

Pride with the drag queens
The first drag queen I’ve ever met, Kameron Michaels

There’s some actual truth to that, too. On Thursday, March 12, 2020, I sat down with my boss. I looked her in the eyes, tears burning my lids, and said, “I really don’t know how to explain this, and I really don’t know what to do… but I feel like bartending goes against my soul purpose. I feel like it’s opposing everything I’m meant to do on this earth. I can’t figure out why, but I just have this feeling I need to walk away from it.”

She said, “I totally understand where you’re coming from. I say just give it a month and see how you feel.”

Three days later, the job was gone.

The year that followed was the year that followed — different for everybody. Some thrived, some crumbled. Some saw an insane increase in income, others… well, that unemployment helped.

But there was a second part to life’s little message to me that I hadn’t seen play out quite yet: Enjoying my last days of “freedom” (and solitude) in the house I was living, and getting ready for my life to fully change.

I spent the majority of quarantine trying to figure out where to go. The Gemini in me gets too indecisive sometimes, but when my roommate said, “Hey, love you so much but I’m moving to San Jose,” I knew I had to make a decision fast. From there, something akin to closing my eyes and throwing a dart at the map landed me in San Diego.

Pride with the bestie
My bestie, Isaiah, who is always there for me no matter what.

Big cities scare me. I’m a mountain kid, after all, but, to quote Ariel, “I want to be where the (gay) people are…”

After spending so much time looking at it from online, I wanted to be apart of it all somehow. San Francisco and West Hollywood seemed way too intense of a scene for me, and something about San Diego just… called out to me. I’d paid it a visit in June 2020 when things were first supposed to reopen. I’d initially planned on being here by July. The fact it took until April 2021 is neither here nor there.

The thing is: I’m here now.

And things are starting to open again.

I’m fully vaccinated and the idea of community is starting to become a norm again. Over the last couple of weeks, my friend that had initially introduced me to this city came down for a visit and really introduced me to the city.

I’d never really been to a gay club before, and Flicks will forever be the first place I came into my own (although Urban Mo’s will always technically be the first “gay bar” I visited).

You see, I’m shy, believe it or not. I tell people that all the time and no one believes me — not the people who know me, anyway. That’s because they quickly forget my shy behavior after I get comfortable, but I have to get comfortable first. When it comes to the gay world, I’m not yet fully comfortable.

Yet.

Part of this, oddly, goes back to the height. I have to be more comfortable standing above the crowd like that. Even the night before writing this post, I was toward the back of the club with some friends, and someone came up to me and said, “You don’t belong on the wall. You belong in the center.”

The center? What a concept! How scary!

But that’s exactly the thing: I had spent so much time fearing this community, afraid that I wouldn’t belong in it simply because I hadn’t felt like I belonged anywhere else, only to find the exact opposite actually happening to me. My journey over the last few weeks starting to go to bars and clubs and getting more involved in the general community has opened my eyes — both to the good and the bad.

I thought I wouldn’t get any attention, or that everyone would just sit in judgment of me. Perhaps some of that is still true, and perhaps most of it lies within my head with the rest of the narratives I create for myself.

But now, having just turned 32 and being able to celebrate Pride month in a place that actually celebrates has me feeling a little more fulfilled.

I am not alone in this journey. I am not too geeky or too nerdy or too tall. It doesn’t matter if I still believe aspects of the religion I grew up with, or if my clothes aren’t everything.

I am who I am
Happy birthday, happy pride, happy everything! Be you!

All that matters is that I am me. And I take pride in that.

Even though I’m still new here and even though I haven’t fully found my tribe, I’m feeling, for the first time in my life, like I’m finally where I belong.

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? Struggled with the idea of pride within yourself? Always remember you’re not alone, but feel free to share your experiences in the comments!