54 - Dave Hesley
Partner: Sergio Hernandez
Registered Nurse. Full-Time Student. Always at the gym, or at a concert. Loves celebrating life!
With the infinite possibilities of gender identity and expression, when did you know….
“I've always remembered the feeling of not fitting in… I was homeschooled up into 5th grade, and when I got thrown into the real school was really when I noticed it. Right around the end of junior high and into high school everyone was starting to date girls and stuff, and I definitely wanted to do it because I wanted to fit in, but I didn't feel like that urgency like everyone else did. And then of course I kind of figured it out. ‘I think I’m gay…’ It was terrifying.”
On his coming out experience...
“My coming out was really messy and dragged out over almost three years. I'm from a very religious background, so I was raised from day one being told gay people are sinners… gay people go to hell… Sodom and Gomorrah, you know. So it was very much trying to fight who I knew I was... so, I went with the flow of ‘I’m just gonna be straight.’ I had a couple girlfriends… I was even engaged and almost got married, at one point… it was to this girl who we'd been friends since 5th grade, and she was like legitimately my best friend… we did everything together… it just kind of made sense. We started dating, but it was when we were planning our wedding with a wedding planner when I was just like, ‘If I told you my truth, it would destroy your life… and I’d hate myself for that.’
So, I had a plan… because I knew that my family would reject me. I broke off the engagement… I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma for a couple of weeks with a gay couple that I was friends with, but they didn't know why I had arrived and had just all of the sudden needed to live with them. Then I had this awful conversation with my mom, who called me and was like, ‘What's going on? You break up with the love of your life, and then you move out and you're not talking to anybody...’ And then she basically was like, ‘You know everyone thinks you're a f*ggot… that's what everyone's saying…’ It was one of those moments where like my all my plans just fell apart, because I knew that my family wasn't going to support me, but I hadn’t actually faced the realization of what that might feel like… and when I first felt that pain, I was like, ‘I'm not ready to deal with this…’ And so I told her, ‘Well, I'm sorry I can't help how people perceive me, I'll be home soon…’
I went back home and felt I couldn't come out. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I couldn't come out. That was when I tried to commit suicide for the first time. There is this quote by this German philosopher [Rainer Maria Rilke], and actually Lady Gaga speaks a lot about him, and he says, ‘In the darkest part of the night I ask myself must I create, and I would die if I couldn’t create.’ And I knew I would die if I couldn’t find love, and I had grown up being told that gay people can't find true fulfilling love. I was like, I'm gay, I'm never gonna find happiness. I survived that, and no one found out that I tried to overdose on pills. I was alone at home. I just woke up and was really sick for two days.
Eventually I was like, ‘You know what… I would literally kill myself if I had to go through that again.’ So I saved up money, I moved out, and I came out when I was 22. About three years after I'd broken up with my fiancé.
I had my college roommate, who was at the time my best friend. I was going to school full time, and working my ass off full time. I still didn’t accept myself, I just didn't understand how anybody else would accept me either. I had saved up enough money so that I could move out and get my own apartment because I thought he's not gonna want to live with a gay guy. So I just told him, I was like, ‘I'm going to move out…’ and he's like, ‘Why?’ It's like, ‘Well, I'm gay. I just think I should have my own place…’ and he was like, ‘So…? You're my friend… why would you? I don’t care if you’re gay’ He was one of the first three people I told, and everybody that I had told before that was like, ‘Oh… yeah?, we love you!’ First was my cousin, who lived in Spain, next my aunt and uncle who lived in Maryland… but Nick was the first face to face coming out where I had received acceptance. And it was one of its one of most special moments of my life.
[With my family] it's very complex. So my parents are split. Initially, my dad's side of the family, even the more conservative ones, were accepting. Like, ‘Dave, we love you. I don't know if I like the lifestyle, but you know we love you no matter what.’ So I always had that acceptance. When I first came out I was still on my mom’s cell phone plan and health insurance… and I expected to be kicked off everything, and I was. My dad really picked up the slack, and was like, ‘Just because you're gay doesn't mean you shouldn't have a cell phone...’ He bought me a new phone, put me on his health insurance… my dad really stepped up to the plate.
So my mom’s side of the family was difficult to deal with… my mom was the hardest person to come out to. Mostly because she had asked me point blank twice before I came out to her if I was gay, and I had lied to her every time. And then when I finally told her I thought, ‘Oh, she's already had this idea in her head… maybe she's already digested it…’, but she hadn’t. Her rejection was the most like raw form of pain that I have ever experienced. I didn't speak to her on and off for almost two years. There was a lot of a lot of pain there. A lot. I’d like to say that relationship's gotten better, but for me it hasn’t, I’m not sure about her. It's still a strain for me. When I’m around her I feel like I’m just going through the motions to avoid tension. We speak. We're cordial… she came and visited me two weeks ago at home, but I just don’t think that’s something that relationship will recover from.”
Frustrations within our community?
“There are issues that affect me directly that I think are bad. And then there are also issues that don't directly affect me that I think are probably worse. Like, we were out at the gay bars last night, and a friend of ours was talking about trans people in a way that really bugged me… and he was just talking about them in the most uneducated, just blatantly ignorant way. I wasn't even able to respond because I was too busy thinking about, if I give a spit fire response, I know I'd be coming from a place of anger right now and I don’t think that would benefit anybody… But I was like, I know this person, I see this person often, I know he's not a mean person… I don't think he truly understands the level of pain and damage that those kind of words do. So, I mean this person just needs education, and they need to be exposed. I think that's a big issue in our in our community, that even though we're like, ‘We don't like boxes…’ we only hang out in our box. We don't expose ourselves to different types of LGBT+ people. It creates a lot of stigmas in our community. And I think that is a big stepping stone for us to get over… is to start exposing ourselves to different people, you know more inclusively.”
Favorite part about our community?
“I just feel like even when there are really hard times, you can always find so much joy in our community… especially in the time we live in now, knowing how privileged we are to live in the time we live in. There’s so much joy in everybody. One of my favorite things to do is take my friends to drag shows at S4 (Station 4), and they're always saying it’s such a happy place. Because you know when you're at a gay bar, it's the one place where you know that you can be yourself. Your bedroom mirror and the gay bar are the two places anyone can be themselves without judgement.
I feel like we really do step up in hard times, example, the Pulse Club shooting. I remember where I was when I found out about that… I had gone out that night, I was waking up, I was on my phone, my boyfriend was in the bathroom and he came back and I was in tears… I was like, ‘Somebody literally shot up a gay club in Florida… we were in a gay club last night. It could have been us. This is insane.’ And that night my friend and I marched down Cedar Springs with a whole crowd that gather for a vigil. I remember feeling so empowered and strong that night. We were hit with a fatal blow last night, but here we are we're marching in the streets saying that we're not going to take it. I remember those flowers stayed piled on that monument on Cedar Springs for weeks… people kept bringing flowers and it was such a horrible time, but it was a very it was an empowering at the same time.”
What is something you would tell a younger you? Advice for anyone out there who feels like they can’t come out, or they don’t have a community to be a part of?
“To younger Dave… I would say don't take everything so seriously. I would also say, you're enough. That's what I was running from for so many years… I was worried that if I was gay that I wouldn’t be enough… enough to God… that might not make it into heaven… enough to my family. You’re enough.
To others who feel like they can’t come out… I can remember that feeling… and I did it the hard way. The main fear I faced was like homelessness… and it's like you know you're worried you're going to lose your home. And I understand that fear. I would say though, that coming out is something that you need to do when you're ready for it, and you need to be ready for it because it's one of those defining moments in your life… and you want to make sure you're ready for that. I tried to do it once, and I wasn't ready. I had to fall back and come up with a plan B… If they feel like there's not a community, I would say that they need to get out and get in the community and they'll realize that there literally is a spot in this community for every single person. And that's one of those beautiful things about us as LGBTQ+ people… is that everybody belongs.”
What in your life are you most proud of?
“I'm very proud of the life I've created for myself… the life that me and my boyfriend have together. It's just the most beautiful thing. I'm really proud of the relationship that I have with my boyfriend, and it's actually one of the things that drives me to improve myself - I want to be better for him.”
With the state of the nation and the world in its current state, what’s one thing you would change if you had the power?
“When you get asked that question, you realize that there is not just one answer to fix all of our problems, right? So, I would say first I would I wish there was a way that people would be able to put themselves in other people's shoes. I hate it when people do terrible things… you know, like shootings, or terrorist attacks, or even things that people consider terrible now… like crossing the border illegally or something. I want people, before they judge that person, to think what drove them to do that. You know this mom who's bringing her three kids here illegally… why and what was so terrible in her own home country where she was from? What was so bad that made her want to take that trip? What was going on in that person's life? What was going on their head? Enough that they thought the solution was taking someone's life? I think that we would have a lot more compassion for each other if we could see and try to understand each other's motives.”