“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
The year was 2011.
I had just turned 19 years old and had suffered a pretty serious fracture in my leg, leaving me in a cast and bedridden for months. During my first year at university and my first year away from home, no less. Suffice it to say, my newfound freedom 400 kilometres from home didn’t last very long. Within days of my injury, my late father was on a train to Ottawa, helping me pack up the essentials from my dorm room, and driving my car and I back to my hometown of Ajax, Ontario where I could comfortably recover.
Recovering comfortably is not what I did. In fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Between the e-learning to keep up with my classes, the hospital visits to monitor the progress of my leg, the occasional check-ins from childhood friends, and the restrained hovering of concerned parents, there was a lot of downtime. And silence. In retrospect, the beneficial thing about being alone with my thoughts for long periods of time was that I had no choice but to sit with and accept a necessary truth about myself that I had been trying to stifle for several years – I knew I was gay, and for the longest time I wanted nothing to do with that part of my identity. But sitting there alone in my room for months with my leg broken in three places and my mobility in jeopardy, it finally dawned on me that my sexuality was not as harmful to me as I had convinced myself it was.
For a long time, I had struggled with a crippling fear of being – for lack of a more appropriate word – different. Trying to conquer many years’ worth of internal turmoil during your formative years can be an incredibly exhausting and isolating experience; it certainly was for me, as it is for many LGBTQ+ youths and even adults. That kind of inner turbulence is rarely visible to those around you, which only compounds the distance you feel from your loved ones without them ever knowing it.
This necessary revelation at the age of 19 was a powerful turning point for me. Although it sounds preposterous now, it took years to process and accept that being gay was not what was causing me harm; that much was clear as I gazed upon my shattered leg in its thick plaster cast. The only harm my sexuality caused me were the years of unrest I had inflicted upon myself.
It was time for that self-infliction to stop.
I had essentially come out to myself, which was only the first but nonetheless a monumental step in this new journey I was about to embark on. Only after I had taken that step could I begin the longer, more vulnerable process of letting those closest to me know I was gay, too. But nothing happens overnight, and if you ask anyone you know who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you’ll likely hear about how coming out is an ongoing process. You never really stop doing it – with new friends, extended family, new colleagues. What mattered most to me, though, was that I came out to myself first. Only by freeing myself from the shame and self-loathing that I had burdened myself with for so many years could I discover the self-love that I needed in order to grow into my authentic self.
At the time, injuring my leg at the age of 19 felt like one of the worst things to have ever happened to me; my future mobility was uncertain, I missed out on a lot of formative social interactions at university, and despite my best efforts to keep up with my schooling I ultimately had to take a fifth year to complete my degree. But now, I can honestly say it was a blessing in disguise. Who knows how much longer it would have taken me to accept my truth and to find the courage to open to my friends and family without that time to think or that solitude to stew in. For most LGBTQ+ persons, bravery does not come overnight; it’s something you find within yourself over time, bit by bit.
And I’m so happy that I did.
2021 marks 10 years since I started the process of coming out and being my authentic self. This also happens to coincide with the beginning of my first year of legal practice. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the fact that I am surrounded by people who make me feel that I can be myself every day. It is a quiet but palpable feeling of gratitude that is always with me. This felt like the right time to properly introduce myself to the profession at large, authentically.
For those of you who might not know me, my name is Chris. I am your colleague, your friend, your peer, your teammate, your confidant, your resident board game enthusiast, and just another person.
And I’m glad you got to know a little more about me.
“Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”
― Harvey Fierstein