Exclamation Marks are personal stories within QuestionMark. Alternatively, I would have called them “Stories that made us or broke us”.

This one took place years ago in a small village in northern Greece. I will do my best to stay as original as I can and to share everything I remember.

Let’s start with a cute one

Coming out can be scary

Coming out is a slow and painful process. We have to first come out to ourselves. Then to the people we love, or sometimes to strangers we talk online or randomly meet at the toilet stalls. Some of us never come out. Some of us live or lived their whole lives in the shadow and fear. Others have to come out almost every single day.

Coming out at a young age — especially when other queers don’t exist, feels like diving in a lake you’ve never been in the middle of the night. You don’t know what’s the water’s temperature or what creatures might be in it. It is scary. And if you are in a time you feel weak or an age you believe in monsters, it is almost impossible.

When I was thirteen, I decided to check the water. I stood on my imaginary boat in the middle of the lake and dipped my finger in it. I just wanted to check the temperature. At that time, I hadn’t yet come out to myself. I hadn’t realised I was a flaming homo in incubation. I was dying to know though; How would people take it if I turned out to be one?

The setting

The story starts with me and with probably my best childhood friend. Sitting on the bench out of a graveyard. We were discussing why we were the only two people not invited to a birthday party that day. All of our friends were there. But we weren’t.

My friend was saying that “It is crazy!” that we were not be invited. “There are six hundred people in the village. We are all a family. She cannot not-invite us to her birthday party! I am sure she forgot” my friend kept saying. “We are not going to a birthday party uninvited” I kept saying.

I told my friend there was something I wanted to discuss with him. I told him he was probably the only one I could talk to about this. I can’t remember for sure but I believe I was stressed. My voice pitch probably reached a new level. I was probably sweating sitting on the bench in front of the graveyard. Probably thinking he can’t be mad at me if I tell him am gay. After all, we are the only two people not invited to the party. Will he dump me and be alone?

And so I told him. “I think I might be gay”.

The cat’s out of the bag

“I think I might be gay”. I told him what was bothering me. I touched with my finger the water. That was probably the very first time I said the word “gay” out loud. And I will never forget what happened after that.

My friend looked at me from top to bottom. He looked and checked every inch of me as if I was to be bought. And he said: “You? Gay?”. No more than one second later he said: “Well, you could be gay”.

I gasped a breath I remember. I was scared to touch the water in the dark lake — but in the end, it wasn’t that cold. Before talking about it I was ready to burst into tears but his reaction made me feel safe. He didn’t make fun of me, he didn’t get sick in his mouth or started running around calling me a faggot. And all of these were cases I was ready to deal with. Instead, he went on about the things we were talking earlier as if I had told him I like ice cream. As if I told him nothing…

I stopped him from talking and said. “I want to further talk about what I told you. It is kind of important to me”. He looked at me and told me something that has lived with me since:

If you are gay go tell your parents, find a man, marry him and live for the rest of your life in your village. What else can we discuss?

And we didn’t discuss anything else. I wasn’t meant to live in my village for the rest of my life but I didn’t need anything else. I knew it was OK to be gay.

My learnings

Our first interaction with anything is fundamentally important.

This doesn’t apply only to queerness. Shame a young kid for anything and they will carry the heavy load for the rest of their lives. Smile when they fall, teach them it’s alright to fail, empower them to make fun of themselves and I believe you’ll raise mentally healthy individuals.

Keep people around you that celebrate who you are.

No one likes judgementalism but we all allow it in our lives. My suggestion? Cut it out. Only people that will take you for who you are will make you feel happy about yourself.

Be an example to the ones who need it the most.

Your children might not come to you to pour their hearts out. Show them though that they can. Show them with your actions that you are there. Take them to Pride, watch movies with them about issues you care. Be an example and tell stories that matter.

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