I know that for a lot of LGBTQ youth, the tension between hoping and coping can be really difficult. We work to find a way to let our inner fabulousness burn bright, while at the same time, make it through tough times with people who are not so fabulous. I remember talking to my mentor Jay Walker when I was 20 years old about how I wished I could change who I was and just be "normal." I mean, wasn't it enough that I was African American and female? Why on earth would I want to throw this into the mix too?
Jay was an amazing black gay man who died of AIDS in 1994. We met when I was a student at University of California, Santa Cruz and he was the associate dean of admissions. He was a pianist, a teacher, a jokester, a community leader, and other than my parents, Jay was my "go-to guy." Following that question, Jay looked at me and said, "Girl, you may not realize it now, but you have been given a gift... the gift of you."
I will admit that I didn't really get it at first, but he went on to remind me that each one of us comes into the world with a set of circumstances that are ours alone. Some of those circumstances will draw people to us, while others might keep people at a distance. "You are this amazing bundle of beauty, talent, and joy that is 'on purpose,'" Jay said. "You are black on purpose. You are a woman on purpose. And you are gay on purpose. All of the things that you wish you could change because other people don't understand will become a part of that 'bundle of purpose.' What it all comes down to is what you do with it."
Jay went on to say, "Every black person, every woman, and every gay person who has come before you had to stand up, take some mess from someone who didn't get them in order to change how we all see and experience the world. Only you can decide how you deal with it. You can't change what is on purpose, but you can definitely use what you've got to make change with purpose. Put your focus there because that's something that you can work with. And know that you always have me to walk next to you. You aren't alone. I will make that commitment to you because someone else made that same promise to me."
Even after Jay died, I know he is with me and that commitment keeps me hopeful every single day. So I will share with you what he shared with me: Believe in that bundle of you—it is beautiful and talented and full of joy. Know that there are plenty of amazing people around you who will make the commitment to walk next to you. And no matter what people might make you believe, you are you on purpose.