A prompt for self-exploration and awareness

My college application essay tasked me with the assignment of discussing my identity — something I didn’t even fully understand at the time. I felt like I was writing a paper for a philosophy class I never signed up for, trying to express deep truths about myself that I hadn’t quite unearthed yet.

The confusion this essay gave me was only a fraction of the daily horror I faced growing up as a closeted bisexual man in a conservative, religious family. Less than two years before college application season, I came out to my closest friends, and I progressively began telling more people over time.

But as I became more open about my sexuality with others, I found that plenty of people held views that were incompatible with my sexuality. Some friends distanced themselves from me, others called it a phase and a few even decided it was best to end our friendship.

The intense hostility and discomfort that I experienced every day grew. Over time, I felt less confident in my own skin and less willing to be open about my sexuality with others.

And that is why the Common Application essay prompt about my identity was so puzzling and terrifying. When I initially chose that prompt, I quickly decided I should inch away from the topic of my sexuality, looking for topics about my career goals or obstacles I’ve faced in school instead — topics that wouldn’t require me to come out to a stranger reading my essay in an admissions office.

But that all changed one late night in November. It was around this time that I began writing poetry, which became my primary method of emotional expression. I finally discovered a creative way to voice my innermost thoughts and comprehend my sexuality.

That night I wrote a poem called “The Mirror,” in which I defined my struggle with accepting myself and my sexuality. The poem was private and deep, and I never intended to share it with anyone or have it exist beyond my own notebook.

But I must’ve had a change of heart overnight, because I brought the poem into my English class for a college essay review session the very next day.

It was a huge step for me, having this incredibly intimate, free-verse poem in the hands of my classmates for critiquing. It was the physical manifestation of my worst nightmare: examining a guarded part of myself, writing it down on a piece of paper and giving it to others for judgment. Yet the reactions I got from my peers were unexpectedly reassuring.

In fact, they were life-changing.

I watched as one of my best friends burst into tears reading my poem. She then told me I was brave. Even classmates I barely knew were telling me how much they loved my essay.

Looking back on it now, I have no clue how I found the courage to come out to all my classmates through an essay. But it was a noteworthy moment in my life.

And after submitting the poem as my college application essay and receiving several acceptance letters in response, my confidence grew; I became noticeably happier and healthier.

After that, coming out to people grew easier each day. I was no longer plagued with concern for how others would perceive me. I was proud of my sexuality.

I constantly reread the words I spontaneously wrote down that one emotional night. But I can never be sure if it was my writing or the students in my English class who were so accepting that helped me become happier.

I know now that the confidence I exuded after that day was actually there the whole time, but I guess it took a free verse poem and 40 minutes of English class for me to learn that.

Tyler Perez
can be reached at tyler.perez@temple.edu. Or you can follow Tyler on Twitter @perezodent. Follow The Temple News @TheTempleNews.

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