Part of understanding who you are as a man begins with the acceptance of self and believing you are worthy of loving others, and being loved in return.

But within the gay community, self-acceptance often takes a backseat, and freedom to just be is traded to become what everyone else wants.

As Joel teaches us, whether it’s now or later, it’s still an important lesson one must learn, if you ever hope to find love.

My biological mother gave me to her brother and his wife because they convinced her she couldn’t look after all three of her children.  They already had a family of girls, but had always wanted a boy. With them, I grew up with a lot of affection and was very much so cared for, but I was always aware of how different I was from everyone around me, especially my skin and hair color. Being from a rural family who played sports, rugby, and were mostly white, I saw white athletic men as the standard of masculinity, which I didn’t fit.

From a young age, I knew I was gay, so by 15/16, I came out to my biological sister. Around that time, I was sent to a rural boarding school where I saw the same message of masculinity: white boys, rugby, etc. There, I was so different from everyone else and, although I was hoping to fit in more at the school than I did back home, I quickly realized I didn’t fit that mold there either. As a result, I became an easy target; a lot of people tormented me, even though I found out later in life that they, too, were gay. Eventually, I decided to go live with my grandfather in the city.

If I could make my life into a movie, it would start with an eight-month old baby being separated from his mother.

I lived pretty independently, and then I eventually met a couple of gay people. When that happened, I felt like I wasn’t the only person and that there were other people like me.  So, I moved in with them, and we became a family. I felt so liberated, and from 17-19, I was living my life and was happy. We all stayed together and were really close. And then when I was 21, I got tired of the same old cycle and gay scene was no longer happy. I felt like the environment wasn’t going to change and that I needed something different. That’s when I decided to move to Sydney, Australia.

It was the Olympic games in 2000. I moved there with family, did everything I could to find a job. That’s also when I started to really explore my sexuality and when I discovered that people were attracted to me. I started to go out on dates, had a boyfriend, and I just knew that if I was going to go out to a club at night, I would meet someone.

Being from a rural family who played sports, rugby, and were mostly white, I saw that as the definition of what it meant to be a man, and that I wasn’t it.

I was still introverted and not fully aware of myself at that point. I was nervous a lot, so in order to feel comfortable, I would drink and use drugs. And sexuality wasn’t a focus because by the time anything could or would have happened, I was too wasted to really get tied into it emotionally—it was four or five years of partying, no solid or real relationships.

I moved back to New Zealand when my mother (not biological) was diagnosed with cancer. Not long after she died, I ended up meeting a man that was older than me—I was 27 and he was 40. We moved in with each other almost instantly. We traveled the world together, bought apartments and cars. But I wasn’t happy, and I couldn’t tell him so I drank a lot, and he did too.

All we knew was how to hate each other and fight. He decided he had to leave and I decided I had a problem with drinking, so he left and I got sober. And that was six years ago.

We were together for four years. But it eventually got really bad because I didn’t have the confidence to tell him I wasn’t happy. So I went along with it because the alternative was being on my own—and I really struggled with that. We decided that it might be better if we moved from New Zealand to New York City, which turned out to be the craziest idea ever. We sold everything: cars, apartment, etc. We had this huge party and it was a great sendoff.

When we moved to New York City, that’s when everything came undone. We were both drinking a lot and our relationship  became toxic very quickly. He was only there for six months. Because we’d made this big move, we didn’t know how to separate from each other. All we knew was how to hate each other and fight. After six months, he decided he had to leave and I realized I had a problem with drinking. He left and I got sober. And that was eight years ago.