Pivotal points. We all have quite a few in our lifetime. I personally had a few over the last year alone. But if I’m asked to pick the “one” most significant pivotal point in my 52 years of life, that's easy.
It was September 7, 2018.
What happened that day? I had the courage to walk into The Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity.
That’s all...I just walked in.
I’m a 52 y/o cis-gender gay man. Today, I’m out and I’m proud. But it was not always that way.
As many in my generation, we grew up not understanding who we are. I had little knowledge what a gay person was. As a child, I was odd and lonely - a nerd, I must add. The last thing I needed was something else to make me even more different.
I wanted to be like the other boys, have popular friends, have a girlfriend, etc.
Deep inside I knew who I was, but it was not too hard to suppress it, not to think about it. Then destiny put me in front of the woman that I would marry. We had a lot in common: we were looking for companionship, for love and to start a family. So after less than a month of dating, we got engaged and in about 8 months later, we were married.
We had a really good life. And we had 2 amazing children - both in college now, both on a path for successful careers.
I can’t complain about what we had. Life was good. And even now, I can definitely say I have no regrets in my choices.
But there was a part of me that was not whole, not happy, not quite right. I dedicated my life to my kids; they were (and to a point, still are) my purpose.
So when their time came to leave for college, the all too famous empty nest happened. And I found myself lacking something.
It’s no coincidence that at that moment, I became honest with myself.
Yep, I am gay.
But I thought: I have a great life. My wife is a great person that does not deserve the pain I would cause her.
Still, I had to tell someone. And I did. My daughter that is my “buddy “ was the first, then I told others. I was naive enough to think that if I just told a few close people, that would be enough and then I could go back to my closet. By the way, every person I told has been nothing but supportive and loving, so I’m blessed.
But even their love and support, it turned out, was not enough. I realized once I came out to some, something inside of me started screaming that I needed to be me, I needed to be authentic.
So I decided to contact The Center, and got an amazing and supportive response immediately. Then I decided, on September 7, to walk in. I remember telling the volunteer that I first met that I did not know what I was doing there. I really didn’t. I think this was my way of openly expressing myself, who I was, to a group of people, all strangers. And I was a little nervous. But that day I felt comfortable and very supported by the really cool people gathering there. Something I was not expecting.
I knew I belonged (yes, I am quoting the website). But I still thought I could never be able to fully come out. I could not fathom how I could do that. I had a great life, great kids and a really good relationship with my wife. She is a wonderful human being and a friend. And the rest of my family and friends - how could I tell them?
But with the support from The Center, the network of new friends I made (by the way, fantastic people) and the counseling I received through The Center itself, I worked things out and I figured out my life.
And then, I was ready.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 21, 2019, I had another pivotal point. That day I fully came out, no more hiding, no more pretending. I started calling and texting people close to me. It was still a very emotional time for me. I was leaving my old life, not an authentic one - but still, the person I portrayed to the world, the one I was used to being, my safety net, was just gone.
But at the end of the day, I was me, I was happy, and I was whole. A big weight was all gone. Yet I know, the road ahead will still be hard and painful at times.
I am still working out things in my personal life. And that part has to stay private and personal.
But the love and support I have received has been amazing. I am so grateful and I am dedicated to The Center, their ideals and mission.
I am trying to be an active part of the LGBTQ community and to do whatever is in my power to help, to advocate. I found my new purpose, here in Bakersfield.
My old life feels so far away, even if my journey is new. I am still me but now I am the whole, real me. And, as others I am sure can relate, it is an amazing feeling.
My life has changed. And I owe it mostly to this place with the colorful flags in front, right here on 18th Street.
I have a debt to The Center that I plan to pay forward by service to our Community.
My life has reached a pivotal point, and will never be the same.
And for that I am forever grateful.
about the author: Jaime L. Ortiz
Jaime L. Ortiz was born and raised in Puerto Rico. After finishing medical school on the Island, he moved for training to Canton, Ohio and then to New York City. As a practicing psychiatrist, he worked with children and adults, in mostly indigent city and rural areas. He practiced for a few years in West Virginia and finally in Bakersfield for about 15 years, where he currently is working for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.