Growing up in Arizona, and being gay, has not been easy. In Prescott, the town I grew up in for the first half of my life, I always felt out of place by some degree. I didn’t really have friends when I was in elementary school, and remember sitting alone at the playground, not interacting with other kids. I didn’t play kickball with them, and aside from a friend here,who later moved away, and a friend there, who also moved away, I was indeed a loner. When I was nine my parents divorced, and the economy in Prescott did not make it easy for single parents to make a living. I mean, they were barely making it by with two salaries.
So they both took jobs in Phoenix, and at the time I was mad that they did. I did not want to leave my home town. For those of us who grew up in Prescott, we were always taught to hate Phoenix, mostly because it was hot, and you cannot easily see stars as clearly at night. Prescott may get into the nineties during the summer, but it still occasionally snowed in the winter, and at nine years old, I wasn’t willing to give up days off from school due to snow.
When we first moved to Phoenix, it was in the middle of July, and there wasn’t anything I could do to get away from the heat. But at least when school started later that month (yes, in July school started because some schools in Phoenix have this sick idea that you should go to school year-round, which meant I had a shorter summer, and was added to my laundry list of complaints with this god-forsaken city), I made a friend. Then I made a few others, and soon we became a click.
But I still felt outside of the inner circle of what the Phoenix suburb, Gilbert offered. For one thing I wasn’t Mormon. Plus, I was gay, and I knew it. Yes, I had some friends, but none of us were that close, and when I tried to come out to them, that ended the relationship I didn’t really have with them. So by the end of my sixth grade year, I was thankful when my father and stepmother moved me to a new school district.
In Chandler, another suburb of Phoenix, I still didn’t quite fit in, but I did make friends with other misfits. And were friends from junior high to now. Those friendships never left. But all through my junior high and high school career, I was teased, and taunted, like many kids are, all because I was gay. And I knew it. Sure I dated two girls in high school, but even that didn’t stop the endless name calling or the words “fag” being written on the dust on the hood my car my junior year.
Simply put, never once during my childhood, or even teen years, did I feel comfortable in my own skin. I know others, all across the country, especially in the small towns, feel the same way.
So, I was incredibly happy when I moved to New York, thinking that Long Island would let me fit in with who I was. But, as I soon discovered, Long Island was made up of mostly retired folks, and was the furthest thing of the New York I dreamed of. I lived there for five months and the closest friend I had was my mother. I didn’t have a job, and had no way of meeting new people. Mostly, I was miserable, and hung out with no one. Above all else, I still did not feel comfortable in my own skin.
After New York, I moved to the Washington D.C. area, thinking finally, a gay beckon, where I would meet sophisticated gay men, would date, and would finally have the life I dreamed. However, Washington D.C. is expensive, like New York, and even though I had a decent paying job (or two, or three at once) I didn’t have much excessive spending money. Yes, I made friends, but my only gay friend there was a forty year old man who had given up on his life dreams long ago, and now just served tables, bitter, and mostly a-sexual. The friends I made there did make me feel comfortable in my own skin, at least some of them, but occasionally people would get angry if I mentioned my homosexuality. It made the experience worthwhile, but I still was not living in the urban, young environment I wanted.
When I moved back to Arizona, I imagined I would live in Tempe, which is the same town that houses Arizona State University. It was the only place I felt even remotely comfortable in, though I have a dozen of bad memories of being hurt by men in the area. It was the only place where I felt a least somewhat safe, in being who I was in Arizona. But an cat allergy problem made it impossible for me to stay living with the dear friend who was housing me, and so I was one again forced to find a new place.
And that’s when I found the historic Phoenix area. Currently I live just blocks away from Roosevelt Row, where they have things like Food Truck Friday (where a bunch of gourmet food trucks gather and feed the 20-something folks who live in the area), or Feast in the Street (where a giant table was laid out along a close road and folks gathered to eat). Once a month is First Fridays, where art galleries appear almost out of no where (literally, folks just open up their homes). Just recently, USA Today called Roosevelt Row one of the top ten best neighborhoods that tourist haven’t found yet.
When I was little I never thought I would love living in Phoenix, must less the Downtown area, but because of the vibrant culture, the warm evenings, the young hipster population, the light rail which makes getting places super easy, and the plethora of delicious places to eat (food trucks included — I am somewhat obsessed with them), I finally feel comfortable where I live, and it’s nice to feel comfortable in your own skin.