I explored my sexuality, came to terms with it and came out as gay during my first year at college (at my very, very queer liberal arts college). At college, I faced no discrimination or homophobia, everyone was so supportive and loving. I’m actually better off as gay than as straight at my college (my college has the highest percentage of queer students in the country). At school, I have always felt accepted and ok with being myself. I wear my crop tops, my short shorts, my mesh tank top, my glitter eyeliner, and my brightly dyed hair with pride. The people around me look, act, and are just as queer as I am. At my college, we all live and breathe our little queer world and we are all loving and accepting of each other.

On the other hand, my hometown is not so loving. I come from a small town, in suburban Connecticut, where the majority of the population is comprised of senior citizens and church-going, Ralph Lauren-wearing, WASP families. When I come home and go to places in Connecticut, people glare at me. I’ve been whispered about, scoffed at, ignored, all of it. Plus if I am with my boyfriend, forget about it, that just spurs a homophobic field day.

The first time it happened I was so surprised. My entire life as an out gay man had been in the bubble of my queer college. I knew homophobia existed, but I didn’t think it would really affect my life. I now know how naïve I was.

It happened when my boyfriend and I went to an amusement park during one of my free days of exam week my freshman year (I had yet to be my out, gay self outside of my “college bubble” yet). We were walking around, holding hands, no big deal. A group of teenage guys was walking past us. One of them pointed and yelled FAGS. Then they keep walking away.

I stood there in awe. I was shocked.

From then onward, I have faced many, many examples of homophobia. Old people staring at me, strangers making comments, getting bad services at stores or restaurants, potential employers refusing to hire me  and landlords refusing to rent to me, all because I “look gay” and they would “prefer someone more traditional.”

By now, I have started to understand the nuances of homophobia. There are the religious fanatics who tell me I am going to hell. There are the quietly judgmental people who claim they are “ok with weirdos.” There are the ignorant people who yell things or laugh at me. There are the elitist people who look down on me as a lesser human. There are the people that start sentences with “I’m totally fine with the gay thing but…” and continue to spew homophobic slurs and not feel bad.

I have learned so much since coming out as gay. I have learned that some communities will embrace you for you are–queer or not. I have also learned that homophobia is a very real part of the world. Go forth bravely, my fellow queers. Be who you are, be proud. Don’t change yourself to please to a judgmental public. But be ready, people out there are stupid and will judge you. My advice: judge them back, homophobia is so last century.