In a time where face-coverings are commonplace for self-preservation, the discussion of masks is a hot topic. As a hobby, I make latex masks. I learned the process from a class I took with an incredibly talented couple in our community a few years ago. There is a lot of effort and time put into crafting exactly what I want for the final product to be, and a lot of preplanning and preparation required for each of the steps, but it is worth it to me when I can don a new persona that solely originated from my efforts.
For many years of my life I was forced to wear a mask. I grew up in a very conservative place where being gay was only talked about as a dirty word. The news of Mathew Shephard while shocking to some was just a chilling reminder to me that I could not truly be myself, even with my closest friends. I adopted a second face for school prompted by the teasing that I received. I stayed away from other gay students so we would not be attacked. I denied my nature, my desires and any possibility of hope.
When I make a mask, I get to decide what aspects it will have and how I want to portray them. I take clay and I exaggerate features or design new variations to obscure who I am, and at least cosmetically, project an illusion of someone or something else. When I wore the mask of self-denial, conforming to be “just another guy” it effectively removed my ability to choose anything. Funny, just like in a rubber mask, the illusion sets the precedence of my actions. I responded to things and treated others how I thought a straight guy would even if it broke my heart to do so.
Years ago, my dad told me that it would be best for the whole family if I moved far away. At this time, I took a job in a larger city, packed my bags and left. At first, I felt utterly alone. No one had my back. What I found was with larger varieties of people in closer proximity, there was larger understanding and acceptance of variance and diversity. Hell, even if it was plain old apathy, at least it wasn’t violent, and everyone kept to themselves. There were also more people like me and one of the laws of the universe is that like attracts like. I could finally be myself, but who was that?
One of the characteristics that I had used for so long was always being chipper and smiling. Another was buying into whatever someone else wanted so they would be happy and thus they would accept me. I was so invested in others that I had never taken stock in my own preferences. I had so completely bought into the role of people pleasing that having my own opinions about food, color, music and anything else, just clogged up the pipes of being compliant. I had to start a self-discovery to unite my broken aspects, and it all started with taking time to get to know who I was. I needed to treat me like I wanted to be treated. Proper self-care and self-respecting routines were implemented, and I set small goals that I outgrew and replaced with more aggressive ones. I tried different foods, painted my walls different colors, and bought clothes that I liked. I made friends that were gay, and I spent time learning from them and giving back. I learned to be of service to my community and ultimately to myself. I discovered gifts within me that I had buried long ago and found a way to let my light begin to shine.
In my quest for self, I accept that I am a lot of different personas. I have a professional business side, a casual one, and a public presence as well. The beauty of all of them is that they all now look the same, they just have different etiquette lines. I have lots of varying likes and dislikes today and I’m ok with other people having their own opinion because I damn sure have mine. Becoming united with oneself was one of my biggest challenges as I had to fracture to survive. It’s ok though, the subtle cracks in gemstones are what make them truly beautiful and unique. Like the masks I make out of latex, the face I wear is one that I manifested through my diligence, time and persistent. It Is not required for me to be perfect today, just perfectly me.