For the past decade, I’ve been boastful about my ability to compartmentalize my emotions. I’d say this is why I’ve been able to accomplish so much more than most of my peers, and I’d say that it gave me a competitive edge. I’ve acted like my ability to simply “not feel” was some sort of superpower that had been bestowed upon me. My own version of becoming one of the X-Men. In the past few years, though, I’ve been discovering just how naive I have been - that isn’t a superpower, it’s a handicap... and it wasn't gifted by some higher power, it was a learned condition. One that I am actively un-learning.
I grew up feeling like an outcast. In Small Town, Texas, you don’t meet a ton of gay men to look up to. You don’t hear anything about the LGBT community that isn’t speckled with words like “burn in hell,” “freak,” “faggot,” or “abomination." When you are taught that your feelings are unnatural, you learn to stifle them. When you learn that what you feel is wrong, you learn to not feel. As humans, our instincts direct us to survive at all costs - you learn to do whatever it takes to protect yourself. For adolescent Rustin, that meant learning to not feel something that would make me a target. Learning not to feel love. My emotional numbness isn’t a superpower, it’s a handicap that I’ve learned to weaponize.
For what it’s worth, I was blessed with a truly extraordinary family. Considering that this was new and strange turf, my parents adjusted rather quickly, and have never faltered in expressing their love for me. In fact, this year, my Mother called me to let me know they’d like me to bring a man home for Christmas (me too, Mom. Me too. Maybe next year.) My siblings have always been there for me, too. For this, I am eternally grateful. Without them, I don’t know who I would be.
With that said - I spent many years afraid of exploring who I might be. I pushed my family and friends away. I dove into as many activities that could help me develop the logistic side of my mind, while learning to suppress the emotional parts. I became a monster. I knew how to tear people down with devastating words, all the while laughing to myself because they had allowed themselves to be so vulnerable. I knew how to manipulate everyone around me to get exactly what I wanted. I thought this was real power - I was wrong.
In the past few years, I’ve been getting more comfortable in New York. Building a name for myself here is a ridiculously hard challenge, and one that never stops exciting me. I’ve been lucky enough to meet people here who have never known the Monster I was - people who don’t expect me to root all of my humor in malice or to calculate my relationships. I’ve been lucky enough to meet people here who see me as the person I’m becoming. And God, that feels so good. For a huge section of my life, I thought the best motivation for my work was logical - it wasn’t until I learned my friend was being taken advantage of and I took on his deal (with no expectations of payment) that I learned what real motivation looked like. The fire in my soul easily dwarfed anything that I had felt before, and I knew I’d do whatever I could possibly do to help my friend. When you care for people, truly care for them, you surprise even yourself. That is real power.
I’m at one of the most challenging sections of my career and life, right now, and I’ve never been happier. I’ve never been more surrounded by people that make me feel so deeply, and I’ve never wanted to perform better. If I could go back in time and give myself a little piece of advice, it would be that suppressing emotion isn’t the answer, harnessing it is. Love is never the enemy.