If America is the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” then beautiful Los Angeles should be the capital. I moved to LA to become a writer on April 12th, 2011. Homesickness set in early. This was my first time ever coming to the city and I didn’t know a soul. I was green. But I figured if I could make it through the past decade back east, I could handle following my dreams to California.
I spent my teenage years struggling to feel accepted in my straight-laced community of Lynn, Massachusetts. I had a hard time making friends—I was depressed, in and out of hospitals all throughout high school because of it. My dad and brother made fun of me for not being into sports. They said I was into “arts,” sneering as they said it, like it was a filthy word. I was into wresting and basketball too, so they were only partially right. But they didn’t notice, or care. The only people I could connect with anyway were my favorite artists, particularly rappers. They were out following their dreams. I was stuck, alone.
It’s interesting how much a person can change by escaping the place he’s from, and equally, how the people who never leave manage not to change at all. In 2012, after having lived in LA for a year, I went to Miami with my cousin and a few buddies from back home. We were there for WrestleMania. This was the first time seeing my old friends since I moved to California, and I was excited we were all together, so once we arrived at our friend Jason’s place, I told my friend Michael to pour champagne on me. As a celebratory thing, like making it rain dollar bills. “Come on man, pour it on me!” We were just having a good time. I was emptying my pant pockets in preparation, when my cousin started recording on his phone. But he was not doing it in celebration. He pointed the phone in my direction, and at the ding of the record button the atmosphere took an instant turn. On camera, my cousin proceeded to call me a faggot, more than once, laughing in my face, “Wait, wait. Step over there you faggot! Step over there you faggot! Get away from us. HA!”
I cringe thinking about that night. Even Michael called me a homo when I first brought up the champagne idea. These were supposed to be my best friends. I ignored them in the moment because I didn’t want to feed into their negativity and ignorance, but I’ll never forget those words. “You faggot, you homo.”
Tyler isn’t technically family, but he’s someone I consider a brother. We first met a couple of months after I moved to LA when we were both working day jobs at Chipotle. Tyler was the first person at work to invite me to hang out with the whole crew, and I am forever thankful for that since I was still lonely and homesick at the time. A few months after the Miami trip I was hanging out at his house having drinks when the conversation shifted to that night with the video.
That talk with Tyler was the first time I ever told anyone about how I’d questioned my sexuality before. I told him that I thought I might be gay because I didn’t sleep with a lot of girls like other guys do. I guess I thought I wasn’t living up to the the typical macho, womanizing image of a straight man, and this caused me to start to question my sexuality altogether. Tyler told me it’s normal to doubt yourself. “Everyone does at some point.” He said he’d questioned his own sexuality before too, and to hear that from someone so close to me was something I never could have experienced where I come from.
It’s people like Tyler that perfectly represent why I love Los Angeles, why it’s so easy for me to be open and honest here—why it’s easy to be the man that I am. I don’t have to fear being judged or ridiculed. That might seem strange, because people say LA is full of fakes, and while that may be somewhat true, it’s like that everywhere. The only difference is what people choose to fake. To me Los Angeles doesn’t match its vapid stereotype, but is instead this strange, beautiful basin overflowing with misfits and dreamers, and living here reminds me that I am not alone.
I was born in Lynn, Massachusetts but I was born again in Los Angeles, California. I profess my love by telling everyone that I’m going to get married here, have kids here, die here. In LA, I am brave. In LA, I am free.
Richard Brea’s work has been published in Connotation Press, The Grawn, Sheen Magazine, The Subaltern, LifeinLA, and BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) Central. He has lived in LA for the past three and a half years and plans on attending Santa Monica College next spring to pursue a degree in Journalism. In the meantime, he is an advocate for LGBT equality and raises awareness for mental health by breaking down the stigma attached to it.