‘I am who I am’: A profile of one man’s journey toward self-acceptance

Story and slideshow by DAYLAN JONES

Feeling from an early age that you are attracted to the same sex can be scary and confusing.

“I thought it was normal to feel this way. It wasn’t till 5th grade when I realized there were homosexuals and it wasn’t considered ‘normal’ to everyone else,” said R. Gamelson.

“Moving to the States, exploring my wants, coming out to my family and being on my own,” all those things were difficult and scary, said Gamelson, who asked that his first name not be used.

He feared being judged but said, “Even though I feel I am an exception, I am who I am. I am the same person; I will not treat you differently, so why would you treat me differently… If we quit assuming things and educate ourselves, the world will be a lot more accepting.”

Gamelson was born in the Philippines and lived there until he was 12. He said it’s a completely different culture there. “It isn’t bad to be gay over there. In some cases it is even celebrated,” he said.

When his parents decided to come to America Gamelson was excited to start a new school and make new friends. “I feel like I was an exception, I wasn’t shy, I didn’t act ‘prissy’ and I was good at sports,” he said.

Still silently questioning his sexuality in the back of his mind, he pushed it to the side and kept busy. He was involved in sports, newspaper, yearbook and theater. Gamelson made many friends quickly and felt accepted.

Although he said he enjoyed being involved in many extracurricular activities, he had one love: dance.

Gamelson started dancing at age 4 and credits his sanity today to over 15 years of dance, he said jokingly.

“It is my art, my expression and my outlet,” he said. Eventually he hopes to own his own studio and make that his life’s work.

“I only stopped for one year in junior high because of the fear of being judged or not being accepted,” he said. “After I got over that, nothing was going to stop me from achieving my dreams.” He said dancing is his escape from everyone he is afraid will judge him or treat him differently. “Art forms and outlets do not judge, only people do.”

His high school dance teacher, Karen Jones, said, “Ron is a beautiful dancer. Being a boy in high school, it is not common for a boy to stand out and stand proud as a dancer, he did both… He wasn’t concerned what others thought because he was proud of his ability and that was his to have; no one could take that away.”

Though he felt accepted socially, his self-acceptance was still a constant battle. He said the questioning became more intense and harder to push aside.

When Gamelson entered his senior year he couldn’t fight it anymore. That’s when he made the decision to accept being gay; accept it within himself. He knew what felt wrong and what felt right. Yet, he wasn’t quite ready for the world to know. His upcoming job offer was the perfect way to explore that.

“I met [him] at the gym I was going to. He heard I was a dancer and he offered me a job,” Gamelson said about his boss who introduced him to the gay community. That’s when Gamelson landed the job that started the double life no one knew about during his senior year.

“I would go to school like everyone else and go-go dance at night in Salt Lake City,” he said.

Seeing the new job as an opportunity to get to know a different side of himself and get to know this new community, Gamelson danced most Friday nights. “I would arrive at 9 that night, walk in through the back door and get myself ready. There was an immense amount of body oil and glitter,” he said.

Although he was a little overwhelmed his first night at the club, the night’s pay eased his concerns. Yet, fearing judgment and questioning of his sexuality Gamelson told no one; not his friends or family.

“About a year into it I told very few people, but I continued to dance another year before I was done,” he said.

“I came to the knowledge that you cannot have a relationship; you are there to flirt and entertain, to make money in tips. That is just too detrimental for a healthy relationship,” Gamelson said.

Meanwhile, Gamelson attended Weber State University where he completed his associate’s degree in spring 2012. “It made me realize I don’t necessarily need school to live my dream,” he said. “I believe a general knowledge is important, but I don’t need more than that to own my studio.”

Joking that the associate’s degree was easier than having the courage to tell the people who were closest to him, Gamelson said his mom “just knew… if you got in trouble and had to tell your mom, you know not to look her in the eyes because she already knew, she knows you better than anyone.”

But he was nervous to tell his dad. “My dad was a bit different; he had a hard time at first knowing his boy who was athletic and who played football was ‘playing for the other team,’ but he came around and we are pretty close again.”

Gamelson said most of his friends were supportive when he came out. “Some stuck around, a lot stuck around. They accepted [that]I am who I am.”

He enjoys giving back to his community. He volunteers at the Utah Pride Center, where he acts as an ambassador. “I saw an ad on Facebook, I called, went through some meetings, got the opportunity to speak with youth who were and weren’t struggling with their sexuality. I wanted to help; it is a support group, it is safe.”

Gamelson said he has learned a lot about himself and others during his coming out process. “There is a lot of assuming; people assuming I was one way and I wasn’t, me assuming I would be judged and not accepted but I was by many,” he said. “If we quit assuming things and educate ourselves, the world will be a lot more accepting.”