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This goes out to the lonely boys

OPINION

October 29, 2013|By Zach Stafford, @zachstafford | For RedEye

The thing about being a gay boy is that it can be lonely. Don't agree? Well, let's take a moment and use our imaginations for a quick exercise.

Imagine you're 13, you're a boy and you're sitting in gym class. All the boys around you are talking about Bethany and her boobs and other topics that some men love to talk about before, during and after puberty. You sit there twiddling your thumbs thinking Billy's butt is actually much cuter than Bethany's. You don't contribute to the conversation. You pray they forget you're there.

Imagine walking down the hallway at school and your hips sway a little too hard. Someone yells a homophobic remark in your face. The kids around you laugh, but you act like you didn't hear. Then imagine going home after school with a black eye. When your mom asks what happened, you lie because telling the truth (that you were beaten up for being a "sissy") would risk you being pushed out of the closet too soon.

Now to add insult to injury, realize that you will deal with all of this and not be able to tell anyone for years—seemingly endless years. Feeling lonely yet?

Of course, boys who like other boys are not the only ones who deal with this type of isolation or loneliness in the world just for being themselves. However, I was one of these boys, so I like to talk about them the most. And now I have an anthology called "Boys" that allows them to tell their own stories—some similar to the one above, others very different.

While working on this book, which I co-edited and curated, I spent months meeting and talking with boys all over the world: boys in Mexico, boys in California, even boys who actually lived just a few blocks from me in Chicago. When I would tell them about the book, we would immediately launch into these retrospective stories about our lives. I got to hear tales filled with love and anger, regret and despair, hope and sometimes hopelessness. But most importantly, I got to hear the stories from the people who lived them.

As these stories became essays and these essays became a book, I realized what made this project special is that we all have felt like a boy at times. I don't mean that we've all really felt like a boy in terms of gender or sex, but rather we've all felt lonely, we've all felt different.

Sure, this book may be about boys who like other boys, but it's much more than that. It's really about a group of people living their lives and telling their stories. It's about overcoming the odds—and it's even about not overcoming those odds but still being strong enough to get up, brush yourself off and give it another try. It's about finding love, wanting love and dealing with what love has done to your life ... and finding beauty in all of that.

And, personally, it's something I wanted in the world to maybe help make that boy you imagined earlier in this column a little less lonely. Because I think it would have helped me many years ago.

Zach Stafford is a RedEye special contributor. "Boys" will be available online Thursday via iBooks, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The book will be available in print later this year, and all proceeds are being donated to the Lambda Literary Foundation to support LGBTQ literature.

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