If you search the word “normal,” the definition you’ll see resembles this: “conforming to a standard, usual, typical or expected.” In a world where labels and definitions are engraved in our minds, I am redefining normal.
This is me: A six-foot-tall ginger with ghostly white skin who constantly acts like a goofball. I was born and raised in the small city of Valdosta, Georgia, by happily married parents who worked multiple jobs. I have an older brother and a family dog named Gidget. I spent part of my childhood taking Taekwondo classes, working up to earning my black belt. I was a scholar student throughout school and remained balanced. To the world, I was normal.
However, a mass of questions and secrets lurked in my mind every day. I was gay and didn’t know how to come to terms with it. Every day, I chose to be a fraud. I spoke differently, changed my personality and dressed like someone I wasn’t. There were times when I wanted to scream but didn’t have the voice. I had to tell someone but didn’t know how. Questions flooded my mind: Who would I tell first? What would I say? When should I do this? Would I be making a mistake?
A new adventure was soon upon me: dental school. I want to spend every day helping people with their smiles, but I couldn’t help but wonder if a gay guy could be a dentist. I thought about if I would be respected in the field, if I was capable enough. I had the right grades, took the required tests and, on the outside, I was ready to conquer my dreams.
In December 2016, I was accepted into dental school. This was the confidence boost that allowed me to push “restart” on life. I no longer questioned my capability. I was going to be a dentist. Now, I just needed to decide if I would be a gay dentist.
Before coming out, I sought guidance from YouTube. Watching countless coming out stories, I soaked up the confidence I witnessed. I appreciated seeing people doing the one thing I couldn’t: being honest with themselves. I decided to take the plunge. I feared the worst but knew that if all else failed, I would be authentic.
On April 20, 2017, I came out to my parents. I trembled with fear. My heart pounded. Twenty-one years of lying to myself and those around me came down to one night in my living room, face-to-face with the two people I looked up to most. I felt like I was running the marathon of my life and the course was about to change. My parents were confused, and as I began talking, tears welled into my eyes. Then, I said it: “Mom, Dad, I wanted to tell you I’m gay.” Their instant reaction was love. At that moment, all my uncertainties fell away. They hugged me and said they would love and support me through all my decisions.
The following days and weeks were filled with love and support from my closest friends and family, but the coming out process was not flawless. I lost friends who did not agree with the “new me.” I recovered from this and knew there was no looking back. I reestablished myself, began dental school as a new person. I didn’t worry about slipping up in a conversation or getting caught checking a guy out. I didn’t have the burden of presenting a fake persona. Someone asked me if being out in dental school has been different. It’s been a game changer. I’m no longer under a disguise, and it’s liberating.
Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy and figure skater Adam Rippon recently broke through as openly gay athletes and are an inspiration to me. They are truly redefining the word “normal.” They have motivated me to find my voice, and as an openly gay man, I am responsible for being an inspiration to people who have been in my shoes. I express the necessity of living your truth to a broader audience on Instagram because it allows me to share my daily life, illustrate my dental school journey and show people there is no real definition of “normal.”
I want to give hope to people who think that they aren’t qualified and who get sidelined due to stigmas. If you have a dream, you are qualified. If you know how to dream, you already have what it takes to overcome any obstacle ahead. Strive to be the best you can be every single day, no matter your sexual orientation, gender, age or any other label that people want to place on you. If you do this, you will conquer your dream.
~Zack Youngblood, Florida ’21