Happy Friday! We’re back with our very first Feature Friday of 2019 and we’re so excited to share Joe’s story with you. Not only is he an excellent writer, he is also incredibly insightful, sharing personal details of his coming out story and what it was like going through a breakup with his boyfriend of four years. We had so much fun getting to know Joseph, and we think you will, too. Take a look below to see what we mean…
Where are you from? Long Island, NY
Where do you live? Orlando, FL
Instagram handle: @josephrdambrosi
On the beauty of traveling: I’ve been to some pretty cool places, but I think my favorite place to which I’ve traveled was Calgary in Alberta, Canada. I’ve travelled internationally before on vacations to Europe and the Caribbean. I also studied abroad for a bit in Italy and my job allows me to go to conferences all over the world. However, these experiences were always with someone—family, friends, a partner—and typically those people led the way. So, when I was invited to speak at a conference in Calgary this past October, I jumped at the chance. This was my first Canadian visit and more importantly, it was the first time I ever travelled internationally by myself. I am now a grown-up traveler! Sadly, I did not see a moose or Justin Trudeau. However, I did make a new friend at the conference and we decided to rent a truck and drive two hours outside the city to the mountains. We visited the charming town of Banff and saw the world-famous Lake Louise. This was my first time ever being in the mountains and it was such a humbling experience; I am not sure I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful in my life. I was speechless. I’m a New York Italian with a big mouth…if I am speechless, you know it’s a big deal.
On coming out: I came out on March 21, 2014. I was 22. My experience was pretty unique. I fell in love with my best friend in college. He was gay and relatively open, but I was not. For a long time, I thought being gay was a sin (a result of my upbringing in the church) and I vowed I would live a “straight” lifestyle to avoid disappointing my family (and going to hell). Yet, I could not shake this love that I had for my best friend. Eventually I told him (on March 18, 2014) and to my surprise, he told me he loved me, too. I came out to my mom three days later. My best friend and I dated for four years and were engaged for several months before we eventually broke up.
My relationship with my family was challenged for a bit after I came out. We grew up in an evangelical church in New York which, like many churches, believed that homosexuality was a sin. Since my parents never had to directly deal with queerness before, they accepted this common belief. My coming out rocked their world and forced them to reevaluate the way they look at gay people (it’s crazy the things parents do for their kids). After the first few months of screaming matches and bible verses, we did not talk about my gayness for almost two years! One random day at breakfast, however, my parents sat me down and said, “we had two years to deconstruct 40+ years of thinking and all we want for you is to be happy.” I remember that conversation like it was yesterday. I will never forget the peace I felt in that moment.
“Fear stopped me from embracing my identity for so many years. Fear of hell. Fear of disappointing and even losing my family. Fear of being ostracized from my friend groups and from my church. Fear of being teased, attacked, or marginalized.”
On just how powerful fear can be: I learned so much about myself in the coming out process. I learned that I am so much stronger than I could have ever imagined. Fear stopped me from embracing my identity for so many years. Fear of hell. Fear of disappointing and even losing my family. Fear of being ostracized from my friend groups and from my church. Fear of being teased, attacked, or marginalized. And so, I suppressed who I was despite knowing I was gay ever since I fell in love with Dimitri in the timeless animated film, Anastasia. When I came out, I was liberated. Fearless.
I also learned that being gay and being a Christian are not mutually exclusive. All my life I was told that you cannot be gay and Christian. To live a queer “lifestyle” is to embrace sin. And you cannot “be blessed by God” if you live a life of sin. But who have I turned to most since coming out? God. Who was given me peace when I thought my family hated me? God. Who has opened so many doors and provided me with so many opportunities since I came out? God. I am SO blessed. And I am SO gay. Mutually exclusive? I think not.
On facing backlash since coming out: Other than the initial backlash from my family the first few months after coming out, I haven’t received any negative criticism for being gay. I have surrounded myself with people who love me and want me to be happy and successful. It’s funny how people tend to like you more when you are your authentic self. I recommend it.
On what he would tell today’s youth: The very first thing I would tell kids struggling through their adolescence is something that I wished someone had told me growing up: God loves you. Perhaps this isn’t applicable to all people, but certainly a majority of backlash that gay people receive from family and friends is related to faith. Your gayness does not separate you from the love of God. All your gayness does is make you more fabulous. Do not believe this lie that you are not worthy of being blessed if you are gay. It’s just not true.
Another thing I would tell young kids is that the peace is coming. The joy is coming. You will overcome. Continue writing your story as you see fit. The hard moments in your life are necessary in order to make it to the happy ending. Keep pushing and surround yourself with people who love you unconditionally. You deserve (and will have) a life of joy and success, not despite of who you are, but because of who you are. You are powerful, you are beautiful, and you are fearfully and wonderfully made.
“I am still grieving what could have been between us, I think, but I know now that he was only supposed to be a part of my life for a season.”
On going through a difficult breakup: My best friend and I dated for a long time. Four years (that’s like 409604 in gay years). We broke up (for reasons I won’t share here) rather abruptly, the same day we planned on signing the contract with our wedding venue. This was the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my life. It felt like someone had died. He was my whole world and then all of the sudden, he was gone. I lost my best friend of seven years and my partner of four. I am still grieving what could have been between us, I think, but I know now that he was only supposed to be a part of my life for a season. Allowing myself to admit this has been incredibly painful, but also freeing. He is so important to me for so many reasons and I learned so much from being his partner. Remembering these important lessons, surrounding myself with family and friends, and actually believing that the best is yet to come is what got me through my break up.
On what he’s learned through the breakup: I’ve learned so much about myself during the break up and afterwards. I learned that I am a freaking beast and that I can get through anything that life throws my way. I learned that I cannot control every little part of my life. I learned to live in the present. I learned that my health and happiness are more important than the idea of a perfect life. I learned that I cannot force things to fit in my life that just aren’t supposed to fit. And most importantly, I learned that I should always listen to my mom. She knows best and she had him pegged from the start…
On the importance of building an army: If you are going through a difficult break up, please take care of yourself. Recognize that you are human and if the relationship becomes poisonous, you either have to fix the problem or leave. Because a human being is not meant to withstand the effects of poison. I understand that love is love, but all love is not healthy love. If the best thing for you to do is leave, then you have to do it, even if it feels like your world is ending and you will never find someone in the future (these are actual thoughts I had). You have to know when enough is enough.
What really helped me through my break up was building an army of supporters right after it happened. I am a “fix it” kind of person. Typically, if we had a problem in our relationship that was especially painful for me, I would put my own feelings aside to fix the issue because I did not want to lose him. So, as soon as we broke up, I told EVERYONE who was extremely important to me—my parents, my siblings, my closest friends, my advisors, etc. I had to tell the world because if not, I would ignore my own health in order to remedy the situation and get him back, despite the negative effect it would have on me. This is not healthy, nor is it wise. My army loved me through the most difficult time of my life, they reminded me that I do not deserve the pain that I was dealt, and they kept me accountable to take care of myself during this difficult moment in my life.
On the future: In five years, I am Dr. Joseph D’Ambrosi (I am working on my PhD and plan to finish in May 2020). I am an assistant professor of theatre history at a university within driving distance of my mommy…ahem…my mom. My first book has just been published and it’s a best seller (lol). I am about to go up for tenure (wish me luck). My cat, Horatio, is still doing great. And my husband, Justin Thoreau, and I are taking a holiday in the mountains of Alberta. Ok, that last one is a stretch, but the rest will happen. And maybe I will find love again. Who knows, right?
On his biggest inspiration: My mom is the epitome of love. When I came out, as liberating as it was for me, my mother was deeply affected. She spent her whole life believing a certain way about homosexuality and then all of the sudden, I ask her to change this way of thinking. But you know what? She did it. It took her a long time and a lot of sleepless nights, but she did it. And I don’t think she would change anything about me even if she could (why would she want to?…I’m great!). My mother is my biggest inspiration because the unconditional love that she has for her children mirrors the love that Christ has for us. It is this kind of selfless, infinite love that I hope to sew into all of my relationships. I am so thankful to have been given the mama that I got.
As frustrating as it is when a parent does not immediately support your decision to come out, you have to remember that this is as big a change for them as it is for you. It won’t always be this way, but you have to grant your family the space to cope with this change in your life. For many, this disappointment has nothing to do with your gayness at all. They may just be afraid for your safety, disappointed that they may not have a biological grandchild, etc. While this may seem superficial to us, it is not to them. And guess what, they will soon learn the magic of having a gay kid! They will even be proud when you take your mom to Prada and ask the salesman to show her every bag that Olivia Pope uses in Scandal (this actually happened). Things do get better and your parents’ love for you is unconditional. Try to love them through what is bound to be a difficult time for them, too. I promise they will learn to accept and support your truth just as fiercely as you are living it.