I write this with shame, and I did try to fix it once I realized my knee jerk reaction. At the outdoor birthday party my son’s mother was throwing for him in a park on the far west side of Houston, I was safely inside my tough guy role, as Lil Man and his friends came over from playing football. My son’s mother is an out lesbian, and she had also invited her circle of friends. All women. But then these three obviously gay dudes arrived. Without thinking, I withdrew to the back. I saw my son go up and dap them, say hello, like nothing. Like I should have.

OK, just so you know: In the moment, I failed. My automatic reaction was they might recognize something in me, and give me away to my son, and that was just not how it was going to go down. I keep things separate. Yet even in that moment I felt self-disgust.

Privately I often feel trapped in my own same-gender orientation. I just don’t fit inside the public’s choking stereotypes. Life is rough enough. And to have one more hateful thing precede you? This is even more complicated, because I have professionally traveled the country helping people, including many LGBT youth and adult groups, on paths to self-acceptance and a deeper health.

But I don’t feel my personal life should be a focus when it comes to my son, and kids in general. What really matters is them doing well in school, staying out of trouble, avoiding life’s dangerous pitfalls and bad choices, and developing enough critical thinking and boundaries. (Unlike me at their age.)

Street level, our young men need a hard wall of boundaries they can innately respect, along with just enough open coolness from us to let them know they can come talk and that we ‘got their back.’ Hell no can I have my son’s friends whispering about his dad, or people saying sh*t about me. I’ve earned my dignity and pride. OK, I know how messed up this all sounds.

A couple years ago, I thought he knew about me, because I hadn’t been bringing around any females, and it’s also not a secret in the media, but one time when we were buying him some new Jordans he said something that made me realize, wow, he really didn’t know.

So how do I get out of this? I’m not “putting it off” because I don’t even know where to start.

I am (cowardly?) stuck inside the expectations and assumptions people have of me, especially my son. I know all the blah blah about how you can still be tough and be ‘gay’ (a baggage-heavy, emasculating word IMO), and I know all the things people will say to me after reading this article — because I have said them to myself. But let’s be honest; street level, it doesn’t work like that. Street level, you don’t walk backwards into respect.

For a lot of the first part of my life, I was devastated and emasculated and ‘less than’ and second-class, and I just can’t have any of that. I just can’t.

I was so ashamed.

I am so ashamed.

Today, my entire life and work is centered around progressive social change, so I should know better.

Nobody except me noticed what I did at my son’s 15th birthday party, but to correct it, I later walked up to the dudes while they were playing spades and let them know in my own way that I was one of them. Not that they need crap from me.

All I can say is I am ashamed, and writing this is my penance, and I will continue to try to be a better person. In the meantime, Lil Man is turning into a star athlete. He shines on that football field like the powerful coastal prairie skies over Houston. He’s doing much better in school; he wants to go to Stanford. It’s crazy how we wear the same size 12 shoes now, and also how he doesn’t care what anybody else thinks. He’s growing into a well-developed young man.

Follow Jarid Manos on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JaridManos