Click Here to Read Parts 1, 2 & 3 of Ben's series now. My personal journey of acceptance and empowerment has, I can assure you, not been an overnight quick-fix. It has taken long hours of deep introspection and reflection on how having attractions to members of the same-sex is an integral and positive part of my identity and that a sexual orientation doesn't stop me from doing absolutely anything - I can still be blessed with the marriage and children, as well the successful career and positive, fulfilling and happy life that I dream of.
Living as your authentic, original self is the most beautiful and incredible thing in the world. I feel deeply privileged to say that this authenticity and freedom is finally now my reality.
I have invested a great deal of time and effort in accepting myself and seeing that to be gay - whatever that term really means in today's world - would not make me inferior, a failure or an easy target for bullying or hate. Instead, I have been able to realise, your sexuality and how you walk, talk and behave are simply parts of your identity that you should accept and embrace as a positive part of who you are.
I can finally experience the love and romance I have been dreaming of ever since I can remember
I have also been able to realise that being gay causes no-one else any harm whatsoever, and so any homophobia or hatred is simply down to ignorance and an incredibly negative reflection on the perpetrator, not me. Seeing that being gay is not about having a negative label and having no place in mainstream society but that homosexuality is actually just about which gender you are programmed to fall in love with has given me so much strength, self-belief and empowerment. I have been blessed to see that your sexuality does not define you and should not condemn you to a life of unhappiness, bullying or discrimination.
I've been able to see that being gay isn't about having a negative label and having no place in mainstream society but that instead of being a big scandal, homosexuality is just about which gender you are programmed to fall in love with
I feel privileged to have this opportunity to show people that true happiness comes from being positive, from showing kindness, from being accepting and, crucially, from living as your authentic, original self. This is my chance to live my philosophy that we should celebrate who we are and that the kindest thing we can do for others is to love and accept them for who they authentically are too.
From a personal perspective, being able to accept my sexuality means I can actually now open myself up to relationships, meaning I can finally experience the love and romance I have been dreaming of ever since I can remember.
Knowing who I am, and having the confidence to feel comfortable with others knowing who I am, means that there is now at least a possibility of having a relationship and feeling the love and connection I have dreamed of. What could be more natural, more human or more wonderful?
To accept yourself - in my case my sexuality - requires that you're bold, that you're frank with yourself, and that you make time to do some serious soul-searching. It first requires that you have the confidence to be fully honest, open and truthful with yourself, and that you then use this self-acceptance as the basis for feeling happy, empowered and confident in your own skin when out in the real world.
Of course, my head is still swimming with questions - there's still so much I don't understand about my sexuality - and the world is still filled with homophobia and hatred, with countless people attacked and even killed for being gay every day. Yet I now feel I am finally ready to close a chapter of suffering and open a new chapter of self-acceptance, empowerment and liberation within my life, celebrating my identity and letting my personality shine through without fear of rejection or negative responses.
I feel truly blessed to be able to say that, after so many years of self-hatred and denial, I can accept, and embrace the fact, that I am gay. I am also truly blessed to be alive at a time when I will, albeit with some discrimination, be privileged to have the marriage and children I have dreamed of having.
Whilst I fully expect to face setbacks in the years to come, I feel I now have the confidence, courage, and self-belief to overcome negativity and hatred by responding with love, resilience and compassion for all. The word 'gay' no longer has a paralysing power over me; I no longer see it as a dark insult that makes you inferior, isolated and rejected, but simply as an aspect of one's identity that should be accepted and embraced.
I would urge each person struggling with their sexuality to spend time cultivating self-understanding, self-belief, and self-acceptance, seeing that we are incredible, limitless, loved and valued human beings, with just as much of a right to live happily and authentically as absolutely anyone else.
We must unite in showing love and refusing to allow negative stereotypes, mocking and bullying to hold us back from living our lives to the full
Be proud of who you are, and know that the world is becoming a kinder, more accepting and more understanding place. Your sexuality does not define you, give you a negative label or make you any less of an incredible human being. It does not mean that anyone has any justification for rejecting, bullying or mocking you. Remain strong, keep growing in self-acceptance and confidence, and I promise that, in time, you will find yourself becoming so much stronger and comfortable in your own skin.
May I also urge each and every one of us to work tirelessly to create a kinder, more accepting society, and indeed planet, leading by example in showing acceptance and love to all and refusing to allow negative stereotypes, mocking and bullying to hold us back from living our lives to the full.
Living as your authentic, original self is the most beautiful and most incredible thing in the world. I feel deeply blessed and privileged to say that this authenticity and freedom is finally now my reality.
And if I can do it, then so can you.
Thank You for all your love and support throughout this four-part series. It's been a real privilege to share this journey with you.
THANK YOU - May I express my greatest of thanks both to you, my reader, and to the following wonderful people and organisations who have provided me with the most invaluable love, kindness and support. Without them, I would not be here today and this series would not have become a reality.
- The Huffington Post; special thanks to Jess for her support and co-ordination of this series.
- Dana, my wonderful counsellor. An incredible support.
- My wonderfully accepting, loving and incredible family.
- Friends and Familiar Faces, including my incredible close friends - you KNOW who you are! - and those who so kindly offered me support after the first blog post went live.
- The teachers, including Mrs AM Connor, Mrs K Sutton, Mrs G Moulsdale and Mrs A Williams who have supported me in my ambitions and given me limitless support, warmth and inspiration.
- The high profile role models, including those who are LGBT, who have allowed me to see that love will always conquer hate and that hard work and caring for others is the secret to success.
May I take a moment to speak directly to you, the young person who can relate all too well to the words I've written over these past four blog posts. You are not alone, you are incredible and you have the most wonderfully bright, positive and happy future ahead of you. You are loved and this is your time to shine. I dedicate every word I have written - and every tear I have shed - to you. You are my inspiration and my motivation.
Ben Wardle 2016 www.benwardle.com
HuffPost UK LGBT+ Living covers the full spectrum of life in the LGBTQIA community through a mixture of features, blogs and video.
It looks at a range of topics including relationships, parenthood, wellbeing, health, and inspiring stories of people who have created happy, balanced lives for themselves. It provides a platform for people to tell their stories and talk about their journeys and identities.
If you'd like to blog for our LGBT+ Living section, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject headline 'LGBT+ Living Blogs'