When seventh grade began, and I was 12 years old, I was very much aware that I was gay. It was the little things, such as how I felt when I saw guys in the locker room. Most of my friends were girls but I never felt any attraction toward them. I resented being gay and I wanted to think it was a phase I would grow out of.
I had been taught that gays were a lower form of humanity. In Byrd Middle School, boys always said to each other "Stop acting gay," or "You’re such a fag." In church, my pastor would explain how homosexuality is "an abomination of nature," "the sin that is the worst next to murder," and how homosexuals are "sexual fiends." After church I would look into the mirror, revolted with the person looking back at me. If God did not love me, who would? I hated church, but even more I hated God for making me gay. I wished I could be an average teenager who worried about girls, cars and sports. Instead, I worried about people finding out who I really was—a fag. God ruined my life, and I would never forgive him. However, without Him, what would become of me?
In eighth grade, I tried telling my best friend I was gay, but he thought it was a joke. He laughed. So I smirked nervously and said, "Yeah, funny, isn’t it? Of course I’m not a faggot. Faggots are stupid."
I couldn’t talk to my friends, and I was failing my classes. I never did any homework, or even went to school. What did I care if I passed my classes or not? The world was disgusted by me, my parents ignored me and even God looked down on me. I just wanted to end the pain of being a living mistake. I wrote a lot about killing other people, and myself, in a black notebook I always carried with me. I thought of it as the record of my torment if I were ever to take my own life.
Eventually, one of my teachers found one of my disturbing poems and called my parents. They told me that I was suicidal and needed "help." I went to the psychiatrist but refused to admit the true cause of my unhappiness. I answered all her questions in five words or less.
"Why are you suicidal?"
"Because people pick on me."
"Why do they pick on you?"
"Because I’m a nerd."
"Is that all?"
"Can I see your poems?"
After a single meeting she recommended that I take medication, but I refused to take any drugs and they couldn’t make me. I knew I could get better myself without the assistance of a pill. I wouldn’t be one of those manic-depressive kids who had to take five different drugs. I stopped going to the $75 sessions because my parents thought it was too expensive, and I thought it was a waste of time. What would an old lady know about being gay anyway?Toward the end of the year, I got in an argument with a teacher and was kicked out of Byrd Middle School. That meant I had to go to Irving, a school where I knew hardly anyone and the school motto should have been "No fags allowed." After the first week people were already yelling "Look! That guy’s a queer!" One day, a boy tripped me in P.E. My skin ripped as I slid on the concrete, knees first. My P.E. teacher noticed my bleeding knees but I told him I fell by accident. I already had enough people who hated me; the last thing I needed was more people harassing me. Another time, during nutrition, some students called me names and threw pizza at me. I started to cry because I hated myself. I didn’t hate them. They were normal; I couldn’t hate something I envied.
I was at Irving for only two months, but I was very happy when I graduated. At my new school, Franklin High, I promised myself that I would stay in the shadows, unnoticed and safe. However, I was immediately singled out. The second I spoke, with my high-pitched voice, everyone knew. When we had to do readings in history class, the football players were unbelievably cruel. Once when I read, someone yelled "faggot!" I continued to read, pretending to ignore it. Someone yelled "Shut your mouth, you f***ing queer!" I was hoping that the teacher would hear but with so many students speaking at once he couldn’t, or he chose not to. I continued reading despite their yelling, "Fags can’t read! Stupid b**** stop reading!" Everyone was starting to stare at me. Some laughed while others had a look of shame on their faces. They knew they were witnessing an injustice but they were too scared to do anything about it. The football players themselves threw their heads back laughing, full of excitement and happiness. "What a FAGGOT! Queer!" I finally put my book down and admitted defeat. I put my head down and wept silently.
It continued for the rest of the semester. I was the target of rubber bands, paper balls and spitballs. Sometimes I found my books tagged up with the word "FAGGOT" in bold letters. Through it all, I thought it was my fault. I took the humiliation like a criminal takes his sentence.
A final injury
Toward the end of ninth grade, I was jumped on the way home by a group of boys, who kicked me in the stomach and head. After they finished, they walked away, leaving me in the middle of the sidewalk. No one helped me. When I got home, I cleaned off my bloody hands and knees and put on some sweats, a long-sleeved shirt, and a happy face so my mother wouldn’t notice. It was better she didn’t know, or else I would have had to tell her why people picked on me, and neither of us was ready for that.
In the 10th grade, I met a boy in my math class who changed the way I thought about myself. "Billy" was only a little taller than me, but he was handsome, strong and the most flamboyant gay guy I had ever met, with a high voice and a feminine way of putting his hand on his hip. We would talk for hours, ditch school and go places. We’d walk around aimlessly, go to the mall, or just go to his house to watch TV.
We talked on the phone every afternoon and evening for hours and hours, discussing random stupid teenage things like someone’s hair or a teacher we hated. One night we talked about religion. He told me that he doesn’t think God will send us to Hell because God loves us. Billy seemed so convinced that there was a possibility of salvation, even for people like us, it made me wonder if I could find a way to be gay and still have faith in God.
I liked Billy because, when people harassed us and called us names, he would protect me, saying things like "Yeah, what the f*** are you going to do about it?" The kids would always back off because they never expected a gay kid to defend himself. That’s when I started to fall for him. I couldn’t stand up for myself, so instead I had someone else who would do it for me. He made me feel safe.
But my mother thought it was odd that her "straight" son had a gay best friend. Also there was the sharp increase in the phone bill, my loud laughing and yelling on the phone, and my failing grades. My mom lectured me and threatened to take the phone away if my grades didn’t improve, but I was 15 and only heard what I wanted to. I even pushed my other friends away because Billy didn’t get along with them.
I know it sounds corny, but my feelings for him were so strong that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. I wondered if I should tell him. I was so scared—would I ruin our friendship? During lunch one day, I gathered my courage and told him I was in love with him. He started to laugh and pretended to gag. I was so horrified and angry. This couldn’t be the person I loved, the one who promised to protect me. I walked away, while he was still laughing and gagging. I felt so ugly and stupid. But what did I expect? No one could ever love me and that’s how it would be for the rest of my life. I ditched school and went home, where I cried all afternoon. He called me on the phone that night and we argued, but it didn’t matter what he said. He had hurt me so badly that there was nothing he could say that would make me want to remain his friend. I was depressed for weeks and even now I sometimes miss him. However, after the way he treated me, I would never ever seek him out.
More people accept me for who I am
At the beginning of the second semester of my 10th grade year, I had a 1.6 GPA and I was on the verge of transferring to another school. A concerned teacher helped me join a special program at Franklin called the Transportation Academy, as a last-ditch effort to save me. The Transportation Academy, where we study transportation planning along with architecture, politics and community issues, didn’t have a grade requirement, so I could start off with a clean slate. I knew everyone in my classes, and they were nice. They never picked on me, and I decided I would risk being openly gay. It was difficult at first. Sometimes I would walk down the hall and people would yell out "There goes the f***ing faggot!" Once I had a guy follow me down the hall asking me if I would like to suck his d***. But despite those experiences, at least some of my classmates accepted me.
That year I faced one more challenge: telling my mother. One night I was explaining that people picked on me because they thought I was gay. My mother asked, "Are you?" I took a long breath. "Yes. Yes, mom, I’m gay." She started crying. For the rest of the month, when she did speak to me, it was to tell me how disappointed she was to have a "daughter" instead of the son she had longed for. She had dreamed of my wedding and her grandchildren. As her only son, I felt that I failed her.
Over the next few months, my mom was depressed and barely went out. A few times she asked me if I had turned gay because she did something wrong, or because my father wasn’t around, but usually she just ignored me. I’d hear her crying, locked in her room. She had to go to the emergency room several times for panic attacks. As I saw what she was going through, I felt horrible.
But slowly over time, she began to accept it more. She suddenly started asking all kinds of uncomfortable questions. How did I know I was gay? Was I sure? Had I been sexually active? Did I have a boyfriend? She researched the topic at the library and asked a gay co-worker for advice. I know it’s still painful for her, but she now tells me that she will love me no matter who I chose to love, so in that way I know she is trying.
I guess this is where I’m supposed to say how life is great and wonderful for me. That I made a 180-degree turn and live proudly out in the open. Not in my story. My life is a prolonged battle for acceptance from others and myself. When I hear the words "fag" or "queer" every once in a while, they still sting, but they don’t have the same power that they used to. Honestly, I still wonder if God will send me to Hell, but I have the sense that He loves me. I accept the life He has chosen for me, and although it was a life not sought after, I will make the most of it.