The first time I spoke the phrase "I'm gay" to anyone happened when I was 18 years old. If that was the beginning of the story, this would take a lot less time to write. Within months of my official coming out, I met others who identified as gay or lesbian. I have known maybe one or two bi-sexual people and only know male-to-female transgendered people (though I may well know female-to-male transgendered people and they have not 'outed' themselves to me yet).
The story starts in the mid 1970's when I started Kindergarten in Wyoming. Within my first year at elementary school, I knew I was different from other boys. When on the playground, I sought out the company of and preferred playing with girls. Though thin through my college years, I was always the slowest runner, only played one season of soccer and, except for the typical child's outdoor games, avoided joining any sports organization until college, when I rediscovered my love of bowling.
I was skipped a grade ahead from 2nd to 3rd grade. This made me the youngest and the shortest child in every class until puberty started early in 9th grade. Growing to six feet tall shut a lot of mouths!
I did reasonably well in school, though soon learned that being extra smart led to being singled out. As much as any parent wants the most educational challenges for their bright children, children seek to keep their peers at their level. I first learned the power of teasing and bullying somewhere in 2nd grade and it started with bullying from girls. Yes, that fits a stereotype for a boy who is destined to grow up gay; however, I did not know the stereotype existed as a child.
I cannot recall the first time I heard the word "faggot" pointed at me. I cannot even recall how many times I was called "faggot", "fairy", "queer", or any of the other derogatory words for gay. I also cannot recall the number of times I returned the insult with the very same word ("faggot", "fairy", "homo", etc.) or how those whom I insulted felt as I tried using words to defend myself. High school and, especially junior high where the bullying was most intense, was over 25 years ago. I have long since accepted apologies from those who offered them to me for the way I was treated. I have also offered apologies for those to whom I redirected that rage, anger, confusion and self-hatred and I pray that those who needed to hear an apology from me took it as sincere. All of the negative feelings I had as a 'tween' and a teenager rose up as quickly in me as a grade-school volcano lava flow as I followed news of these multiple suicides.
When puberty started, I would fantasize as I explored my ever-changing body about what sex would be like with someone. The fantasies, try as I might to shape them, always involved only men.
The only gay men I ever knew were those few guys at school who were very effeminate. Even though they were in school, they never came out to me. In the mid-eighties, the Internet was something that was 'nerds-only' and consisted of Windows/DOS computer language screens with squaking modems connecting nerds to a network of bulletin boards. No FaceBook, Twitter or a search engine into which I could search for "gay". Not even a way to find other gay teens in the state or country was available to me.
Even if electronic communication was possible back then, I still could not identify myself as gay because:
- My high school years were spent living in a very conservative part of the country.
- I tried dressing in women's clothes one time to see if I felt more comfortable. I only wound up feeling more confused and swearing to myself I would never do any such thing again. The clothing never permitted me to express a different side of myself because that side never existed.
- While I was never a big sports fan, I never enjoyed the typical girl games/activities.
- While I could appreciate and sometimes enjoy groups like Duran Duran, Culture Club and the Pet Shop Boys, I was (and always shall be) a devoted metalhead. On my very first radio played The Who, Aerosmith, Steve Miller and Led Zeppelin. My uncle got me into Rush and I formed a special connection with all things heavy metal/hard rock.
- I was very comfortable (and still am somewhat) referring to people as "dude"
- For the most part, my speaking voice was mid-range for a guy. No lisp and/or high-pitched, fast-talking feminine-like patter came out of my mouth. Once I came out, I began exploring that part of the culture and, now and then, let the "grrrrl" tone of voice come out.
I had thought plenty of times as a teenager of killing myself. Blessedly, I never formed a plan to do this. I could not imagine any method of suicide that did not involve pain, stealing something illicit to complete the act or some way of doing the deed and not having my mother be racked with pain for the years to follow. At times, it was a minute-by-minute decision to not kill myself fueled only by my greater fear of causing my mother psychological harm from which she might never have recovered.
I never spoke with a therapist/psychologist and/or psychiatrist as a child. I knew of no "peer" of mine nor a teacher or other trusted adult to whom I could visit and figure out someway of reconciling my burgeoning sexuality with my personality. The only person I knew who would have accepted me even as a mess of confusion lived clear across the country.
I even have a Bible, given to me as a child, in which I underlined and highlighted passages which purport to talk about homosexuality as a sin. It was not until my early twenties that I learned many of those passages were translated only after choosing one interpretation of the original text as it best fit the popular culture (and, in some cases, the reigning King) of the times. Before then, however, I had resigned myself to the same mantra many LGBTQ people did regarding their own religion: if I am destined to be damned to Hell upon my death, I will make my life on this earth as best as possible until my final breath.
To any gay, lesbian, bi-, trans or queer/questioning youth reading this post, my message is that I, like your gay brothers, lesbian sisters, fellow bi-'s and the trans community, know deep in my heart that your emotional battles are waged day to day, hour to hour and even minute to minute while you are convinced you are the only combatant in a war where everyone else has declared themselves your enemy.
When those feelings surface -- write them down, post them on your blog (anonymous, if you like), find any adult whom you trust will listen and speak to them, paint a picture, write a song, take a walk, eat an apple, send a postcard to PostSecret or even play with the family pet. Dogs, cats, hamsters, snakes, frogs and birds are never judgmental and only offer unconditional love, even if it's just in the form of curling themselves around you.
You are even welcome to reply to this post. I always have a link to The Trevor Project, which runs a 24 hour, 7 day a week help line with a toll-free number so that phone number won't appear on your parents' phone bill.
I don't want to lose one more child/young adult to a bully, even if you have become your own worst bully.