I was the victim of a gay bashing at thirteen. I remember it well, not because I was bruised and battered, not because I had to crawl several blocks in the snow for help. I can recall every detail of that night right down to what I was wearing, the glint in the eyes of the three perpetrators. I can tell you how it felt to make that crawl: the pain, the fear, the nausea which threatened to surge past my lips the more I noticed the fresh roses of blood I’d left in the snow. I remember it well because the shame was the most prominent of all my emotions.
I cannot tell, I rationalized. I cannot tell, because they all hate me, because they know me better than I perhaps know myself.
Eventually, I’d find myself in a courtroom. I’d summoned the courage to file a police report. I’d see some form of justice prevail. I never saw them again after that, the three of them.
I remember the older sister of the least repentant of the lot—he’d sworn to high heaven that he’d been playing basketball on the blacktop that day, which resulted in my undergoing even heavier cross examination—telling me that I was a horrible person because I was ruining her brother’s life.
“Your brother,” I told her, “has done a good job of ruining mine.”
But I went on, somehow. Somehow.
I’ve written extensively on my experiences with domestic violence, dabbled a bit into my time on the street as a homeless LGBT youth. I have been disappointed and I have been avenged. I have seen myself colored by drugs and drinking. I have spilled my bursting heart to people I thought would be around forever and I’m sure I’ve hurt them just the same.
Somehow, I find myself at age twelve again. I remember Felicia. Felicia, who was sweet and kind and had a smile capable of stopping you in your tracks because when she smiled, her eyes shone and when you looked into them, you knew you were gazing into the soul of a child entirely without guile.
The others only saw her as fat and slow and Special-Ed. She was teased mercilessly for her weight. She found her slurred speech mimicked by cold and unfeeling parrots. The girls who saw their adolescence begin the process of filling them out, of etching breasts and curves on what was once flat, bony and characterless, affectionately nicknamed her Pork Roast.
If this bothered Felicia, she never let us know.
One day, a fellow student (this boy would become one of the three perpetrators I’d see in court one day, the boy whose life I’d end up “ruining”) got into the business of teasing me. The teachers looked the other way. This was typical.
“No one likes you, not even Felicia,” I remember him telling me.
“Stop it. You’re a liar.”
“You think that fat bitch can stand you? At least I’m honest about it! The retarded girl doesn’t like you. No one likes you.”
A couple of hours later, we were all on the blacktop. Felicia was a liar like the rest of them, I figured. I would not allow her to get the best of me. I was already trying to survive: Why did she and everyone else have to make it so hard for me? What had I done?
I told Felicia I hated her, told her to fuck off. I yelled at her, burst into tears in front of her. I didn’t know I was being manipulated, that I was being isolated.
I still remember the way she looked at me that day, that look of stunned horror. I knew then that I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
But before I could say or do anything, a group of boys began shoving her around the blacktop from either side. She looked like a ball in a Ping-Pong ball machine. She gasped horribly. “My asthma! My asthma!” Then she was on the ground, staring up at the sky.
I could hear the laughter of the other boys behind me. “Look at this guy, what a fucking idiot!”
Oh God, oh God. I knew I was wrong. I ran to her, my heart pounding.
“Felicia! Felicia! Are you okay? Give me your hand.”
She recoiled as if she’d been bitten by a poisonous snake. I have never forgotten the hurt look in her eyes, nor have I forgotten her anger.
“Get away from me! Get the fuck away from me, you FAGGOT! Get away from me! Get away from me! I hope you never have any friends!”
Perhaps her words were prophetic. Everything is what it is until it isn’t. You carry a goodbye into the next day, then another, and another.
Don’t believe that we are equal, because we are not. The war is not over. Far from it. The battles continue. In fits, in starts. But they continue nonetheless.
I look at how the authorities failed me when I reported my rapist and abuser and I see how fortunate I’ve been because I’ve managed to come to a place where I can speak of it, though he will never see the inside of a prison. That hurts less and less as time goes by, but it will never stop hurting. I was never treated with dignity and respect.
How it hurts to be invalidated.
Winning the right to marry was nice. But we still have gay men and women who are discriminated against during the adoption process. Some people believe they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt at all. We have a medical community ill equipped and ill trained to manage the experiences and challenges LGBT youth face. (I am still on the hunt for a good LGBT-friendly doctor myself.) The same goes for our justice system, which still has not adequately addressed how the very real problem of LGBT youth abandonment by families and communities and victimization in schools can see many walk a path from school to prison. We currently have scores of gay and transgender youth growing up in detention centers. Suicide rates are high. Domestic violence in our community is scoffed at, if it is actually acknowledged in the first place.
I am fortunate to know people who bring clarity to my life, particularly people who know what it’s like to be scorned for something as arbitrary as who they happen to be sleeping with. When you’re victimized for being gay, you spend a great deal of time reevaluating your stance in life from hiding spots. Even then, you don’t learn as much as you could because you’re so boxed in.
I’ve learned a lot and I’m still learning.
Somehow, I am.
An excerpt from the final entry in the journal I kept in the year following homelessness:
I’ve often wondered if killing myself could be the one thing I have absolute control over. I’ve learned that yes, I have that control. But I also have the power to view myself differently. That wisdom has made all the difference.
My mother says keeping a journal is a waste of time. Why write your secrets down? You’re only going to make people angry once they read it.
If I were to die today, tomorrow even, let it be known that I’ve tried the absolute best I can. I look at who I am and I’m proud, despite not being on the track I expected. I’ve deviated a bit. What an adventure. What a world. Look at all the people in it. See how they sway in the breeze. See how time etches experience onto their faces.
Be someone. Be anyone. Be good. Be clean. Be intelligent. Be resourceful. Be inquisitive. Be kind. Be generous. Be audacious. Be courageous. Be forgiving. Be loving. Be hilarious. Be outrageous. Be a musical note careening off the strings of the world’s violin. Be the composer. Be the piano player. Be a dancer, be a singer. Be a writer.
Be a voice.
Be someone. Be anyone.
Always remember to be yourself.