I ate lunch by myself most days in middle school. I didn’t have many friends. I remember looking down at my little sandwich and looking up at the crowds of people laughing with each other solidifying my belief that I, for whatever reason, was not someone worth having lunch with. It was the norm for me, though. I was bullied throughout my entire adolescence, bullying that only got worse as I got older. But now, through stories I’ve heard and people I’ve known, I realize that my story is not unique for someone in the LGBT community. I think everybody experiences these things to a degree, but when you don’t fit into social conventions of gender-normativity, at least, people tend to not know how to relate to you. At worst, they ostracize you and beat you into social submission. It’s a very unfortunate element of how we were once taught to socialize: defining right and wrong and enforcing such beliefs on other people. And so my recent epiphany has been just how much my very secret sexuality affected me, and how the quieter I was about it, the worse everything else seemed to get. But I want to preface everything I am about to tell you about my own story with the fact that I don’t wish any of it away anymore, and I’m not sorry that it happened. What it gave me eventually was far greater than what it took from me initially. I don’t mean to go into a “it will get better” speech. But very simply, it will.
I had an abusive father and an absent mother. In short, I had nobody. Nobody taught me what it meant to love and care for someone. Sometimes I still struggle with that. In fact, my mother was the one who taught me that gay men were cute and funny and lesbians were gross and creepy. I wanted to die most days. I didn’t even know what suicide or self-harm meant but little, pre-pubescent me would stand in her room with scissors and run the blades across her hips. I didn’t know this was something that people did, I didn’t realize there was a term for it. I just felt like when I opened my skin some of the yucky feelings came out with the blood.
And my twisted childhood turned out to make way for an even more twisted young adulthood, one in which I attempted suicide, was raped, had to be put on a heavy medication to get through the day and experienced a plethora of other such horrendously unfortunate things. But I came out on the other side pretty damn happy. And more importantly than that, I came out understanding and honest and truthful. I came out with a profound ability to love other people. But most importantly, I came out. And I realized that it was in holding all my secrets in that I tore myself apart from the inside out. And I don’t think that my story is uncommon.
Even before I really came out (or tried to in high school) I knew that people knew. In fact, my close friends that I told weren’t the least bit surprised. Because some people fit into the stereotypes of what kids understand to be gay or straight (and this is an issue in and of itself, at which I’ll address some other time). People who didn’t know me well thought I was straight because I was blonde and pretty and feminine. The people who knew me knew I was gay because they understood who I was and not what I appeared to be. For those few friends who stuck around and were understanding and accepting at a very young age, I am grateful. But I had my moment in the ring of rainbow fire, don’t worry.
Kids have this really fantastic way of learning that people are only ever to be categorized into labels and filed away neatly. You are gay or you are straight. You are a jock or you are a nerd. Kids naturally do this because they’re just trying to wrap their little brains around the world, but that doesn’t make it okay. It means some parents out there neglected to tell them and enforce the fact that just because you don’t understand someone does not mean you can ever facilitate the kind of environment where they will feel unaccepted and like “the other”– that is the shit that adult breakdowns are made of.
And when you grow up like we do, whether you are even conscious of it or not, you walk around with a little part of you that is always in hiding. At first it’s subconsciously from yourself, and then it’s very consciously from other people. Because we’re taught that it’s wrong. It’s wrong to love someone. It’s wrong to be who you are. And we spend forever trying to cover these things up so we can be accepted and loved, and live happy lives. Until one day, when we realize that our own happiness can’t be taken from what other people think and feel, because that doesn’t affect us (literally).
And so when you grow up gay, you have an appreciation and an understanding for those who like to color their lives outside of the lines. You know, even if you aren’t aware, what it’s like to be an outsider. And there comes a time when you decide that you’d rather be happily outside than uncomfortably inside. And if you ask me, all the best people are on the outside anyway. You’re never alone for long, and if you are, it’s often just a matter of being in the wrong place, and while that can be literal, it’s more often metaphorical. Because the place where happiness resides is in complete self acceptance of whatever is, was and will be. And what you come to learn eventually is that you don’t need anybody else to get there, but the people who will end up meaning the most to you are the ones who meet you at the end.