Nine years ago I stood on that stage, accepted my high school diploma with honors, and with a great breath of relief, walked away from the hell that my life had been for the past 8 years. Little did I realize, the fight wasn't over.
It's 2013, I'm now twenty seven years of age, yet the scars of relentless torment continue to haunt my life, regardless of a college degree, a job, and an avid thirst for travel, adventure, and knowledge. You see, forgiving those who stole your happy childhood away is easy, but forgetting, is something entirely more challenging.
As far back as I can remember, I was made the butt of the school yard joke, the punching bag for the pint-sized zealot who thought it would be funny to see me cry. Like a white, toughened scar against pink skin where a gaping wound once lay open, although their words may no longer hurt, and may often seem silly when I look back on those younger days, the pain caused by them remains imprinted in my thoughts and on my psyche.
The most gruelling was between the sixth grade and graduation, when a new word was introduced to me... faggot. I did not know what this word was or what it implied, but it seemed those that wished me ill, believed me to be one. This word, and it's believed negative connotation, followed me from middle school, to junior high school, all the way to that fateful day when I stood in the warmth of the sun, which seemed to shine only for me, and I took my diploma in hand, my ticket out, and walked off that football field to greener pastures. Little did I know back then that I was, in fact, a homosexual. Let's face it, I didn't know much about life back then, I was ten years old for crying out loud, but that is beside the point. My days were spent in fear; fear for my life, fear for my sanity and I was finally free.
At this point, you may be asking yourself "what was so terrible?" Well reader, let me enlighten you for a moment. Besides having the stigma of being a "faggot" hanging over my head, I also had terrible acne (you wouldn't know it by looking at me now) and I came from a family that believed in a nature religion, but we'll get to that soon enough.
In grade school I had platinum-blond hair. Many of you may find yourself jealous regarding this fact about me, but it has been the bane of my existence. I was teased because of it, called names like, grandpa (I told you they seem silly now, but at the age of 7...). Even though my hair has darkened over the years, to this day I wish I had rich, chocolate-brown hair. My last name was Stann (I've recently legally changed my name), which some how evolved into a taunt of "stand up and sit down, stand up and sit down, hahaha" I know, grade school children aren't very imaginative, but at the time, it stung, because there was nothing I could do about my name. There was one boy in particular who seemed to have a vendetta against me, which was only made worse because he walked the same route home that my sister and I took. One autumn day he began teasing me in front of my house. My sister, who is four hears younger than me, and five years old at the time, threw a fist full of leaves at him and told him to stop. He turned and went after her with malicious intent. I don't remember much, only that my sister ran up to the house as the boy lay on the ground while I stood there kicking him. I remember he kicked me in the shins, but I didn't take notice; he was going to hurt my sister and I wasn't going to let him. Honestly, that is a proud moment in my book.
As I mentioned, the harassment escalated as I entered the sixth grade and onward through high school. I was pushed, called names, and generally harassed while waiting for the bus after school. Gym (or phys ed) was a nightmare. A boy even stabbed a pencil through my hand in the school library one afternoon because... he felt like it? he didn't like me? I couldn't say. I informed the teachers, guidance counselors, principals, et cetera, about what was going on and they always said they would "do something about it," yet year after year it continued.
The worst time for me was from 8th grade on. The boys in gym class would say: "don't get to close, the fag might rape you." I was shoved into my locker, which was often defiled with derogatory slurs, on more than one occasion. Nasty notes were slipped between the locker's vents for me to read. "Peers" (I use that term loosely) would call out names as they raced passed in the hallways. During the swim lessons in gym class, groups of boys would surround me in the pool and splash me, yelling "faggot," or hold me under water chanting "witch, witch, drown the witch" (I did mention I practice a nature religion right?). One day I got out of the pool coughing up water and crying after a particularly brutal "dunking" and ran to the locker room. The coach yelled at me to stop. I told him to f*ck off and asked him if he saw what was going on, or if he was too busy enjoying the company of his female students. He didn't respond. I charged past the school secretary and into the principal's office, tears streaming down my face, shaking with rage, and demanded that he put a stop to it. He, of couse, played dumb, asking me: "put a stop to what?" That same year, one of the boys hurled a basketball at the back of my head as he called out "faggot." I turned around, shoved him back, and prepared to fight for myself. The coach took me to the principal and I received a three day suspension. Justice be served...? My parents were proud!
It didn't get any better once I entered high school. The taunting further escalated to physical threats on my life. I became terrified to walk home, because they "know the alley behind the super market I walked past," and knew where I lived. One afternoon I answered the phone. The voice on the other end asked for me by name. When I said "this is he" the voice told me how he wanted to "f*ck me so hard," and "rape my *ss." I put my hand over the receiver and handed the phone to my father telling him: "it's for you." I never saw my father get so angry. The caller hung up once my father ripped into him, but he dialed *69 (which calles back the most recent caller to your phone) and gave the parents of the caller an ear full. I still don't know how the caller aquired my home phone number, (for those of you who are younger, this was before cell phones were an every day convenience).
Finally, I couldn't take it any more. I didn't even feel safe at home. My parents were talking of getting the police involved (these bullies had begun seeking me out at home after all). The thought of suicide plagued my every waking moment, just to have some peace, an escape from the day to day hell that life had become.
I'm not sure what stopped me. Perhaps it is my undying thirst for life (I hadn't even visited Ireland yet), the thought of my mother and sister, or an inner strength that I wasn't aware of, but I said "NO." I became angry with myself and I remember standing in the kitchen, carving knife pressed firmly to my wrist, and screaming: "NO. You will not take me. I will NOT be your victim." It was at that point in my life that I refused to let them win. If I did this, they would have won, and I knew I was stronger than that, I was stronger than them!!! I decided that the best way to get back at them, the best way to WIN, was to live my life. The best revenge would be a life well lived! That, and to prove to MYSELF that I wasn't the looser they all said I was. I remember talking to my parents and one of my favorite teachers about everything, and telling them that I could no longer allow these bullies to rule my life, and if they wanted to judge me without taking the time to know who I was, than they weren't worth my time or energy. Those who knew/know me are the only ones that truely matter(ed). My teacher leaned in and said: "you are very wise beyond your years."
I still look in the mirror and see those hurtful words (looser, ugly, pizza face, retard, faggot, queer...). I take time, every day, to remind myself of all the beauty and good that stares back at me from the shiny glass reflection. I'm a talented artist, a great dancer, a loyal friend, an inteligent, educated adult, a devoted lover, a protective brother, a resilient person, a caring soul, and an attractive human being. It feels a life time ago, and yet it continues to hurt every now and again. To be honest, I still can't bring myself to join a gym. But, I fight. Every day I fight, against those words, against myself, and what, for years, I've been told I am. I know I'm not all those things, but you tell me how to forget what people have called you for half of your life. I've forgiven them, but it is going to take time for me to forget, time for me to rebuild my own self image. I'm still fighting, and I will never give up on myself!!!
One last note. I'm visiting Ireland for the first time, for two weeks, this May.
By writing some words below, you are showing your support and letting everyone know they're not alone.