by Derek Henson
** This posting contains language that may be offensive to some readers but is important to convey the true pain that many youth suffer at the hands of their peers.
October 15th has become a day when awareness is made of the bullying that many LGBT youth experience. It’s become the custom to wear purple to stand in solidarity with those who endure this type of harassment. This is a very important day for me because I was one of those youth. For years I suffered silently, not having a safe place to share my feelings and fears. No one knew the hurt that was building in me for so long…but here it is…finally…
I was always the odd kid out at my school when it came to being and doing what was expected of a boy in rural Maryland. In the late 80s and early 90s when I was in elementary school, boys played baseball on weekends and kickball at recess. Neither of these really interested me and I found that I’d much rather draw or be creative than be athletic. Field Day was my least favorite day of the year, so much so that I would beg my Mom to let me stay home. But she never gave in and we have the home movies to prove it. I knew that I was different but I didn’t know why. I just did the best I could and gave my best effort, in spite of always being called “a girl” or any other term or phrase that was belittling of my gender identity. There were days that it hurt, and it hurt very deeply. Because the taunting often went beyond simply making fun, it made me feel on the outside of normal, of accepted. And those feelings would only be intensified as time passed.
Middle school is every teen’s awkward time. Bodies are changing, hormones are out of balance, and being outside the norm is avoided at all cost. In those years I really began to feel the gap widening further between what I was expected to be and do and what I really was. I was intelligent, I did well in class. I was well mannered and polite to everyone. I dressed well, maybe not in the most popular and trendy clothes, but I was always neat and clean. One year on picture day in about the 8th grade I wore a tie to school, a clip on tie. I’d worn them my whole life, we were simple people. We dressed up for church and that was about it. No one in my family knew how to tie a neck tie so we just didn’t even think it was necessary. That day it became very necessary. The other boys at school talked down to me like I was uneducated, stupid, an outsider. I was too “girly” to be a boy and now I couldn’t even dress as good as them. I never wore a clip on tie again. This treatment didn’t exist only at school but also at church as well. While not as blatant, I still was called similar things and treated as less than equal by most of my peers, even family. I remember many nights after church, crying most of the way home after being taunted and poked fun at for my less than “normal” interests, mannerisms, and actions.
Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones, But Words Can Crush Your Spirit.
High school only saw an intensification of the way I was bullied and harassed. I didn’t think I was all that different from anyone else but apparently everyone else in my school did. From the first day of school I was the fodder for jokes and harassment that made others laugh and whisper. There was a senior in my art class that seemed to have it in for me from day one. He would get the whole class snickering and laughing at me, for no reason other than to make me feel less than normal. The climax of this harassment was his (I’m certain with the help of others, maybe even a relative of mine) placing a sign on my back as we left class saying, “I like it up the ass”. Imagine being a 14 year old boy walking down the hallway of a rural American high school with those words on your back. They burn through to your heart.
Those four years dragged on into eternity. One girl made it her mission to exert her authority over me by almost daily telling me that I was too thin and unattractive to everyone. I was in the drumline of my high school band which is very much a “boy” thing to do, but to these others that was not enough to make me “normal”. Boys who were older refused to engage with me and younger ones exerted their harassment by using terms such as “Fudge Packer” instead of my name to address me. The funny thing is that at the time I knew nothing about the meanings of these terms and it’s ironic to me that all these straight country boys had such knowledge about what they perceived gay sex to be.
By my senior year I hated school and interacting with anyone in my peer group, even at church. I withdrew socially, I often spent more time with adults than those my own age at social events and even considered my teachers closer friends and allies than my peers. I wasn’t part of any socializing with my peers outside of a normal school and church function. I wasn’t invited which hurt but yet part of me didn’t want to be a part of these people who had so deeply hurt me for so long. After Christmas of my senior year of high school I wished so deeply that I wouldn’t have to go to school anymore. I was ready for it to be over and move on to college. I stopped caring about how I looked for school and often an oversized sweatshirt and jeans was my go to attire. I survived until graduation and was happy that it was over forever. I’d never be in a place where I would be subject to such bullying and harassment again. However I would still carry the scars from the wounds I received. The final closure to this season was my high school graduation party. I did have a small group of friends who I’d known and didn’t feel treated me like everyone else. My family decided to have a small party to celebrate before I went away to school at then end of the summer. I contacted all of them with an invitation… and none came. There was no party, just a quiet dinner with two younger guys from church I’d become friends with that summer.
You may ask why I tell all of this. I know it isn’t eloquently written, or sanitized and there isn’t even a happy ending. Some of these wounds are still as raw as the day they happened and this is the first time I’ve talked about them. But I must tell this story. Too many other kids and youth are experiencing this same type of harassment and bullying today in every community. Like me at the time, they don’t even know it’s wrong and are told it’s just part of growing up. But I say we need to work together to stop this type of behavior and treatment. It’s unnecessary and has in some cases even led to death. Is any joke, harassment or bullying worth more than a life that is lost to it? I thank God that I was able to cling to Jesus in these dark days that I faced. I thank him for walking with me, holding me and protecting me along they way. But how much less pain could I have known, had others been strong enough to stand up to it? I’m telling this story because we’ll never know the depth of the hurt until we all experience it.
To those who may be where it was. It does get better.
Posted with permission. Original found here.