My coming out story...
Our stories are ever evolving and never ending. They are rarely told in ways that most everyone can relate to. In working at a youth agency for GLBT youth and doing speaking engagements I have heard many people's stories. Some were awe-inspiring and others heart-wrenching. When you hear the trials and tribulations of today's youth, our youth, it strikes on something deep inside your soul. When you hear of our youth being thrown out of their homes, turning to drugs and alcohol, living on the streets, surviving but not living, your heart goes out to them and you empathize. But you don't know what you can do for them. So you sit and listen, but do you hear? Then you hear the stories of the fortunate, the one's whose parents accepted them, or at least respected them. They were loved at the time they needed it most,allowed to explore themselves. But even the fortunate aren't always so fortunate. They too must leave the house to go to school, many times to deal with the taunts of other youth. Taunts unencumbered by teachers. They listen to the words "dyke" and "fag" being yelled down the hallway, and cringe inside, thinking only that they are the target of these slurs. The few who are out are either given respect, or taunted and bashed mercilessly. They take society's hatred into thier own hands and try to educate, for the benefit of others as well as themselves.
I once heard someone say something that made a lot of sense to me. They said "Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can break your heart". It is similar to the message I carried through my childhood, although much more true. I was always told "Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never harm you". That is quite wrong. Words can hurt much more than sticks or stones, and leave scars that run much deeper. As a young child I was often picked on because I was "different". I was slightly overweight, and I was a tomboy. It is a well known fact that children can often be cruel, and they most often use nickname and name-calling. My peers found that I was unaffected by physical teasing, so they started the name-calling. They found that doing so was the only way to provoke a response from me, sometimes a violent one. They called me things like "lezzie", and "dyke", and "queer", along with all the fat jokes. I was not afraid of them, I was stronger than many of them. I was a true tomboy, from climbing trees to scraped knees. And I preferred to play with the boys at recess, they were more fun. When I transferred back to a small private school in the third grade, I used my physical status to my advantage. I became bully to the boys and protector of the girls. It was a good thing to be for me. It gave me a kind of acceptance and status.
My world seemed to implode upon itself in seventh grade. I moved from my small safe-haven of a school to a larger all-girls Catholic school. There were no boys to bully or play with, and the girls no longer needed my protection. The worst part of it, as I thought then, was that I was forced to wear a skirt to school, in which I felt quite foolish, queer if you will. And the taunts started again. My classmates picked up on a my uneasiness, and they could explain it only one way, I must be a lesbian. Of course I had heard the rumors about the gym teachers and the nuns; they were all lesbians. Lesbians? Isn't that what they were calling me? Instead of being repulsed, as my classmates seemed to be, I became fascinated with these women who were purported to be like me. I began reading anything that I could get my hands on, and watched every talk show about gay people that I could find. Many of the things that I saw on those talk shows were negative and extreme, but I also found some positive representations as well. Gay people lead normal lives, and weren't sick or perverted, like my classmates implied. To this day I continue to be grateful to my public library for having the courage to have those books on the shelf.
While seventh grade was hell, eighth grade was purgatory. I learned to tone down my "butchness", if only for the sake of my own sanity, which was sometimes called into question. I learned to blend in. You know, makeup, boys, the whole nine. There I was, sitting next to my best friend, talking about supposedly cute guys, dating them and kissing them, but imagining that those guys were women.
So it was confirmed. It was true. I was what they always said I was, a lesbian. But, at that time I thought that lesbians were scary women. They were old maids who wanted to be men, who sat in bars drinking themselves into oblivion, who played sports, who preyed on young girls. So I couldn't be a lesbian, Could I? I didn't fit those stereotypes at all. But if I didn't fit those stereotypes, what did that make me? So, I immersed myself in straight culture.
I started ninth grade in a new school, once again a Catholic institution. I thought that because these people didn't know me, I would have a fresh start. But it was not to be so. I fell deeper into my depression, even to the point of being suicidal. At the time, I didn't think that it was because I was denying who I was. I thought that it was because I was a bad person, there must be something wrong with me. Then came a turning point. My best friend tried to kill himself. It showed me that I did not really want to die, but that I wanted to just be myself.
Suddenly it all fell into place. My denial was causing these feelings of depression and worthlessness. My denial was caused by the social stigma attached to homosexuality. There was nothing wrong with me, there was something wrong with society for making me feel this way though. My outlook on life changed completely after that. It went from "Why me, what did I do to deserve this?", to "F!@k you society, I am me, and if you don't like that, I don't give a damn."
My life slowly began to change. While watching television one evening, I stumbled across a local cable access show called "The Rainbow Connection". I finally found real people like me on TV, not the people you see on the talk shows, and they were from Long Island. They gave a phone number for an organization called LIGALY, Long Island Gay And Lesbian Youth. It took me a few weeks, but I finally worked up the courage to call. I spoke with a woman named Maria, who told me that there would be a youth group starting at the center soon. This was in June of 1995. I started to attend the group regularly. I came to realize that my misconceptions about gay people were just that, misconceptions. All of the stereotypes that I had regarding lesbians were slowly shattered. Lesbians looked and acted and had jobs just like everyone else. I became more comfortable with myself, and happier all around. In turn, I started to dress more and more the way that I felt comfortable.
That was then and this is now. Today I am a confident, out, young lesbian. My life has taken a turn for the better. I am out to anyone who cares to ask, and to those I feel should know. What were once slurs that used to terrorize me are now affirmations of my existence. Now when someone yells something like "Hey, dyke!" at me, I calmly turn around and say simply "Yes?". I am now comfortable in my body and embrace the "butchness" that was once used as a weapon against me. I often get called, "young man" or "sir", but it no longer bothers me, only amuses. It is who I am, and I don't try to hide it. I have learned a great deal from the community that has, for the most part, embraced me with open arms. I have learned that our community constitutes some of the greatest and most talented leaders, artists, writers, and listeners in the world. That we are strong, made this way through our experiences. We live our lives for ourselves, because if we lived for others we wouldn't, we couldn't, survive and live. So we must make our own way, our own happiness, for no one is going to do it for us.
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