Growing up as a gay kid in school was probably one of the scariest experiences of my life. Going far back as elementary school, I knew something was very different about me compared to other kids, and I did everything I could to avoid confronting the realty that awaited me. I wasn’t great at sports, I didn’t like girls, I wasn’t even into the same music or cartoons as other children my age were. I couldn’t relate to the rowdy boys that pretended to be soldiers at war, or the ones that talked about He Man – Masters of the Universe… I just wanted to learn about science and watch the Smurfs. I wanted to hang around girls and enjoy the bond they seemed to share with one another, to experience being shameless about being creative and good at sewing. I just wanted to be myself… and I was terrified to do so. I was so frightened to let anyone see the real side of who I was, else run the risk of being bullied and ridiculed. It was bad enough that when it came time to form teams for group sports, I was ALWAYS the last one picked, always the one person in the class to endure the longest session of public humiliation. One by one, as each person was chosen and the available pool of students became smaller and smaller, the unspoken became increasingly obvious… I was not wanted, I was not good enough. With each new sport played, the process was repeated… month after month, year after year. Through a cruel election of my peers, through the visual display of fingers not pointing in my direction… I was not wanted, I was not good enough.
Junior High eventually came around and a new horror was brought into existence, we had to change clothes in front of other boys in the locker room. Suddenly I was immersed in the reality that if my eyes should accidentally look in the wrong direction, I would be called out and even worse, pulled from the closet that had protected me for so long. I found a false sense of safety by changing with other “nerds” that weren’t good at sports and engaging them in conversation. At least we had the appearance of being normal, of just two guys getting ready for physical education class, but even that proved to futile in preventing episodes of outright personal assault. I can remember my friend Raj being picked up while still in his underwear and thrown into a trash can, clearly singled out because of his ethnicity and the color of his skin. On another occasion, still fresh in my memory, we were surrounded by a group of at least 20 while we sat with our backs against the wall next to the outdoor eating area. There was no where to run while a tall male student stood over us, thrusting his hips back and forth while repeatedly telling Raj, “go ahead, suck my dick… go ahead, I know you want to.” His vulgar actions provided a show for the other students, and instead of anyone running to our aide, we were laughed at and mocked… the crowd only dispersing after a teacher noticed the large group huddled around the wall. Indeed, physical education class provided an open arena for bullies to do their thing, largely unsupervised.
Going into the 10th grade and fastly approaching the darkest years of my life where I no longer had the desire to live, I absolutely refused to experience this kind of repetitive harassment again. In the beginning of the school year I approached my physical education coach, someone the other students nicknamed Mighty Mouse because of his short and muscular stature, and told him I wouldn’t be attending class because I was working on getting a note from my doctor to exempt me from taking the course. I explained that I would be in the library until this could be finalized, and he could find me there if need be. My coach accepted this reasoning at first, and would issue me daily passes to go to the library. My mother went to our family doctor to get the necessary documentation, however the amazing school board of Dade County, Florida, had decided to treat those not wanting to attend physical education class like an adult trying to obtain disability payments. Suddenly there was a process to be followed with all kinds of assessments of my abilities, and what I could and couldn’t do… something that a kid / family without health insurance could not afford. I kept asking for hall passes until one day Mighty Mouse asked me “So what are you going to do when you get married? Is your wife going to give you a hand job or something?” Yes, apparently at Miami Sunset Senior Highschool, it was acceptable to say those kinds of thing to students in the 10th grade and thankfully, I still had some fight left in me. I informed my home room teacher of the situation and she became livid, telling me she would get to the bottom of it. The next time I would see Mighty Mouse he verbally questioned my masculinity by asking “Are you a sissy Robért?” So yeah, being bullied by teachers is also a thing kids experience in school.
There was no where to run while a tall male student stood over us, thrusting his hips back and forth while repeatedly telling Raj, “go ahead, suck my dick… go ahead, I know you want to.”
When I reached 11th grade I was tired of fighting. I was tired of fighting the truth of what I was, I was tired of fighting with others telling me how wrong I was. I was tired of going to my friend’s grandmother for some kind of consolation, only to be told “You have a demon inside of you Michael.” I was tired of my Uncle Gene seeing how depressed I was and one day telling me that he’d always love me, no matter what… “as long as you’re not a god damned homosexual.” I was tired of my cousins being so incredibly kind to me, letting my guard down as result, and then randomly blurting out some bullshit like “I just pray for you so much Michael, because I don’t want you to go to hell.” Because nothing says I love you like telling someone they’re going to hell with a smile on their face. I was tired of seeing my entire church youthgroup, a church that I CHOSE to be baptised in at the age of 14 in front of an entire congregation, turn their back on me when a bitter girl I wouldn’t kiss decided to tell everyone I was gay. I was tired of my own brother handing me a loaded gun and telling me to go kill myself in front of him, while his closeted Baptist Minister twin lectured me on morals…raiding my porn collection for his own use when I wasn’t home. I was tired of my sister calling me a faggot because she knew how much I hated it, and my only retalitory response was to call her a fat cow. Upon which she would cry and go running to my mom… and yeah, you guessed it, I’d be the one to get into trouble. I was so tired… I was tired of hate and just wanted nothing more than to die. I couldn’t experience another day of the constant fear and blatant two faced love by relatives in the name of religion.
Writing this was harder than I expected… I realize now there is so much anger left inside me. There is much pain associated with those memories and looking back, I have no clue in the Universe how I made it through. I used to think kids had it easier these days in school… after all, there are shows where being a gay teen is wonderful and accepted. However now there is a new evil out there, an evil that seeks to take back the years of work and progress that we as a community, have made in the fight for equality. There are those in the highest levels of Government that want children to know they’re not normal, and are validating the hate that some of their fellow students feel. A door has been opened that can not easily be shut, a door that once held back the darkness and told people it wasn’t okay to hate others and commit acts of violence against them. Somewhere out there, in the State of Florida, there’s a little skinny Michael experiencing the exact fears, emotions and inner conflicts that I did, and on top of that, now has to deal with someone like Govenor Ron DeSantis making it against the law to address those issues through education. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law is sending a deadly message to gay youth, and it needs to be repealed.
My high school counselors saved my life… period. A female counselor whom I’ve tried to remember her name for years, and a social worker named Mike Miller did the work with me to get me functioning again. Together they showed me how to respect and love myself, to be proud of who I am. Had this happened today, chances are I wouldn’t have even made it to the counselors office that day my aunt forced me to go. I wouldn’t have been able to handle the hate coming at me from all sides, including the government itself. I would have taken my life, exactly as I intended to do when I realized I was gay.
It’s not really surprising to see the recent actions of our government, De Santis didn’t want to protect our children during COVID, so why would gay youth be any different? Watching so many high school students marching in yesterday’s pride parade made a huge impact on me… however the darkness of the reality that awaits so many still rings true. I wonder who the next parent will be to suddenly discover that their child, the bright light that carried them through the darkest of times, the person they brought into this world, the person they watched grow into a remarkable human being, the one they loved more than life itself… was gay,
… through their suicide note.
To anyone reading this going through something similar, trust me, it gets better. Don’t let fuckers like DeSantis win. There’s so much life to live, and as hard as it may seem, I got through it and so can you. We need you alive to help continue to the fight… until we don’t have to.