I came out over a decade ago, 2004 to be exact. However, all my life I was accused of being “gay” when at such a young age I didn’t even know what that meant. I can remember many situations where I experienced homophobia. Whether it was being called queer at the local Sonic in front of my grandma and her asking why my peers would call me that, my Spice Girl cassette tape being ripped away from me in third grade and stepped on only to be told that: “Spice Girls are for faggots”, or when I worked at a bar in college and next to my tip instead of a dollar amount it read: “Die Fag.” While I’m at an age now where being called names like queer and faggot make me laugh because it’s the most unoriginal insult ever, it still slightly haunts me and brings me back to the vulnerable kid on the playground just striving for acceptance. I think discrimination in any form is hurtful and has a lasting effect on someone. Someone who has been referred to as “fat” all their life might be extra hard on themselves on what they eat and what that food is going to do to their bodies. Someone who might be discriminated against for the color of their skin might grow to dislike themselves because they begin to see what they think other people see: someone not worthy of the same rights as those of the quote on quote elite race. They say words are much more hurtful than physical assault and I agree with that. While bruises go away, the things said to and about you never really go away.
I pride myself on caring not what people think about me. I tend to live an unfiltered, uncensored life. It’s always gotten me the attention I strived for in life, so why should I change that? But the bigger question is: why do I need that attention? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to conquer my fears and do things that as a child would have terrified me. One great example of this is playing sports. I avoided sports at any cost as a child. This was not due to my inability of being able to play sports, as much as it was I avoided any scenario where girls were taken out of the equation. The idea of playing a rough game of football with a bunch of boys who were, clearly, more masculine than myself, was about as enticing as asking Lindsay Lohan for dating advice. Recently I signed up to play ultimate frisbee with my male counterparts at work. While I consider myself to have decent hand-eye coordination, nothing could have prepared me for what I was getting myself into. The excessive running, diving into the hard ground to try and catch the frisbee, and just the ability to be able to compete on a level similar to my heterosexual coworkers was a rather daunting task. I had an immense amount of insecurity as I was “the kid no one wanted on his team.” In a dodge ball draft, I’m being chosen behind the kid who can’t jump more than two feet off the ground. Nothing makes you feel more wanted than being the equivalent to the only female playing and the boys making sure that you and said female are on opposite teams because you’re equal in their eyes. Which, let’s get real, that female was kicking my ass.
Another prime example, and probably the one I deal with those most, is the paranoia you live with when you’re in a group of people who aren’t like you. Are they talking about me? Do they like me? Do I annoy them? No matter how much I try and follow the rule book on what it takes to be a respectable member of society, I still feel like the eight year old with the shit stain on his shirt who no one wants to play with. Now, is this true? No. I am treated a thousand times better now than I ever have been in my life. I love the males I surround myself with, I’ve wanted a group of heterosexual male friends all my life. I’ve always wanted to be considered just “one of the guys.” Due to this paranoia I try to overcompensate and do whatever I think it will take to get attention and approval, when most of the time that backfires on you and you become even more of a nuisance than you were prior to your fears. And will this ever go away? Probably not. Considering I’ve been out for twelve years and wear my sexuality like a golden tiara everywhere I go, I still inside am the little kid who just wants people to not be embarrassed to be associated with me.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, yes? I am happy that I have grown the tough skin I have over the years. Yes, deliberate homophobic attacks make me laugh because I know in 2016 that fool is the one on the outside and everyone is judging him. But that doesn’t mean every time I feel someone is not communicating with me the way they typically do, that I don’t automatically assume I’m doing or have done something wrong. What can I do to make you like me? I shouldn’t care what you think, and I don’t, but really- I do. At the root of my soul, I just want to be accepted. Not for being the gay kid, or the guy who will say, literally, anything that comes to mind, just for being me and the person I present myself as. It might seem silly to a lot of people, but when you have kids, if there is anything you can teach them- it’s to judge someone by the person they are, not the stereotypes that are tied to them. That could be your kid, on the playground, being told that Spice Girls are for faggots. And twenty years from now- they will be writing about it and battling an internal battle that you can do nothing to fix.