Because of Tenured Radical’s series on women’s colleges and feminist education, I missed that yesterday was national Coming Out Day, which this year is being linked by a number of bloggers and writers to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project . A number of my regular faves had special posts on this, but I wanted to highlight two especially moving stories. First, Rose at Romantoes has a wonderful tribute to a high school friend of hers, Jay, who suffered shocking amounts of bullying in high school. His is an important story to read now because as Rose writes, “it’s not always kids doing the bullying.”
One of my best friends all through school growing up came out after we started college. That wasn’t much of a surprise to anybody, but of course that doesn’t make it any easier for someone to come out. And for years he had been bullied, harassed, and tormented about being gay…but importantly, not ever, to my knowledge, by his peers.
In many ways I think he’d escaped that kind of treatment by other kids because he was just so damned charming and funny. I mean, he was truly the funniest person I have ever known. He was witty, punny, and could stage some of the best practical jokes imaginable with the straightest of faces. He was also incredibly smart, musically gifted, and genuinely gregarious. I really credit him for making my own time in high school as easy as it was–somehow, he single-handedly made it cool to be a nerd.
So who was doing the bullying? Teachers.
People talk about three-hanky movies and novels, but have you ever seen a three-hanky blog post? Keep your tissues close at hand, friends, for this next one too. Fannie at Fannie’s Room offers a brave and moving account of her childhood–her growing awareness of her lesbian identity and gender-nonconformity, and the simultaneous terrible realization that being gay means facing the loathing and disgust of her family, friends, and peers at school. Here are just a few snippets:
I am in first grade and am walking down the hall with my best friend. I reach out to take her hand.
She pulls her hand away in horror, saying, “What are you, queer?”
Last year, in kindergarten, this was okay. Today, I learned that there are new rules. I have also learned that whatever queer is, I Am Definitely Not That.
. . . . . . . .
It is the early 1990s. I am 13 and watching he news with my mom and my aunt. A clip comes on about Homosexuality In America. I become engrossed in this clip as I simultaneously try to squish myself into the couch so I’m less visible.
My mother turns to my aunt and says, “If my kids turn out gay, I’d kill myself.”
They both look at me.
I pretend to be engrossed in the program.
Perhaps noting a look of terror in my face, my aunt adds, “But we’d still love you anyway.”
My mom remains silent.
I am 14 and am going through some major awkward teen years. I have no interest in makeup, bras, or girly clothes. I’m getting a snack before basketball practice when I overhear two girls snickering.
“Is that a dude?” one of them says, about me.
“I don’t know what it is,” says the other.
Be sure to read the whole thing. Fannie concludes with some words of wisdom for gay and lesbian youngsters, and for those who maybe aren’t so young any more, too:
I’d like to say that all of the people who were mean to me in high school and homobigots throughout my life are now losers, but really, only some of them are. Some of the bullies are actually cool now, having matured and learned that the world has bigger fish to fry than gay people. Others are still a$$holes, and maybe they’re the ones running stupid homophobic blogs, but the best part of being an adult is being able to walk away from people like that when you need to.
My life isn’t perfect now, but it’s pretty damn good. It does get better. You are stronger, more beautiful, more right, than you might think.
These stories are important for everyone to read, because although most of us suffered some bullying at school–and probably bullied others as well–straight people might not understand just how pervasive and cruel gender and anti-gay bullying still is even today. Because it’s easier to be out as an adult than it was 30 or 40 years ago, we might not understand that a gay child or teen is frequently still an oppressively lonely and frightening experience.