I Am Gay. I Will Not Be Tortured Again.
I can’t say I am afraid. I am numb. I feel am impending sense of doom—but it’s a kind of doom I have already lived through. From seventh grade through 12th grade, I was tortured nearly every day I went to school. The common term for this is bullying, but that’s not what it is. It is torture. Just as John McCain suffered indecencies and physical abuses as a prisoner of war, so did I in my youth. If you hate me for making that comparison, you hate me for saying what is true. I was a happy, popular and active kid. When I reached puberty, my life changed. Before I knew myself that I was gay, others picked up on my mannerisms. My peers harassed me, demanding to know if I was gay. I didn’t know. My childhood best friend Nick McKinney stopped being a friend; he, along with a pack of neighborhood kids rode their bikes into me, threw things at me, called me faggot as I walked home pretending that this was not happening. If there was no empty seat on the schoolbus, I had to squat in the aisles. No one would let me sit next to them, and Betty, the blue-shadowed bus driver, would not drive until I squatted. At school, I sat near the teacher hoping for some kind of protection as fellow students called me faggot, flicked my ears and kicked my legs under the desk. I allowed the ringleader of the abuses, Ian Kelly, who went on to found a multi-million dollar clothing company, to cheat from my tests in biology and chemistry classes. All of this in front of teachers. I gravitated in hallways toward any adult who I hoped would be a port in the storm. From seventh grade until I graduated from high school, only one single adult ever intervened on my behalf: a business teacher who held me after following a particularly brutal class in which several of my peers relentlessly called me an ugly zitfaced faggot. She told me that I will grow into my appearance and myself, and that life will change after high school for the better. I will never forget her kindness—even recognizing that her response was inadequate, as the abuse carried on until I graduated from high school in 1996. My own grandmother, who always had been a doting, loving, spoiling figure suddenly didn’t seem to love me anymore. Nothing made sense anymore. Throughout my teen years, I felt unworthy of living. I was smart; science, English and art came easily to me. My mother let me stay home from school when I couldn’t bear to go—and thank God for her, because she saved my life. After high school, I found out that the world is kinder outside of those cinder-blocked walls. And in the late ‘90s, the world coincidentally began a major revolution. Thanks to the influence of Will and Grace, Queer as Folk and all that followed, average people realized that LGBT people are just…people who deserve to be treated with decency.
I discovered later in life that my grandmother resented post-puberty me because she had a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder. Her first husband, who moved her from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. just before World War II, turned out to be gay. She grew up in the Catholic church. The church refused to annul the marriage because it refused to accept homosexuality—and so my grandmother had no choice other than to divorce her first husband. As a result, she was excommunicated. She lost it all: church (not faith), husband, her reputation. She married my grandfather, a brilliant man haunted by his own demons and alcoholism, and her life took a direction she never planned it to take. Witnessing me grow into a gay man triggered my grandmother’s trauma, and she resented me—until we got to know one another again in the years leading up to her death. On her death bed, literally the evening she died as I was leaving the room, she asked me to embrace her and she told me that she always has been proud of me and always will be. I never expected that relationship to mend, and it did because my grandmother and I came to know one another as people—but also because the public attitude toward homosexuality changed. She couldn’t pretend to herself that LGBT people are evil anymore because it had become commonly accepted that we are not.
Our vice president-elect, Mike Pence, is the same kind of person who populated my middle school and high school. I can’t say whether he is one of the abusers who called me a faggot, who kicked me, flicked my ears, pinched and punched me in the locker room, and who ultimately caused me to read the suicide textbook “The Final Exit” and stockpile pills throughout my youth as an emergency escape hatch. I can say that he is now the vice principal of the school: he is the authority who not only ignores but who actively encourages abuses against people because of their sexuality. I am not afraid, exactly, but I do have trepidation about speaking out about this publicly. But I have been through this and I know how it goes. Mike Pence advocates conversion therapy. Make no mistake: Conversion therapy is torture. It involves electrocuting and drugging LGBT people to make them suffer while looking at homosexual pornography in order to “convert” them to heterosexuality. Not only has it been proven not to convert people, but it causes severe physical and psychological trauma and potentially can result in serious mental disorders. Teenagers have committed suicide in desperate moves to avoid ongoing conversion therapy. In the event a gay man, as an example, were coerced into either believing or pretending that he had been “converted” in order to stop the torture, the best-case scenario would be his entering into a marriage under false pretenses with a woman who otherwise could have found a loving partner. It is a crime against humanity. Science has proven conclusively that it does not work. Yet, under the influence of Vice President-Elect Pence and a fully Republican Congress and likely Republican-leaning U.S. Supreme Court, conversion therapy could become mainstream and supported by law if not codified in law. How did this happen? How did we get here? Conversion therapy is a blatant human-rights violation and a sheer demonstration of hatred. It is a hate crime. I survived six years of psychological terror and physical abuses, sanctioned by my peers and by authorities, throughout my youth. At that time, I had been convinced that something about me was “bad” and that I deserved it. I know better now, and I will not abide by it.
LGBT people and our allies must be vigilant as a new regime takes over our country. This is not a joke, and there is no evidence at this time that suggests fearing the worst—that our government would commit inhumane crimes against its own law-abiding people—is unreasonable. I have lost more faith in the decency of the American people this week than I knew I had. Because of what I went through when I was young, and because I have seen how quickly attitudes changed toward acceptance, I know how quickly those attitudes can revert with a little peer pressure. I know how cruel people can be without a second thought. LGBT people and our allies must not give a millimeter or else this administration may take 666 miles. We also must ally ourselves with all other marginalized populations because, from a practical standpoint, greater numbers equals greater security—but more importantly because all of us are human beings and all of us are at a very real risk of being confronted by overt state-supported hate crimes, and these things usually happen in waves, one targeted population at a time. We are all in this together, and we have to be ready to fight for our souls.