Trigger warning: Graphic descriptions of physical harm/gay bashing.
A personal tragedy helped LGBTeen writer Alan find himself—and inspired him to speak up for others.
I’ve often been asked to recall the precise moment when I realized I was gay, and I can’t provide anyone with a specific answer. I was young, yes, and to me, it was something that simply was—namely, I was. I was and I always would be. There was no indecision, no experimentation, no questions asked. I knew there wouldn’t be any world-shattering answers to counter any questions I could ask and accepted this concrete reality in the same way my heterosexual classmates no doubt understood their own inclinations with practically no comprehension of the profound cognitive assertions behind them.
What I haven’t been asked all that often (and what I believe should be made a consistent part of this dialogue) is to recall the precise moment when I realized what it meant to be persecuted.
After years of being placed in a position of great stress, even grief, I’ve come to understand that the human mind can scarcely remember reasons; reasons are faulty, fickle and fragmented. What does stick around is how others made us feel—this is precisely why a day like National Coming Out Day exists.
I exist because I am.
I dare to exist because I do.
I speak because I must.
It was never lost on me that I would have to, based on societal norms, relegate myself to the background, to feel ashamed of even the notion of perhaps, one day, dating another man, and having the gall to talk about him around the water cooler at work, much in the way my heterosexual counterparts freely talk about their husbands or their wives and their children. The extent of that privilege is astronomical.
It was evident to me that I was unworthy of such privilege; my life, for much of my adolescence, consisted of being the butt of the joke amongst my classmates. I was constantly teased and taunted, even harassed. I was bullied mercilessly, finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, knowing full well that I could potentially be beaten for disagreeing with someone over their taste and television. (The fact that an incident like this actually took place is, looking back on it, one of the most eye-roll inducing moments of life.)
So when did I come out?
Well, my homosexuality was a bit of an open secret. People knew of it (everyone knew of it), but there was never a formal announcement. By the time said announcement came, I was eighteen years old. I had emerged from the wilderness of depression intact after meeting a wonderful man who’d been my boyfriend in secret for the last year and I decided, three weeks before Christmas, that it was about time that my mother met him. It wasn’t awkward by any stretch of the imagination, but it was not without its cold, hard truths.
My mother, understandably, worried about continued mistreatment. These concerns, while valid, had a way of bouncing off me: I’d already, among other things, been the victim of a rather severe gay bashing at the age of thirteen where I had to openly discuss the motives of the three boys who’d savagely beaten me and left me, bloody and delirious, on the side of the road one snowy evening. Below is the Facebook status I wrote last winter in memory of the event:
Today is the first of December. Nine years ago today, I survived a gay bashing.
I was a young teenager at the time, and my teenage years were quite eventful, to say the very least. I was quite unhappy and the constant target of taunts and jeers. I still remember the nasty phone calls that were dialed to my home. I remember the threats, the fear of going to school in the mornings. I remember a constant dread that hung over my head as I was subjected to systematic hurlings of humiliation and dehumanization. I remember looking into the mirror and picking my looks apart, tearing any positive qualities I possessed to the thinnest, most irretrievable slivers.
It was snowing the day it happened. I’d left a choir rehearsal. I remember the sensation that I was being followed. This evolved into fear as I realized I was being stalked. I kept walking, however. I was on my way to pick up my younger brother at the time. He was waiting for me, depending on me. We could’ve watched a movie after finishing our homework, had a normal evening. I still recall, with the utmost clarity, how big his smile was.
By nightfall, all that had changed. I was well on my way to filing a police report. I was bruised and battered. Bloody. My face was tear streaked. My eyes were hollow. For the longest time, my life felt devoid of any joy, even after filing a police report, taking three classmates to court, testifying, seeing it all end positively in my favor. My mother and I fought more, my grades continued to slip and the simplest motions and emotions were reduced to ugly and recriminate scenes that left my self-esteem in ribbons.
It’s been nine years and every detail is still fresh. My memory has always been rather vivid and at times, that’s felt much like a curse. But I’m nine years older and nine years stronger. I am no longer that young victim. That boy who no one wanted to sit with at lunch. The boy who was mocked because he was honest about who he was. The boy who read a lot, sang a lot, raised his hand a lot and dedicated a second card to his single mother on Father’s Day.
I didn’t feel human then, like someone’s friend, like someone’s son. I was a defect on the assembly line of schoolmates, birthday parties, kickball tournaments, lunch hour, recess, summer plans. My life didn’t get marginally better for quite some time. Those memories never leave you. How impossible it would be for me to forget a name, no matter how many times I wished, ‘If only I could!’
Today, I don’t have to be all those things. I am simply myself and have found people who love me for that. I am nine years the wiser and will continue to learn and grow. And if you, dear reader, whoever you may be, are suffering, there is always someone to listen. I believe it our duty as human beings, for they say a little time and a little love can solve anything.
And yes, it can.
There is so much more to tell and so much that has happened since. But my story is not over. In some ways, it hasn’t even begun; I have chosen to not allow these sufferings to define me. Instead, I have made the conscious choice to be open about them and to use them to help others through their own healing process.
I do not claim to be perfect. There are parts of me which are riddled with insecurities, marred by indecision, even muddled in malice which I have continued to, much in the way an archer handles his bow, aim inward. I am a boat against the current.
The choice vexes me, but the conversation needs to go on. I’m a part of it whether I choose to be or not and isn’t the choice to actively participate a far more beneficial one? I’ve never been one to let the world pass me by, so why not sit up? Why not open my mouth?
Alan is a voracious reader and rabid cinephile who lives and works in New York City. When he is not working on his novel or composing numerous volumes of poetry or even playing Pokemon, he can be found writing his heart out on his blog, The World According to Ryland.