Please welcome my friend, Stephanie M., who is sharing something incredibly important here on my blog for the first time. I couldn’t be more honored and proud of her!
I glanced down at the rubber-coated gym floor, and noticed that someone had taken the liberty of sharing their thoughts and scribbled, “Miss G is a dyke.”
I’d never heard the term dyke before and I hadn’t a clue what it meant. Miss G was our gym teacher, the field hockey coach and not the most personable instructor at our high school. Based on her lack of popularity among the students, I came to the conclusion; being called a dyke was probably not a compliment. As I continued to ponder the meaning behind the quote along with the author’s horrendous penmanship, one of the boys in our class approached me from behind and knocked me to the floor. Lying on the gym floor, I tried to compose myself but that’s when he hovered over me with his malevolent smile and whispered, “You’re a f*@!%#g dyke too.” Confused, bruised, and – for the first time – scared, I remained on the floor because something told me that if I tried to stand, he would push me right back down.
I was fifteen at the time.
I decided to get to the bottom of this “dyke” thing, because seeing as I was not a gym teacher or a hockey coach, it had to mean something else. Following my in-depth investigation, which consisted of questioning a few honor students, I discovered the explanation of the word that soon became the basis for my rapid decline in popularity. Over the next three years, I was relentlessly pushed, shoved, teased, tripped, continually thrown in the boy’s bathroom, and ridiculed – all because someone decided to label me “gay.”
I say labeled not because it was inaccurate, but because no one ever bothered to ask me if it was true. Not a word was spoken from my friends, teachers, coaches or teammates; they acted as if nothing out of the ordinary was taking place. The only voices I heard came from the students obsessed with shouting insults while shoving me into lockers. They also enjoyed taunting me by making kissing sounds if I was seen talking with other girls between classes.
After awhile, I learned to keep my head down and my mouth shut for fear of anyone suspecting I was anything but a typical boy-crazy teenager, but I wasn’t.
Whatever you’re doing, keep it to yourself and don’t talk about it. People like you are an embarrassment to their families. ~ My father’s advice. (I was 16.)
As usual, an impromptu post-dinner lecture from my father did nothing to boost my pathetic level of self-confidence. If I ever held out for a glimmer of hope that an opportunity existed to speak openly with my parents about my sexual orientation, it was forever squashed during that brief interaction. The combination of non-stop humiliation at school and the Code of Silence at home slowly turned me into an emotional pressure cooker. I found solace by skimming from the numerous unmonitored open bottles of alcohol in my dad’s liquor cabinet. Being a dyke didn’t seem so horrible, especially after downing a few screwdrivers; a belief that still rings true in certain sectors of the gay community.
Eventually, I reached senior year and graduated from the hellhole that people call “high school,” and I never looked back. I’ve never attended a reunion or responded to invitations for alumni events and until recently, never kept in touch with any former classmates; however, in today’s age of social media it was only a matter of time before people were able to track me down. There’s nothing like Facebook and Twitter to drag you right back to a time you never planned to revisit, but it happens. That’s the thing about social media: Once one person has you on their list, you can expect a landslide of invitations, friend requests and follows, which is exactly what ended my nearly thirty years of hibernation.
It’s been only a little over a year since I reconnected with some high school acquaintances, but I am also very selective about those whom I allow on my pages. One request in particular stands out, because it came from one extremely merciless tormentor. He must have realized the mistake, because before I was able to click ignore or block (or annihilate) he withdrew his request. Once again, all was right in my universe.
Some people can’t resist the urge to act like an ass.
Even after graduating college, I continued to uphold the Code of Silence and I entered the workforce as a probation officer. Everything was going according to plan until one of my co-workers decided it would be fun to pull out his penis when it was my turn to give him a ride home from the office. Although he deserved it, I resisted my urge to punch him in the balls. Embarrassed, he put away his junk and told me he’d done it on a dare to settle an office pool regarding my sexual orientation. The next morning, I reported the flashing phallus episode to my supervisor, who told me the best she could do was to move my desk to the opposite side of the room. She also suggested that I be more careful when offering male co-workers a ride.
I found her comments laughable, considering she herself was a closet lesbian, and had been the person responsible for drafting the memo with the carpool assignments. Damn hypocrite. A month later, I resigned and took a job as a bartender in a women’s nightclub.
Eventually, everything finds a way to come out.
You can only keep the lid sealed on a pressure cooker for so long before you run the risk of the whole thing exploding. That is exactly what happened to me in my mid-twenties when I began to experience debilitating panic attacks. Years of silence, along with self-medicating by using alcohol and prescription drugs, continued to fuel what my psychiatrist termed my “internalized homophobia.”
It’s now been twenty-two years since the first mental health provider suggested that if I told people I was gay, I would find an emotional freedom – the likes of which I had never known. However, in my typical fashion of always choosing the longest route, I remained silent. I never allowed anyone to get too close, endured years of anxiety, partied in dark nightclubs, lived in fear and avoided engaging in any relevant conversations with family members. This protocol still suits my parents just fine because it is much easier for them to tell their friends they have a daughter with anxiety disorder than a daughter who’s gay.
There’s a first time for everything.
Fast-forward to the present day when being gay does not carry the same level of social stigma. Artists, actors, musicians, celebrities, and professional athletes who live an openly gay life surround us. I can remember a time when there had to be a disclaimer aired before any television show with gay content, because it could be deemed inappropriate. The United States is now in the midst of a movement for marriage equality, which is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime; yet, I’ve still been clinging to old habits – sitting in fear and silence while so many others, both gay and straight, do the heavy lifting. Major companies such as Starbucks, Microsoft and Apple have come out in support of gay rights and marriage equality, so why haven’t I?
This is the first time I have ever openly addressed my sexuality in a public forum. I have never shared it on my blogs, in my writing, or on social media sites. When I began to read social threads addressing gay marriage, I was shocked and appalled at some of the hateful posts from those who oppose the ongoing campaign for equal rights. I wasn’t bothered so much by their desire to protect what they believe is the sanctity of their marriage, but rather the hate towards people like me, who they do not even know. The vile, revolting and hurtful things I’ve read do not warrant repeating, but they sparked a reaction in me.
And like the flick of a switch…
… Something in me changed and I finally understood what that doctor was trying to tell me so many years ago. For as long as I can remember, I have been dragging around my baggage full of secrets, lies and omissions because I could not give myself permission to put it down. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been told in one way or another to keep my mouth shut. What I finally realized is that by keeping my silence, it’s as if I condone the hate-mongers and gay-bashers while feeding my own self-loathing.
Speaking my truth:
It’s time for me to put down these heavy bags, allow people to know who I am, and stop living in fear. I’ve told a handful of fellow writers that I am gay, and the response has been overwhelmingly supportive and kind. I understand that there will always be those who just can’t get their head around it, but that will be their cross to bear. Not mine.
There will also be people in the world who hate me just because I was born gay. There is nothing I can do to change that. I may have to stomach hatred from people whom I will most likely never meet, but I have made the choice to no longer perpetuate that hate within myself.
Next stop, my parents’ house.
I am honored and proud to have Stephanie share her story with us here today. Please show your support by sharing this post, following her on social media, and connecting with others you know who can benefit from her story.
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