Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones, Juneau, AK
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”


I have been called many names: “gayboy”, “queer”, “fag”, “faggot”, “girl”, “nerd”, “geek”, “ugly”, “know-it-all”, “Miss”, and “ma’am”.

I have been subject to mocking behaviors; kids walking up to or by me swishing their asses, waving limp-wristed, saying “Hi” in a very effeminate, lilting almost-drawl-like voice.

In High School, I complained about the name calling to a dean who told me I was overly sensitive and that I should not gesture so much with my hands when I talk. I wanted to tell him where to go. Idiot.

A few of those names are true. I am gay, but not a fag/faggot. I am not a British cigarette, nor a bundle of sticks to be used as kindling. Last I checked in the shower I am not a girl, nor do I want to be one. I do plead guilty to being a nerd or geek, but not necessarily a know-it-all. I happen to love useless knowledge, and only share it with my own kind; other lovers of useless knowledge. I do not consider myself effeminate, nor am I the butchest man in town, either. Like most gay men, I do have some queenly attributes, like my voice. I underwent speech therapy to try and naturally deepen it as it never changed during puberty. My pitch is considered to be lower than the lowest average female vocal pitch and higher than the highest average male pitch, right in the middle of the two. This is enough to still be subjected to being called names in public at this stage in my life.
But, I definitely plead guilty to being overly sensitive; my counselor even suggested I was empathetic, or perhaps, even empathic.
And it’s getting me into trouble.

Hiking to the Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, AK
As a child I never understood ethnic humor. My step-father would tell racist jokes, and I recognized his stupidity in telling them. It physically hurt me to hear them, along with his prejudiced ideas. I couldn’t understand why he would make fun of people that way. After all, ethnicity is not a choice. Don’t we all have the same feelings? Prick us all, do we not bleed? I remember asking my mother why people made up these kinds of jokes. She had no answer.

In fourth grade, the bullying started. We had just moved from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to San Mateo, California, and so I was the new kid on the block and didn’t know anyone in the school. I didn’t know the rules of the games they played at recess, and no one bothered to teach me, so I didn’t get asked to play. Thus, I didn’t bond with many of the boys in the class, save one. The artistic one, go figure. Yet, we never played together on the playground. I bonded more with one of the girls who happened to live in my apartment complex. Since she was not considered ‘attractive’ by fourth grade standards, she was also outcast. (She was a bit chubby and wore glasses, the cat's eye kind.) So, we played together at recess and lunch, usually jump rope or something just the two of us could play. Because of that, I was labeled a ‘queer’ (whatever that was), as I didn’t do ‘boy’ things. I didn’t see anything wrong in what I was doing, so I didn’t understand why they called me names, and it hurt.

My family moved across town that summer. New grade, new school, new friends, hopefully. Fifth grade was a bit better, no so much bullying but just personality clashes with some of the other kids. I did manage to make one good friend, but that ended when we moved across the San Francisco Bay to the small community of Dublin. The bullying became relentless here. We stayed four and a half years from sixth grade to the first semester of tenth grade. I couldn’t wait to leave when we first got there, but once I entered high school, the bullying eased up a bit and I’d made some friends, again mostly girls, became active in a few clubs, and then hated to leave when the time eventually came.
Even though the bullying eased up, the damage was done. My self-esteem was shot. What hurt the most was I never understood why these people were saying these evil things about me or to me. I was a good person (I still am), I was a Christian (I am more spiritual now), I didn’t hurt anyone (I try not to), I just couldn’t understand why these people acted this way toward me or anyone else who was different. I still can’t. It still hurts. Deeply.

On my very first day of school in yet another new state, Colorado, I prayed to God things would be different. This could be a new beginning. After all, these people had never seen me before. They didn’t know me. Yet, the day didn’t turn out that way. I remember sitting at a table in class, and hearing, “See that guy over there?” I turned in the direction of the speaker to see him talking to his buddy, and pointing at me. “He’s a faggot.” God let me down. I wanted to die. Or at least move back to California.

Felled Tree, Juneau, AK
I don’t even remember knowing exactly what a ‘faggot’ was back then, but I knew it was a bad thing because of the disparaging tone of voice people used when calling me that. And God didn’t make bad things, or so I had been taught in church. So, I was very confused as well as hurt and miserable. I certainly wasn’t a homosexual because I was still a teenager, and not some dirty old man lurking in the bushes or down a dark alley offering candy to boys. And what that man would do if the boy took the candy no one told me. But, that was a homosexual, according to the church.

We moved back to California, but a little further north to the Sacramento area. Maybe this time would be different. Nope. I began to wonder if the idiots in Colorado called the idiots in California to tell them I was coming. By now, I’m in the eleventh grade and before leaving Colorado had begun preparations to study abroad for a semester. At least I might have an escape for a while. And I did. Those six months in Mexico were heaven. There was no name calling, I felt I was one of the bunch. Yes, I was a novelty, an American studying in the high Mexican desert, but the students liked me, they really liked me.

I returned to Sacramento to a full year ahead, my senior year in high school. Traditionally it is a year of anticipation and hopes for the future, but mine was a year of torment in the present. The bullying not only was back, but it seemingly intensified. And yet, here I began to get a glimmer that they might be right. I might be a faggot. I had begun noticing boys as far back as fourth grade; but now was beginning to understand why I was noticing them. I was noticing them because I thought they were cute. (Remember the artistic boy? He was sooo cute!)  But, in middle school, I'd had a girlfriend so I simply couldn’t have romantic feelings for a boy, too. After she and I broke up in ninth grade, I just hung out with the few friends I had, again mostly girls. And I didn't date. With each high school I attended, my social circle grew smaller.  So, I just stayed home and watched television when I wasn’t working.

Fast forward a few years, I survive high school, attend college in Los Angeles, and experience a few incidents of name calling, though most of the college students don’t seem to care. I eventually realize the idiots were right, I was gay. I mean, I am gay. I reconcile my faith with my sexuality, have two long term relationships with men, and come to terms with myself on all counts. And lead a somewhat happy life. 

Or so I thought.
Even now, some of those early feelings of anger, pain, hurt and self-doubt are resurfacing. I thought I’d dealt with them, but evidently not. They have been buried down deep like sediment, just now being brought back to the surface, some forty-plus years later.

Why? Why now? What emotionally seismic event has triggered this round of self-doubt? Of self-questioning? Of self-esteem? Is it my divorce with the feeling of failure? Is it the realization that the two long term relationships I had weren’t as fulfilling as I thought they were? Is it the mistakes I'd made in lessons I've learned from those relationships? Is it the economic struggle I went through after the divorce? Is it the two men I’d met post-divorce and the feelings that came up with them; a man who showed the potential to be nearly everything I am looking for in a future partner but somehow we seemingly misunderstood each other's intentions only to go our separate ways; or the one who simply wanted to have his carnal way with me (and possibly others) and then toss me off to someone else when he was finished, like a used tissue? Is it the cavernous conflict of emotions brought up by both of those extremely different scenarios and trying figure out what it is I want? Is it this small group of students causing me to actually teach less this year because I had to spend more time on their misbehavior and therefore causing me to feel I’ve failed the other students? Is it the continuous attacks on teachers and how we are portrayed as the roadblocks to real education reform by those with no educational background? Is it the eternal struggle for LGBTQ acceptance and equality as it plays out in the media? Or did all of the above stir up these emotional fossils?
Stream outside Juneau, AK

They say scars make you who you are. 

I must be someone damn special.

So, how do you overcome being overly sensitive without becoming jaded? How do you take the pain of the past and turn it into the strength of the future?

The trick is to turn the pain around, and embrace it. Give it no power. Learn from it.

And I'm learning I AM STRONG. Stronger than I often give myself credit for.

Now, I need to just keep moving forward, like water over a rock. 

One day at a time.

With no expectations.


  1. Wow very touching Jeff.

    1. Thank you for both reading and commenting!

  2. I needed to read this, Jeff. That is because your story is similar to my own. It's always encouraging to be reminded that one isn't on "the journey" alone, don't you think -- that journey that has us heading toward healing? Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    1. Jack, I'm happy to share as I am hoping others are getting something from it. Maybe that is the path for me now; to help in others' healing as I heal myself. I am so happy this came at the time you needed it. I agree, we are never alone on "the journey." And yes, the journey is always toward growth and healing. We just need to remember that. Thank you for reading and commenting! Peace!