I was teased consistently. Called horrific names that began with an ‘F’ on a daily basis. School was a hurting ground. My education was in how deeply I could hurt. It came from all sides for a long time I’d walk down the hall and hear it. In class, I’d sit feeling absolutely alone in a room of 25 people.
It began in earnest in Eight grade, though I’d been a loner long before then. Other kids noticed that I was different, and that I was more in tune with the feminine. They called me a girl, constantly, and I’d deal with it by agreeing with them. I knew I wasn’t a girl, but a boy who liked girl things. I soon realized, at the age of 12 that I also liked other boys. I had no friends, but there was a girl in my grade who sometimes talked to me. I confided in her, and by the end of the day the whole school knew. For the rest of the year, I was picked on, and followed home by boys who punched me in the stomach. I’d keep walking, though, and eventually they left me alone. Then there were the times I fought back. I ended up getting my head bashed into the front door of the school once, and beat up a couple of other times. I was, quite literally, a zombie. I had no desire to live and no power to fight.
One day, my parents announced that we were moving to Germany. It was the greatest day of my life. My father was in the army, which allowed us this luxury. I’d have a new start!
I was miserable. I felt lower than the lowest, and didn’t even feel like I was worth killing myself over. My family had left small town America for Germany a year before. I thought I’d be escaping all this. I thought things would get better. I was wrong. They’d gotten worse. I’d tried dating a girl in eighth grade, through my freshman year, but I just felt too ashamed and guilty. I ended up telling her. I came out to my friends too at the same time. I’d never had friends before, and had always thought friends kept secrets. I was wrong about that too.
I was in high school now, and for some reason, physical altercations had stopped. I had gotten beat up for it numerous times in small town Wisconsin, and the ending of that brutality was a relief. But words and rejection could land blows sometimes deeper than the gut punches and head slammings of yesteryear. Apparently something had shifted between the eighties and the nineties. I wasn’t sure it was for the better, at least not in high schools for American army brats.
Then, when it was time to go home, I’d have to confront the smoking section on the way to my bus.
Beth spotted me almost every day. “FAGGOT!” She’d scream from her tomboy exterior. “You godamned faggot! You wanna start something?!”
Gym class was the worst. I was a creative person and accelerated in band, choir and drama. Sports were not for me. I’d do what was required, and that was it. One day, we were playing a perverted form of hockey, and the puck was passed to me. I attempted to control it and hit it toward the goal, but was unsuccessful. Our team lost because of it. Later in the locker room, cute, blonde, muscular Jerry, was quick to point out to me my deadly mistake. “You didn’t even try!” He growled at me. I failed to see the big deal. How little I knew how he and his friends hated me.
I got a job at Popeye’s Chicken on the base, and began making friends from the smoking section. The person I became closest too was Lindsay. She was oversexed, gorgeous and exciting. She asked me once as we got on a street car to go to the HaupStrasse if I was bisexual. I was so excited about going to this main street where everyone went to drink at the bars legally (it was Europe after all) that I didn’t know what to say. I also wasn’t sure how she would react if I said I was full-blown gay. She looked at me and said, “Joey, I’m bisexual. I’m with Beth.” My jaw dropped, at least in my mind’s eye. Beth? It made sense, though. Looking at it with this juicy piece of information, Beth looked like a total dyke. I took a deep breath and said, “Well, not exactly.” She asked me what I meant by that, and my heart stopped. “I’m gay.” There it was….and she was fine with it.
Over the next couple of months, my grades dropped, I drank a whole lot, and I began to cut class with my new friends. The pay-off was that for the first time, I felt completely accepted. The friends I had previously were still around, lurking in the corners, but I had a new life, and I loved it. I actually spent time feeling cool! The hurt and pain I felt at school was easier to deal with, and my new friends were able to deal with what my loneliness brought: a lot of drunken crying.
One night, we were all at a bar called Eichbaum’s. I have no memory for what that word means, but I remember the bar well. It was primarily all American high school alcoholics frequenting it. I was having a great time, and the Tequila was a-flowing. I went to use the bathroom, drunkenly. I entered the stall, and sat down to take a crap. The door had no lock, so I just figured people would see it closed and that would be that. As I tried to focus on the graffiti wondering if it was really primarily in German, or if I was really that drunk, the stall burst open. It was Jerry and his cohorts. “Look, guys! Check it out! The faggot’s taking a shit at Eichbam’s!!” They all laughed. For a moment I just sat there, trying to figure out what was wrong with taking a shit at Eichbam’s, then I slammed the door, and waited for the room to clear. After awhile, it did. I exited the stall, and stumbled past my friend’s table and out onto the street. I lumbered over to the church on the other side and sat down by the wall to cry. I don’t remember if I did, but I do remember lying down and looking at the sky.
My view was suddenly blocked by three dark figures. One of them said, “Look at that faggot.” Then he said the phrase that burned, with hateful lasers into my mind. “We should piss on him.” I remember waking up wet. The Universe has saved me from remembering anything else from that night. Suffice to say, it changed my deeply, and it took a long time to get over it. Piss itself is pretty sterile, they say. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but it does dry after awhile. Being pissed as an act of degradation leaves a stain and infects you, though.
Later, one of Jerry’s friends tried to talk to me about it without actually bringing it up. He tried to explain, shame-facedly that Jerry was screwed up. I already knew this and took a deep breath, not believing someone would try and excuse that moment to me. Then he said quietly, “He was molested when he was little. That’s why he hates gays.” Inside, I felt an understanding, and even a certain amount of compassion for Jerry. It at least explained his hate. Outside, however, I snapped. I educated his friend, in so many words, that being gay does not mean you like children.
While times have changed since my schooling, things are no better for many children and teenagers. I tell my story to horrify those who don’t know and to expose what is happening before our very eyes. I tell it to encourage every adult exposed to young people to talk about bullying and anti-gay speech and acts. I also tell it, to assure those who are struggling that this is an experience that can be survived. Reach out and get help anyway you can, and remember that it really, truly, does get better. I promise that. There may very well be scars that you are left with to heal for a lifetime, but life will get better, especially if you embrace who you are, and go to the places in the world that embrace you, and if you surround yourself with those who embrace you for being Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered or Questioning, you’ll be even better off. You may be stuck and unable to do that right now, but you will be able to someday, I promise. Someday, it will be your life to do with as you wish. I wish you a happy, fulfilling one.