My mom reassured me that “Life does not treat anyone fairly, so just try to enjoy the days you have in your short life.” She loves to remind me that life likes throwing curve balls. I learned this lesson as early as elementary school, a place where I didn’t fit in and had no idea why. As I reached the end of childhood, I began to understand and recognize the differences between my vibrant originality and my peers’ monochromatic neutrality--a difference that many other kids could easily see since the first grade.
Being different sucks in a small-minded community, where straying from normality results in sour looks or condescending judgment. Since childhood, situations that invoke one’s personality would fill my chest with a curious pressure as if an unsettlingly light hug wrapped itself around my heart. My skin would crawl at the thought of people drawing connections between myself and the social stigmas that I wish had never adopted me. When a children acknowledge their difference, they are engulfed in self-conscious thoughts and their awareness of the weight of their steps is magnified.
I recall one of the many emotionally crippling and stormy indoor recess days where I sat on the dusty columbia blue gym bleachers. I never had anyone to play with. I sat alone, expecting to be unbothered, but people who I considered my friends sat behind me. Balls flew across the brick room, seeming to follow the vibrations of jumping kids. The homework assignments I intended to complete were sitting in my lap, but the “friends,” for a lack of a better term, decided to take my attention away from productivity. My focus was stolen by the repeated derogatory and homophobic slurs that the boys uttered behind me: “Gay queer f*****.”
While I sat there with dead eyes, my new view of the world killed the purity of my optimism. The boys genuine and malicious curiosity contested condescending and bitter inquiries: “What’re you doing, queer?” The echoes of excited and sweaty kids that once filled the dated gymnasium became muffled as the slowly creeping sensation of self-hatred filled my body as if an old, leaky faucet had been left uncared for. Annoyed, one taunted, “Can the f***** not hear?” My body became numb, and my thoughts cold as the storm’s tormenting laughs bellowed louder. The rain, an inevitable enemy to the outdoor’s motherly protection, continually reminded me, with the quiet flick of water droplets hitting nearby windows, that I couldn’t avoid the sting of the world’s greatest weapon. While I sat in the poorly designed folding chairs that bruised my spine at the points where it kissed the cold metal, I was focused on not showing my discomfort in order to appear unbothered.
These three hollow words followed me. It took many years, but the influence of this intolerant memory can be seen through characteristics that I pride myself in having. I had not thought deeply about my sexuality, nor have I understood its relevance, so I suppose I could say thank you to those evil kids for shining a light on a secret I didn’t know I had. I can say thank you to those kids for creating a person who will always fight for love and tolerance. Thank you for teaching me to be my own person, so I can serve as an example that being unapologetically original is infinitively easier than tip-toeing around one’s peers in order to be seen as normal. However, my list of thankfulness does not extend farther beyond that point because a longer list of reasons I will never be thankful arise. Having to fight back glossy eyes after denying questions that I now know are harmless would be the leading reason. I never asked to be different--I just am. It is not my choice, and it was a difficult choice to not make.
While I adore my peers, they are like blind millionaires, unable to see the obvious privileges that make life ever so slightly easier for them. Many of my peers believe that using slurs is not a big deal because “they’re just words.” I can tell you, from my personal experience, that words are not always just words. Words can hurt like guns do.