Thursday, February 10, 2011

It Gets Better

For weeks now I've planned to make a video for the It Gets Better project, but there is a reason I'm a writer and not an actor and that reason is I suck on camera. I really really do. It's even worse than my semester long foray into debate club, which I might mention ended about the time I puked after my first real debate in competition.* My attempts at videos have all been filled with a ridiculous number of "hmm" "Ah" and "umm"s and I couldn't do that to all of you, I just couldn't.

Besides, who is going to believe "it gets better" coming out of the mouth of some girl stuttering nervously like she's being made to record the video at gun-point...I certainly wouldn't.

So instead I'll tell you my story the way I tell stories best, through writing. Maybe one day I'll record a video for you guys, but for now...text is all you are getting. I'm far more confident that way.

I already wrote about coming out in an earlier post and I wrote about how I realized I was gay. I don't want this blog to turn into a page about me and my life, but I think it's important for my readers to know where I am coming from and I don't know if that will make me more or less credible as a writer, but I'm willing to bet you will respect me more when you know my background.

I grew up in Arkansas where my family transitioned from being Methodists to being Baptists when I was 8 or so. I know...I went from a fairly liberal type of church as a kid and into a conservative 'fire and brimstone' setting before I came out, even to myself, bad timing right?
We flipped and flopped from one church to another until we finally settled at Immanuel Baptist Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The time period around my realization of my sexuality is a little fuzzy for me, so I can't remember if we were at that church or if we had transitioned to First Baptist (in the same town) when I realized, but I feel fairly certain that we had already moved. I had already lost my faith, due in large part to the growing insanity of the church politics around me. My father was a deacon, my mother was on the pastor search committee when the church sought for a new pastor at one point. Let's just say that I was not impressed with the church politics, nor was I impressed with the pastor they found.

But that has little to do with the story I want to tell. (Wow, I feel like Arlo Guthrie spending 5 minutes discussing going to jail before talking about Alice and her restaurant now.)**

The point I'm trying to make is that my family, and the town and people around me, were very conservative. I lived in the buckle of the Bible belt. The place that has a church on every corner (and a liquor store right next to it.)

I've said before that I was never particularly ashamed of being gay. I didn't jump around shouting it and I didn't come out to parents until I was 20, but my friends knew and a very few teachers. My art teacher in 9th grade, Mr. Waack, my English teacher in 9th grade, Mrs. Bonar, probably my German teacher in 10th grade, Frau Herr (I think that's right and yes, we joked about her name all the time), they knew because I trusted them and I needed to have someone on my side on occasion.

I came out exactly midway through 9th grade, just as I was transitioning back into public school after a year and a half of home schooling and things were not so bad at that time. I had friends, a couple of whom were gay or bi-sexual and the rest were very accepting and supporting. I remember being called a dyke sometime in 9th grade and one of my female friends kneed the guy in the groin. In 10th grade there were more gay girls and guys, especially sense I hung out with the theater crowd a lot.*** Ironic, since I can't act right? We had a lot of fun challenging the status quo and we tried to get a gay-straight alliance started at our school, but I don't think it was very successful. I sat on girl's laps at lunch and got reprimanded for not being more "lady-like" when we played tag at lunch or wrestled in the courtyard before school.

Things didn't get bad really until half-way through 10th grade**** when my parents moved our family to Alma, Arkansas and I switched to high school in the middle of redneck-ville. *cue banjos*

Okay, it wasn't that bad, but it was a small town with all the small town, Bible belt mentalities that entailed. I wasn't too worried though, I had never been the most popular kid, but I never had trouble making a few good friends and I figured "hey, even without friends at this new school I have all my old friends, things will be fine."

I was wrong, wrong, wrong...so many types of wrong.

See, I was naive. I had gotten away with being open with my friends about my sexuality and I forgot that the people who were my new "friends" at Alma weren't as loyal as my other friends. And my old friends kind of...forgot about me. I've forgiven them since then for that, but it hurt at the time.

I can't remember the exact date, but it was less than 2 weeks after I started going to the school that we had a field trip to University of Arkansas: Fort Smith to talk about college planning. After the trip we were taken back to Alma and told to wait in the cafeteria until the bell rang and we could go back to class. We all sat around and talked, but I was the new kids...no one to talk to. A girl who had chatted with me on the tour came and sat down and we started talking. We had a lot in common and I thought I was making a friend, didn't realize I was talking to biggest loudmouth and gossip at the school who was just looking for new fodder for the rumor mill.

In fairly short order she made me feel comfortable and I spilled a lot of secrets. Told her I was agnostic, told her I was bi-sexual, basically told her everything I wanted to keep secret...all because she said our conversation was "just between friends" and I thought I could believe her.

I know that was a Friday, because when I came to school on Monday...everything had changed.

It wasn't violent, I wasn't slammed into lockers or beat up behind the gym. Girls are mostly exempt from that, regardless of sexual orientation I think. If a guy hit a girl he would be in serious shit, even if she was an "abomination" and girls have a far more insidious way of tormenting other girls.

I was an outcast and I was verbally abused. I was called a dyke, told I was going to hell and accosted in class. My grades went down and teachers refused to notice how I was treated or intervene as they should have. A couple of people were still nice to me, my AP history teacher for one, who knew I was smart and that was all she cared about. There was a girl in my math class who was an extremely closeted wiccan and bi-sexual who was nice to me, but not enough to draw attention to our friendship. I didn't have friends, I had people that tolerated conversations with me in class. I had been eating lunch with a group of girls who now made a point of bringing Bibles to lunch and praying and asking me to go to church...so I stopped eating lunch. I would grab a granola bar and hide in the library for lunch.

I was having a particularly hard time one day when I discovered cutting. It gave me power over my life in some small way and I thought that was the only way to get it. I stopped eating almost entirely at lunch and would, instead, disappear into the bathroom and cut at lunch. Covering the bandages with a shirt cuff or watch band when the bell rang I would go to class and no one ever seemed to notice. Once my friend in math class asked about the bandage I had on and I told her my cat scratched me, I could tell she knew I was lying, but she never asked again and oh how I wish she had.

For months it was like that and at some point I lost all hope of anything ever getting better. I just knew it couldn't and I knew I COULD NOT go through 2 more years at that school.

My mother was late to pick me up from school one day, the day we had family portraits scheduled and I had a full and total breakdown in the parking lot across from the school. I curled up against a tree and cried for over an hour. I fully believed that my family didn't want me and they had decided to get the family portrait without me. It was a ridiculous idea and I know that now, but at that point in my life with all this depression weighing me down and a stressful job as well...I was just tired. My mom did show up eventually, I don't remember why she was late, but we made it to our portrait appointment even after taking me home to change and wash my face. I have a copy of the photo and my eyes are still red in it...

At that point I was just...done.

And I know this is supposed to be about it getting better, but you have to see the bottom before things can start looking up.

I remember there was a day when I wasn't working and wasn't in school, but I had the house to myself, I can't remember for the life of me why, but I was at the end of the rope. That is what I remember most clearly about that day. I also remember that I sat down in my bathroom and swallowed half a bottle of pain killers and just hoped it would end.

I can't explain why, but my stomach was smarter than I was. I ended up puking for about half an hour, purging myself of the thing that could have killed me. I crawled into my bed and ended up not going to work or school the next day because my mother thought I had a stomach virus and I let her believe it.

I knew I couldn't do that again and I was depressed still, but I'm a stubborn bitch when I want to be and I wanted to prove that I was better than all those ass-holes at my school so I was going to fucking survive!

It wasn't too many months later that my mother said that our family was moving to Arizona. There were not enough jobs in Arkansas and our family was broke as hell. So we packed up and moved that summer and I switched schools.

And it did get better, even though I thought it couldn't.

I mean, I'm bi-polar and depressed so I've had bad times, but never as bad as when I lived in Alma or even Fort Smith.

But I have great friends, friends who accepted my sexuality as a matter of course and two schools (junior year and then senior year where different schools) where I was fairly open about liking girls and I don't think anyone ever judged me for it even once. It was a very weird feeling for me.

(I might mention that my principal in 12th grade was bat-shit insane and made racist and homophobic comments at the drop of a hat, as well as being an affront to grammar, literature, history and word usage even on the best of days. We mostly just made fun of him behind his back though and that made it okay since I and my friends, and a couple of teachers, banded together so none of us were too stressed by the PHP*****)

Not only did I have that, but there was just this feeling of freedom when I moved. I mean, I didn't exactly have a thriving dating life, but I felt like I could because I wouldn't afraid of being beaten up by some homophobe in a dark alley-way because they saw me kiss my girlfriend.

And now...now I have a job, I'm trying to publish a book (with about the amount of success you would expect) and I have a great apartment in a great part of town. I'm independent, I'm out to my parents (who are just ignoring it, but not angry or anything) and things are looking up!

Just keep this in mind, I would have lost a lot if I hadn't thrown up those pills. I would have lost the chance to prove people wrong, to prove to them that there is NOTHING wrong with being gay, prove that I'm a good person, prove that I can be successful and to prove that I can fall in love.

Don't give them a chance to be right. Them being the ubiquitous 'them' that tell us we are wrong, we are going to hell, we aren't capable of real love. You die and you let them win and that's one thing that you just can't do. You have to fight because that's what it takes to survive, but remember...you are not alone. I've been where you are and, one day, you'll be where I am...or where Neil Patrick Harris is or Anthony Rapp or any of the countless gay and lesbian actors, writers, singers, and politicians are.

And even if you only get to where I am, a writer with no name and a very unfrequented blog...well you'll be fabulous then too, because you won and it doesn't matter if you are famous or skilled at anything, because you will find love and that makes everything better.

Hope is alive and it never dies, even if it hibernates for a while sometimes.

*Admittedly I was also competing regardless of the fact that I clearly had to flu, but still...puking, not good.
**Okay, if no one gets that joke I'll feel old on top of rambling.
***Look, I know I'm enforcing a stereotype, but most gay people in Arkansas are a walking stereotype okay? At least I never got into the habit of dressing like a lumberjack or cutting my hair like a boy.
****Might point out that I lost my best friend in 10th grade as well. I was going through a lot and she was freakin' insane and I couldn't deal with her shit as well as mine, but losing her was hard as hell for me. We had been together since kindergarten.
*****PHP = Pointy Haired Principal...y'know like the boss in Dilbert? Tell me you got that one.

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