Wednesday, October 06, 2010

It Gets Better

I've had this "on deck" ready to go, a few times already and pulled it. At times this feels a little too much to share. Also I do not want any one of my friends or family to feel that they have in any way failed me. So I am adding this disclaimer: We all did the best we could with the information we had. Today we have more information and we do better. I am the person I am today because the experiences of my past have molded who I am today. And I am pretty fucking awesome today.

There have been recent stories in the media about gay youth who have taken their lives. It's great that finally some light is being shone on this issue. It's something that has been going on for some time, and will continue after the media spotlight has moved on. There is a great organization called The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386) that is there for anyone having trouble 24 hours a day.

Dan Savage recently started an online youtube channel called "It Get's Better Project" where he has invited people who have survived bullying in school to share their stories of how life gets better once you leave school and start your adult life.

I'm not one for recording myself on camera so I may be skipping out on that task. But let me tell you some of my story.

I was a fun kid. I was popular in grade school. I had a lot of friends and we played all over the neighborhood.
That's me happy and popular in grade 4.

But grade school ends, suddenly you are sent to middle school where five different grade schools are mixed together and new friendships are made and new cliques are formed. Everyone is jockeying for social position and where there is a top of the heap, there is always a bottom.

Some of my old friends from grade school fell away and I had fewer friends. Older kids saw me as perhaps weak and tried to pick on me. I broke my arm at my best friend's house and we stopped hanging out after that. A 6th grade bully tried to pick on me when I had my arm in a cast and in a moment of fight or flight I took my elbow cast and knocked the wind out of him, sending him to the ground and told him I was gonna kick him in the nuts if he didn't swear to leave me alone for the rest of my life. It worked. I gained some breathing space.
This is me in grade 6. Looking at it today, I think I look kinda dead in the eyes.

But kids are really intuitive and whatever was different about me was apparent. I felt very isolated and alone. I hated my life. I hated school. I was twelve and I was going to be stuck with these assholes and this bullshit for another 7 years. 7 years was more than half my life so far! To a 12 year old that looked insurmountable. And I thought why bother?

I never had a plan to kill myself, but I thought about ways to do it. Where to do it. When to do it. And then one day I stopped and thought, "If I killed myself, the bullies win and I lose. I lose everything and they just go on." And I decided I wanted to win more than I wanted to lose. So at 12 years old I promised myself that I would NEVER commit suicide. NEVER. I made an oath to myself and since I am typing this right now, clearly it stuck.

My mom and I have talked about this in the last year. I had a few years back called my parents when I had a nephew visiting. He had been a handful. I knew I was even worse as a kid. I called my parents and told them "Thanks for letting me live. I know you probably wanted to kill me." To may parents credit, they very honestly replied, "Oh yes, you were terrible! But look how nice you turned out!" Then just last year, my mother called after attending a funeral of someone who had taken his life and said to me, "Do you remember when you called to thank us for letting you live? Well, I called to thank you for staying alive. I used to worry about you so much and I know you went though a lot of tough times. Thank you. Thank you for staying alive."

People think some kids are too young to know about sex or drugs or death at such a young age. I can tell you that at 12 a kid already knows those things exist. It becomes a question of do you fill the void with correct information, or let the child's imagination fill in the blanks? I didn't know how how to say what was happening to me. I didn't understand it. All my questions went inward and stayed there.

I missed a lot of school the last year of middle school (grade 8) it was too much for me to bear. I hated it so much. I remember when I had to fill out my proposed schedule for Freshman year in high school, while still in grade 8 in middle school. I put down that I wanted to take French. My school counselor literally laughed in my face and said, "How can you possibly take French when you are currently failing English?"

I'm pretty certain I made a smart ass comment about being able to speak English better than she could and how would she know anything about me other than my attendance record, which is clearly what I was being graded on and not my skills." Then I was sent to detention and my mother was called in.

God bless my mother. She arrived in armor ready to do battle. I remember sitting outside the office and hearing snippets of the conversation that ensued. I remember my mother taking my side 110% and (in my mind) putting that counselor bitch in her place. Looking back, I'm probably a little far off. My mother is indeed a warrior for her children, but she knows how to say things in the nicest way. I do know that when we left the office, my mother had reorganized the rest of my school year to attend English class for half periods and work in the school office the other half of the period to keep my mind engaged. Apparently I had been placed in the "slow skills" English class for 8th grade because I had missed the placement test day in Grade 7. (I would have skipped that day because I hated all the bullies at school). I also had my Freshmen year schedule all worked out and I would be taking French. Once again, THANKS MOM! (Or should I say MERCI!)

I made it through middle school and high school looked like a great opportunity to start fresh. I made new friends in the first week. I actually attended school and I had a 3.4 GPA. By senior year I would have a 1.5 GPA and have missed one third of that school year.

I was trying to come up with one great incident that would sum up how mush it sucked to be "other" in school. Here's a funny thing, with time, it's all faded. There is a general feeling of "high school sucked" and people were definitely shitty. But I had a great circle of friends and though I never defined what made me different, they were never less than supportive.

The pecking order sucks. Being different sucks (of course now, being different and creative is how I make a lot of money). I sank into a deep depression where I watched TV all night and slept all day. I would see my friends from school when I would pick them up and drive them to school to drop them off to start their day, then drive home and sleep claiming I had a stomach ache. I did not graduate from high school.

My mom came to my rescue and had meetings with the superintendent of schools and the president of the school board. She challenged them to explain how I could take a Shakespeare class at the community college and pass with a B, but fail remedial English. She went to bat for me and encouraged me to get into college based on entrance exam scores and not my high school transcripts.

I went to college and found out there was a whole different world waiting out there. I met my first boyfriend in college. At that nice Quaker college both of us nice christian boys attended.

I came out to my siblings and friends when I was 21 (can you say "late bloomer?) It would take me little longer to come out to my mom (26), and I was about 38 before I said "the words" to my dad.
The only way you'll ever see me picking up chicks.

I was out (ish), proud and popular. I found the 4th grader that I had left behind and realized that I was in charge of my life. Which by the way, is quite a scary concept.

I've watched a few of the "It Get's Better Project" videos and many of them mention how exciting and glamorous their lives have become and let me say up front, MY LIFE IS GLAMOROUS TOO. But when I stop to think about what makes my life so much better than it ever was and better than I ever thought it could be, it is my friends, my family and my husband.
On our wedding day.

When Lyle and I got married 6 years ago, this is what I wrote for the program we had at the wedding:
It's had to explain to some people what you go through when you come out as gay to your friends and family. For me it was agonizing. Trying to deny so many feelings because they didn't go with the picture of my future that I had in my head. Ultimately I had to change the picture in my head to match my feelings.

One of the things I told myself I would never be able to have is the perfect house with the picket fence, children, a spouse or a wedding.

Well I've got a house with a picket fence.

I get phone calls on Father's Day AND Mother's Day from my "children".

Lyle and I have been together fifteen years (21 now).

And today I finally get my wedding.

Thank you to the government of Canada. Thank you to our friends who make our lives so much richer than I could imagine. Thank you to Lyle's family who make me so very welcome and comfortable. Thank you to my family who return the favor to Lyle.

And thank you to Lyle, because among so many other things, you built the picket fence.

It's not the trips, it's not the celebrities, it's not the shopping or how fabulous I look compared to some of my former classmates. What makes my life "better" is the boring day to day stuff. Sitting at home with our dogs. Looking froward to Lyle coming home and having dinner together. It's knowing in my heart that I am loved by my family, friends and husband for EXACTLY who I am because I have been honest with them and showed the real me. It's knowing at my core that I am the best person I can be and that I have an amazing future ahead of me.

There is a moment from our wedding that still makes me cry when I think about it. My dad called me over and asked me if that piece of paper in my had (the wedding license) was the piece of paper that I thought I needed so damn badly that I dragged him all the way to Vancouver for it? I told him, yes it was. And he said, "Well, are you finally happy?" And I said, yes I was. And he pulled me into a big hug and said, "Well that's all I ever wanted for you." And we both cried.

What would I say to my 12 year old self? Would I say it gets better? Hell yes I would. I would also tell him to do exactly what he is about to do because he makes an amazing me in the future. That whatever he is about to go through, I can't spare him the pain, but that pain will make him a person with empathy. A person who strives to see more than one side of an issue. A person who will love and be loved. Stay the course, younger me, and you will get everything that you are dreaming of and more, especially Paris.


Anonymous said...

As I am sitting at my desk crying while I read this I cannot tell you how lucky I, as your cousin, and all of us who know you and love you are lucky to have YOU in our lives. I know we only recently found each other, but my life is already richer and better because you (and Lyle) are in it. I brag to friends and co-workers about my totally cool cousin who has this awesome outlook on life, love and fashion. I tell them even at my age (38) I want to grow up and be like you (besides the both liking boys part - ha ha). I have read about the suicides and with each death I send up a silent thanks that you didn't give into what I suspected you went through. I am glad you wrote this. Not only are you proof that it does get better and you can have your dreams, but you are an inspiration to many of us and in a lot of ways my hero.

Cheryl said...

Voila. Je taime. Le vous inspiracion.

I hope I said it correctly.

Christopher said...

Beautiful post, my friend!

jason said...

such a wonderful post!

Jules said...

Sweetie... do you mind if I link to this on my blog? It is completely gorgeous and I want more of the world to see it, feel it... cry like I am... smile like I did... to know the wonderful you!! I won't do it without your permission, so I'll check back here in a day or two and see if I've received your blessings to do that. xo

Michael Guy said...

Thank you for sharing this.

I wish my 14-year old self could have known your 14-year old self...we would have been best buds!

Beautiful post, Jim.

Jim said...

Jules, forward along with my blessing.

I think the issue of bullying and feeling helpless isn't just for gay and lesbian kids. It's for anyone who is perceived by "the masses" as "different".