For a long time (over 10 years), my historical narrative skipped from
fall of 1997 to fall of 1998 (fall of 8th grade to fall of 9th grade,
for reference). Spring of 1998, the concluding term of my 8th grade
year, didn’t happen. I did not think about it, I did not care to
remember anything that happened that semester, I actively refused to
admit that it existed.
I was a weird kid, I admit that: awkward, too shy for my own good (and
social-wellbeing), ugly and skinny-chubby in that A Rush of Estrogen
to the Hips kind of way, and, worst of all, admittedly naive with my
own sexuality… not to mention the sexual temperature of the average
American eighth grader. I knew the words they were using when they
called me “lesbo” and “homo”, and I knew they were “scary”, but I
didn’t know why they were so very wrong.
8th grade had started out badly… and I was already on the outs with
the romantic mores of my class, after an “incident” earlier in the
year in which I was held heretic for saying that I “didn’t care” that
the jock who announced that he was “dating me” on Monday made a
similarly dramatic production of “breaking up with me” on Tuesday.
Evidently I was supposed to care about this. The only thing this
one-day affair did for me was get me yelled at in band, because he
wouldn’t leave me alone, and so I did not care that Football Jock
#56749 was no longer interested in humiliating me. However, this
situation was not seen similarly by the rest of the girls (and boys)
in my class. I’d thought that this social indignation and confusion
was bad, as my modus operandi by that time was to stay as invisible as
possible to avoid any peer-group boat-rocking. It was about to get
It had all started so clumsily (literally), in the middle of every
girl’s worst nightmare: gym class. We were playing basketball and as
anyone who’s ever seen me attempt to play a ball-based sport can
attest, I am not the most elegant of apes. I had no natural talent for
this and even less interest, which meant that I generally skulked
along the edges of the court and ran around just enough to make it
look like I was doing something.
Somehow, in the midst of this skulking, the action on the court
managed to end up in my general vicinity and one of the other girls
backed into me. Into my hands. She yelled something about “that bitch”
touching her ass, and I cringed into a corner and apologized… until
the gym teacher told me to get back on the court. A few minutes later,
the same girl ended up backing into me again. Again, my hands came up
to block her. Again, they ended up on what she construed to be her ass
(I do not remember this).
From there, it went downhill. By the end of the class period, thanks
to loud mouths and us all being 8th grade girls, I went from being the
slightly-weird, clumsy kid who most people just ignored to being a
sexual deviant who liked to grope her female classmates. By the end of
the day, I was a practicing lesbian who had a “thing” for certain
members of my class (watch out!).
The next few months played out these accusations. I was no longer
allowed to change in the locker rooms with my peers, but as was
explained to me by one of the alpha-girls in my class, I should dress
and undress in the bathrooms, so as to protect everyone from my
deviant eyes. The shrieking taunts of “lesbian” and “pervert” whenever
I let my eyes linger too long on another girl in classroom
conversation. Sly abuse from girls, in whispers and lies; boys’
lascivious challenges and affronts. Empty lunchroom tables and
‘accidental’ kicks as I sat in corners trying to read. I learned
quickly that anything I said or did would be held against me; this
included things like “hi” and “I like your shoes”.
At some point, a teacher pulled me aside and asked me, quite
seriously, if I understood what was going on: if I knew what “lesbian”
meant. Of course I did. I just didn’t understand why it was so evil. I
knew my sexuality was not conventionally straight, but I’d read enough
that I didn’t think it was WRONG, in that all-caps, social-pariah,
go-to-Hell-do-not-collect-$200 kind of way. But I was learning. I was
learning very quickly that being un-straight was very, very wrong.
I thought about killing myself a lot that term. Every lunch hour,
unable to eat in the cafeteria, hungry and trying to make myself as
small as possible in a dead-end hallway; every night, coming home and
lying to my parents about how well school was going; every morning,
knowing that the bus was just bearing me in to another 9 hours of
humiliation. I thought about killing myself.
And it wasn’t even for something I was. Not overtly. I now consider
myself to be heteronormatively bisexual… but not then. I didn’t
consider myself sexual at all, then. I knew the words and I knew the
feelings (towards both girls and boys), but not in a way that was in
any way actionable. so perhaps it is overwrought of me to even attempt
to relate to the recent media spate of gay-bashing-related teen
suicides. But it’s hard. It’s really hard.
But it does get better. It does. And maybe my life would have been
different if not for that semester. Maybe not. But it happened, it
hurt like hell, and I lived. It’s not immediate — sometimes it takes
years or many miles — but some day, some wonderful day, you look back
and think “it has gotten better”. That, that moment, makes it all
worth it. You have arrived.