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Going Beyond “It Gets Better”

I’ve written before about my friend Charles Perez and his NoShame Project, which is attempting to eradicate the shame around being gay.  While the “It Gets Better” campaign tells people that, in time, their lives will indeed improve, NoShame takes it one step further, insisting that there is no shame in being gay in the first place, and it is the larger world around us we need to change.

The NoShame Project now has a revamped website, and I am happy to be one of its first contributors. Check out my post, below, and the NoShame website. Together, we can make a difference and build a more tolerant world where our differences are seen not as divisive, but as complementary.

The Unlikely Bully – Turning Terror into Triumph

by Kergan Edwards-Stout

I still remember the terror I felt, every time I approached the soccer field. It was junior high, a difficult time for all, but for me, it felt even worse.

I’d always known I was gay. Even in kindergarten, just looking at Jeff Hayward’s smile would make me happy, providing boundless energy which would propel me throughout the day. And I knew, intrinsically, that it was alright to feel this way—to love other boys—as everything about it felt completely natural and unforced.

But in junior high, things changed. What I had seen as natural and good suddenly was being labeled as abnormal—detestable, even. While I caught flak from many, and would dodge the verbal taunts at lunchtime, the worst offenders turned out to be fellow members of my soccer team. You’d think that, as team members wanting to win, Johnny Shea and Mike Trautman would have supported me, but every day I would face a barrage of insults, some veiled, some not, as we sat on the sidelines.

“Faggot” was spit towards me, with the kind of bile and hatred I could both feel and see, plain on their faces. Whispers and dirty looks on a daily basis would continually unnerve me, affecting both my sense of self, as well as my performance on the field. These questions about my masculinity hovered over me, and I would feel physically ill at the thought of another practice or game.

Somehow, however, I survived. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, keeping myself at a distance from all who would harm me. And, as the phrase goes, it did get better.

In high school, while I went on to be active in theatre and academics, Johnny Shea and Mike Trautman continued to rise socially, becoming the big men on campus that I’d always longed to be. In our junior year, Johnny was even voted onto the homecoming king’s court, and as he took to the field, flashing his charming smile, all I could see was the sneer on his lips when he turned and looked my way.

A short time later, during summer break, word came that Johnny had tried to commit suicide and was in a coma. No one knew what had happened, and he eventually returned to school our senior year, but I could sense something in him had changed.

The following summer, I got another call. Johnny had tried again to kill himself, hanging a noose from the rafters in his garage, and had succeeded. He’d also left behind a note, writing that although he did not like girls, he did not want to like boys.

As difficult as it may be to see at the time, our tormentors often have their own issues, to which we are not privy. Whether they are secretly gay, or filled with self-doubt, or are simply taught at a young age to hate, their anger and animosity is fueled not by us, but from something deep within.

I later learned that Johnny’s buddy Mike had a younger brother who came out as gay, and at our high school reunion, Mike sought me out, attempting to make amends for his past actions.

We all grow. We all have the capacity to change. The question becomes, how do we deal with abuse? Do we let our tormentors corrupt us? Do we turn into them? Do we hide? Or do we call out abuse for what it is, and insist that our lives not fall victim to it?

If you are experiencing harassment, in any form, take advantage of the resources in our community. Seek out a counselor or therapist. Find a support group, in person or online. And make sure that you use the opportunity to better yourself and those around you.

Take control. Don’t let the moment define you. Let it be you that defines the moment.

We can be so much better, if only we try.

One Response

  1. Laura

    Those were painful times for any of us who were different.I’m so glad you pulled through and became my friend. Let us work so that no one needs to feel alone and belittled.

    November 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm

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