The first thing I learned in middle school was to never wear shorts that stop above the knee, that’s gay. The second thing I learned was to not be gay. It’s different for everyone, but for me in particular, I knew in fourth grade.
What does matter is that I knew. And no one else did.
(Until they did.)
Being closeted is an incredibly unique experience. There’s a spectrum of privilege involved, but mostly everyone is being accused of being something they don’t initially want to be. For me, these instances happened often. I’d be with a friend and a homophobic bully would accuse me of being gay. You’re a faggot. You’re so gay. My heart would race, I felt exposed, and a friend (usually) defended me.
We all moved on, and the cycle restarted.
Of all the times this happened, I only really remember one. I don’t know why it sticks out to me, maybe because of the friendship it created, but it really set into motion the kind of person I am today. As always, I collided with another bully, he called me a faggot, and my friend defended me- nothing out of the ordinary. But this time, the defense didn’t stop. My friend didn’t just comfort me in the moment, she continued to for years. Her defenses weren’t just a desperate attempt to end the awkward situation and return back to the normalcy of Negaunee High School life. She didn’t neatly tuck my issues away and pretend everything was fine, she dove in head first. She didn’t treat me as token gay friend, but as an actual human being. She didn’t glamorize my sexuality; she didn’t make it my defining feature. She wrote me endearing letters of encouragement when I really needed them and made sure I knew that, even if I was gay, who honestly cares?
This was the first time, regardless of my rumored sexuality, that I was taken seriously. And that’s a big deal for someone who was 15 (and wore XL cargo shorts). That moment was the tipping point, where I started to move from fearing homosexuality to embracing it.
The memories of bullying are starting to fade, thankfully. I only remember a small fraction of the remarks the alpha males said to me, but these moments of true compassion shine above all else. I am forever grateful to have those in my life who instead of comforting me with a “they’re wrong” instead said “don’t listen to those who talk to you as if you are their equal, when in reality you are, and always will be above them.”
-Zach Carlson, Guest Blogger