I was such a gregarious child. I could walk up to anyone – child or adult – and strike up a
conversation. My parents were painfully shy and somewhat antisocial, so I have NO clue how I
landed in their laps.
I really miss that version of myself.
For a suburban kid growing up in the 70s, I was a fairly unusual child, wise for my years and
often more comfortable with adults. While other kids were roaming the streets, playing kick the can or tag, I was the allergy-ridden kid, looking out the window and watching from the sidelines as they played. I spent sick days stuck inside, watching Bewitched and soap operas. I was reading the newspaper and watching Watergate hearings before I entered first grade!
As the youngest of four, much younger than my other siblings, I was experiencing a lot on my own. By the time I was in grade school, I was navigating a household with five adults, including a chronically ill mother, an alcoholic father, and three very busy older siblings who had no time for baby stuff. And it wasn’t just a case of feeling like a “fourth grade nothing” – I was also really different from any of the other kids I knew. And they knew it, too.
In grade school, I tried to shrug off the differences. Sometimes, I’d make up ridiculous stories to entertain – or confuse – my classmates. But the teasing got more intense, and I became withdrawn. I started to live more and more inside my head, watching the world around me as if it was a movie or TV show, keeping my tormentors – and my life in general – at arm’s length. It wasn’t the healthiest approach, but that coping mechanism seemed to work for a few years.
Until it didn’t.
By high school, I’d hit the trifecta of differences: the smart kid, the fat kid, and the gay kid. My
parents knew something was happening, but none of us had the language or understanding to figure out a pathway forward, and I was not out to anyone in my family. We lived in the so-called “rust belt” and the approach to problems was simple: just put your big boy pants on, and get over it. Got it? But when teasing turned to bullying, I couldn’t get over it, or beyond it.
Abuse from students was one thing, but in my last year of high school, adults in the school –
teachers and yes, even the principals – joined in the fun. I didn’t have any allies, at least no
allies with any power or credibility to push back. I hid for a while and then, when the abuse was at its worst in my senior year, I attempted suicide. Thankfully, I survived. I lived to fight another day. It took me years, but I slowly glued myself, and my life, back together.
Now, in my mid-fifties, I’m filled with gratitude with where my life is today. My husband and I
have been together for 15 years, married for 7, and he’s the light of my life. He makes all the
silly old love songs on the radio make sense.
I’ve been very lucky to have some incredible achievements, and some true healing moments in my life. After a long pause, I was able to return to college and earn my degree. I achieved some success as a writer, and I am so glad my mother saw my first bylines before she died.
I’m here to say that things can, will, and DO get better.
But I’m also here to say that we should recognize not only our triumphs and the blooms of beauty in our present lives, but also our scars. As I get older, I recognize that I will always carry some wounds, or at least the scars they left behind. And as a writer, I know how powerful language is – whether it’s written or spoken, we carry the impact of those words with us for a lifetime.
We often minimize the impact loving encouragement and support can have in someone’s life, but it can be a powerful agent for change and growth. It took me until my early thirties before I had voices in my life that saw the light in me, encouraged me and said, “You can totally do X or Y! Go for it!” I am so grateful for those people and those voices, because for me, that was a transformative moment.
In the quiet of the pandemic, I started to realize that those years of bullying and trauma shaped me in ways I truly wished it hadn’t. Over the course of my life, it’s made me hyper-vigilant about avoiding conflict. So often, when I interact with people, my protective shield kicks in to guard my open heart, and I come across to others as cold or aloof.
Real talk, folks: that trauma’s had an undeniably negative – and measurable – impact on my life, my career and my ability to make and keep friends.
I’m grateful that today, my feet are planted on solid ground. I’m trying to focus on being more present in the moment in my interactions with others. And I try to remember to extend grace to others, wherever they may be on their own journeys.
I celebrate the empowerment that so many LGBTQIA+ people have reclaimed with the term “queer,” but I also hold space for those who remember the utterance of that word as an ugly slur, one that often preceded the impact of a bully’s fist.
For a time, I thought we were past the worst of that old-school bullying and hateful behavior, especially in schools. But the ugliness of so many decisions in the Trump era undid decades of progress. It breaks my heart, and INFURIATES me, that adults – adults that should know better – are once again causing young kids grief and trauma.
Knowledge is power – which is why so many misguided school boards and city councils want to throw roadblocks in the pathway of young LGBTQIA+ kids. Books are being banned, gender-affirmative programs are being banned….and all those old ghosts are showing up in my nightmares again, and perhaps yours too.
A 2022 survey indicated 45 percent of LGBTQ+ youth considered suicide. And a substantial number of young homeless people, especially in the 18-25 age range, are young LGBTQ+ people who were either forced to leave home, or fled an abusive situation with unsupportive family members. Those are heartbreaking statistics, and those members of our community need our help and support. That’s one of the reasons I enthusiastically support the work of The Personal Stories Project. It’s so crucial for organizations that support our community – especially younger LGBTQIA+ kids. Support and encouragement can be transformative – I’m (literally) living proof.
No child should ever have to experience what I did….what many of us did. No child should face verbal or physical abuse, sacrifice hours of their education to avoid bullies or indeed, drop out of sight to stay safe.
Let’s work together to support The Personal Stories Project, and support all the beneficiary
organizations that help kids avoid those roadblocks. We can and must invest in the future – their future, and ours. CLICK HERE to learn more about how you can help us help others. #PersonalStories