I saw this video and had tears in my eyes when it was over. This is very much my story. I, too, grew up in the Bible Belt. I’m not sure what part of Alabama he grew up in, but I grew up in a rural area in the southern part of Alabama. Everyone but me seemed to know I was gay. I got called faggot, queer, sissy, gay, etc., all before I knew what any of it meant. People mocked me for my voice and mannerisms. I couldn’t do much about my voice, but I did change my mannerisms to be less “effeminate” in the bullies’ eyes. Those bullies made it all sound like it was the worst thing in the world to be gay, and I “knew” I didn’t want to be gay. It was unthinkable, and no matter what I did, the bullying did not stop until I went away to college. It took me years to accept myself. Just like him, this was in the 1990s. I also was in high school from 1992-1996. While he found theater and it saved his life, I found the internet and began researching, which saved my life. I finally had access to some of the answers I so desperately needed. This blog has also helped me to “find” myself.
The story of my sophomore year was a bit different from his. My best friend was a girl. (She’s now a Trump loving Republican, and we no longer speak.) But back then she was my cover in a way. I guess she was my “beard,” but it really didn’t seem to change anyone’s perceptions of me. I was still the intelligent, effeminate teenager whose most of his friends were girls, but never his girlfriend. Instead of hiding my friendship, I tried to hide my true self using that friendship. However, during that sophomore year when I was 16, the bullying got so bad, I took a handful of pills. I’d been on Ativan for my migraines. The doctor had taken me off of them, but I still had part of a bottle. I took all I had left hoping this would end my misery. Thankfully, it wasn’t enough for an overdose, and I just became violently ill.
I hated high school, just like I’d hated middle school. I hated all my years at that small private school in Alabama. I remember in kindergarten, my teacher forced me to take a toy truck to the playground and play with the other boys. I preferred to play with the girls. All of this came together to change who I was. I was a well-behaved kid at school, I was not a nice kid to my parents at home. I backtalked a lot and was constantly in trouble for it. I hated my dad’s rule of “Do as I say, not as I do.” At one point, my parents wanted to send me away to a boarding school. I wanted to find one for the academics and opportunities it might provide, and they wanted me out of their hair. They didn’t want to send me to a school for kids with severe behavioral problems, and I didn’t want to go to a military school. We did a bit of research into boarding schools. I wanted to be sent to an all-boys school, which in hindsight would probably had been just as bad as what I was going through. Eventually, they figured out that I wanted to be sent away, and they dropped the idea.
I have struggled much of my life with my sexuality. I’d say it could be one of the reasons for my migraines, but I’ve had migraines my whole life, even before I started school. I have had some miserable periods in my life. College and graduate school were different, but I always struggled with having enough money during those years. I was the typical poor college student, which added to my anxiety. Then, as a high school teacher, I seemed to hit rock bottom. I am a good teacher, but I was teaching spoiled rich kids who made my behavioral issues in high school seem minor. I was a good kid except when alone with my parents. My students were hateful, disobedient, and lazy, and I felt like I was more of a babysitter than a teacher. My bad temper came out a lot more than I’d have wanted. I wish I could have been calmer when dealing with them, but they often brought me to the brink. Teaching at a private school was by far the most difficult and worst job I’ve ever had. I was not cut out for teaching secondary school. I always did much better teaching college.
Only in the last few years have I begun to fully accept myself. It took moving 1,400 miles away to a mostly solid blue state to be happy, and to get a fairly decent paying job. Mostly these days, I am happy. I do struggle with some health issues (chronic migraines, diabetes, my weight, my brittle teeth), but even those seem to be getting under control. The Botox treatments seem to be working; my diabetes seems to be under control; and I’ve been losing weight, though I still have more weight I need to lose. My teeth are still a work in progress (I have to go to the dentist for a broken tooth this morning), but hopefully, things will get better in the dental department as well.
The most important thing is that I have accept who I am, and I am proud of my sexuality. Yes, I still have to be in the closet when I go home in an effort to appease my family, but one day, I hope and pray this too shall pass. I live my life as an out gay man here in Vermont, and I am unapologetically gay. Vermont has laws protecting gay people from discrimination, and the university I work for has anti-discrimination policies. I don’t have to put up with homophobia here. It’s not perfect, and I’m still getting comfortable in my own skin, but it has gotten better. Isn’t that what we all hope for when dealing with our sexuality?
The It Gets Better Project is a nonprofit organization with a mission to uplift, empower, and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth around the globe.
June 7th, 2021 at 9:23 pm
Reading your story reminded me that I, too, took a bunch of pills when I was 16 because the bullying got so bad. I just didn’t want to live anymore. Thanks for sharing, as I know sometimes it is hard to go down memory lane when these are the memories.
June 7th, 2021 at 9:25 pm
It is hard, but I tell my story so other people can know they are not alone. I felt so alone back then while trying to figure out who I was, and I wish I’d had someone to connect to.
June 12th, 2021 at 11:43 pm
Thank you for sharing Joe. I, too, was bullied most of the way through school and while less than masculine no one ever gave me a hard time for being gay though I was not out of the closet either. I graduated high school in 1974 when being gay was not popular either. I’ve got about eight left feet as I can not kick, catch or throw a ball. I was the skinny merinck which was always majorly embarrassing but not skinny anymore. I’ve had my share of mental health challenges as well though meds and therapy have done a very good job.
June 13th, 2021 at 11:41 am
Joe, I’ve read your blog over the years, and I’ve come close to posting. Today, I thought it was a must. I was so moved by your story and the video. Ive been in the closet for all of my 50 years. I also grew up in the rural deep South. I’m a professor at a local community college. I was married at a young age, during college, when I should have been exploring my sexuality more. But at the time, it was much harder to find other gay guys. There were a couple of gay bars in our university town, but I was always so afraid to go to them. I did eventually go with a couple of my girlfriends and I felt like “finally!” Some of my friends were kinda suspicious of my behavior. It was mainly my girlfriends. They would catch me checking their boyfriends out, then tease me saying “you’re gay aren’t you?” Because of this, I started putting on a macho facade, sleeping with a lot of different women, until I met my now wife. I ended up getting married, having kids and moved on with life. But my urge to be with men has never left. I feel like it’s gotten stronger in the past few years. I crave a man’s touch, to feel a hard body, kiss his lips. But I’m sure I’ll never come out. I love reading your blog, it keeps me sane. Please don’t ever stop writing!
June 13th, 2021 at 12:06 pm
Thank you. I’m glad you like the blog, and I wish you the best. I’ve met many gay men in my life who came out later in life. Not all of them have great relationships with their ex-wives, but some do. All that I have known still have good relationships with their children though. There is still hope, but if nothing else, I’m glad my blog keeps you sane.