By Ross Wade, Elon Staff
I hated middle school. Really hated it.
I was fat, had bad skin, a bad stutter, and was a total sissy (which was a nice way of saying “that fat kid is so gay”). Did I mention all my friends were black girls? I don’t know why they liked me…but they thought I was HILARIOUS, and I worshipped them for that.
Did I mention my entire family consisted of conservative Christians? Church on Sundays, no HBO watchin’, gay = abomination Christians? I’m sure they sensed my gayness early on…my entire childhood I begged for Cabbage Patch Kids with “cornsilk hair” and Barbie dolls…and my mom, because she loved me, provided them to me.
Sixth grade. I had a “sexy dream” about this boy in my class. I was devastated. I knew this could only mean one thing: sexy boy dream + passion for Cabbage Patch Kids with cornsilk hair + the dance piece I choreographed to White Lion’s “When the Children Cry” = gay abomination going to hell!
Oprah confirmed this. A couple of weeks later I was watching one of her shows on gay teens. I heard their stories. I understood their stories. I remember watching the show and holding my breath so I wouldn’t cry and praying my sexy boy dreams would go away. I wished I was dead. I literally wished I would die in the night so I would not shame God or my parents. I didn’t want my dad to be embarrassed or hate me. I didn’t want to be a sissy or call attention to myself. I no longer wanted to be me. I wanted to be my thin, athletic, handsome, straight brother (yep…I even had a “perfect brother” to make me feel extra shitty).
I learned to act “butch” and stay quiet. Keep in mind my version of butch is not very…butch. My “keep under the radar” strategy consisted of theatre and art camps…and hanging out with sassy black girls. I prayed every night to wake up straight, and even put up posters of Alyssa Milano and Tiffany (I worshiped her too!) to remind my parents I was totally straight, and “into the ladies”. I laid low, as low as I could, and made it through middle school. My friends taught me I was funny, and I was smart enough to capitalize on that…and funny worked really well for me in high school. In college being funny was still working for me, I started to accept myself…I started to come out to folks and had support from friends, faculty, and staff (this is why I LOVE college and student development so much). I made friends. I created my own family…and distanced myself from my real family.
The thing about being gay and keeping secrets from your family is that you deny them the chance of loving you for who you are and being your ally. For years I distanced myself from family, because I didn’t want to get close and then have them abandon me (which happens so often with LGBTQ kids). What I didn’t realize is that they felt abandoned. They wondered why I didn’t love them. I did love them…I was just too scared to let them really see me.
One afternoon in college I decided to call my mom and tell her I was coming home to tell her something important. I drove from Greenville, NC to Durham, NC…puking twice on the way. I sat down with my mom and told her I was gay. Her response? “I know.” We talked. We told each other we loved each other and “agreed to disagree” on a couple of religious points. I was still her son. What a relief. I wish it was this easy for every queer kid.
Mom has changed a bit since then. We still agree to disagree, but she won’t take shit from anyone about me being gay. “That’s between my son and God,” she says. She’s right I guess…even though I’m still reconciling the whole gay and religion thing.
I learned through that experience that change starts with the telling of stories. Before folks can understand a movement or a cause, they need to understand (and care about) the people connected to that cause. That is the intended purpose for the “queErLON blog”…my own little (as a representative of Elon’s LGBTQ Center) solution to offer Elon University as we move toward attaining true diversity on campus.