Glee got me thinking tonight. It got me thinking about hate.
I had like the anti-high school high school experience. Not “anti” like “against”. More like “anti” like “antimatter”. I hibernated. That’s the way I think of it. I put my head down and woke up on the first day of university.
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I had all the self-awareness of a seahorse when I was fourteen. I don’t know why I hibernated, but I did. I had some friends, but not close ones*. I barely dated. I was super active in the youth group but that was like a separate world to me.
But there was one week. One week when the ground thawed and all the high school crap seeped in. I was seventeen years old, accepted to college, impatiently waiting to get the hell out, just like everyone else. For one week in the spring of 1994 I experienced four years’ worth of full-on pain.
My cousin was dying. We’d known he was sick, but there were a lot of hushed conversations about it. More speculation than frankness. I sat one night with my parents and asked if he had AIDS. They said he did, but it wasn’t to be told. And my aunt, especially, wasn’t to know I knew. She thought of me as a child. It was too much for me.
I freaked out. If I could put together how sick he was, and from what, and how he got it, damned if I was going to accept being thought of as a child.
I couldn’t sleep at night. I’d doze in an uncomfortable chair in the school library.
That semester I was taking a sociology class that made me want to poke my own eyes out. The teacher was so smart, but the other students were freaking idiots. We could have all learned things, but instead we collectively rolled our eyes and popped our gum. The teacher never gave up, though. And one day that happened to be during my week of insomnia and angst, he decided to make a point.
We were learning about deviant behaviour. As our textbook told us, as far as sociology is concerned “deviant” bears no value judgment, it just means the behaviour isn’t performed by the majority of people.
And the example our dear, well-meaning teacher gave was homosexuality. In his mind, homosexuality isn’t bad, it’s just that the majority of people are straight.
Picture me sitting across from the biggest asshole I’ve ever known. His name was Justin. He was a mean kid and my only run-in with him was in t-minus two minutes.
Justin goes nuts. I can’t remember what he said, but it was homophobic and it was passionate. Hateful. Cruel and mean and I hadn’t slept in a week.
So I interrupted him. I asked him what if I were gay. Would he still say those things, knowing he was saying them to a gay person?
That’s when everything stopped. He stopped. He stared at me and I had no idea what was going on. I heard the blood rushing in my head.
And then a whisper from somewhere behind me. From one of the eye-rolling girls. “Oh my god. She’s gay. That explains it.” More whispers.
I remember walking out of that room and feeling such an overwhelming number of emotions simultaneously that I may have stumbled. I have no memory of that night. I don’t remember if I talked to my parents. I don’t remember if I slept. But I do remember having the suffocating feeling that I couldn’t go back to that school. I had visions of every student pointing and staring. Nobody would talk to me. I’d go from being a benignly awkward A-student to being a reviled freak.
But those thoughts were nothing. The part that broke me was knowing it wasn’t true. I wasn’t gay. But it didn’t matter. I couldn’t say so, because if there’s nothing wrong with being gay, why should I care if people thought it of me? I was misunderstood and I was lost and the injustice was so massive that I can barely put words to it even now.
And honestly, I don’t remember what I did. I don’t remember if there were stares the next morning. I don’t remember if I even talked to any of my peers about it at all. All I remember is that I finished the year just fine. I eventually slept. I came out of my years-long hibernation the first day of college. I buzzed my head in the fall of 1997 and then I went to an Indigo Girls concert and many of my friends thought I was coming out, and they loved me and I loved them and I was still straight.
I’m straight, and I’ve experienced crushing homophobia. And I cry every damn time they address it on Glee because we didn’t have Glee when I was in high school. And I wish with all my heart that no one ever has to feel what I felt. And I know that every day people do.
And it breaks my heart.
* ETA: I was exhausted and emotional when I wrote this, and I’m embarrassed to correct myself – I actually did have a couple of very close friends in high school who were also youth group friends, which is why I just didn’t think of them. My forgetting of them in the heat of this post doesn’t diminish how important they were to me then, or now.