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We’re All Freaks.

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.

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Kirsten Marie

People often assume that I'm gay because I cut my hair very short. It's amazing how prejudiced people can be.

futuregirl

When I had a shaved head in my twenties I was also a little heavy. In SF, rocking that look automatically gets you labeled as a lesbian. I mostly was ignored, because, hey, what's one more lesbian in San Francisco? That was cool with me, because I was in a no-dating phase anyway.

But one day a car drove by me as I was walking down my block and some guy yelled out the car window in the most hateful voice, “Lesbian.” My blood ran cold. All of the sudden, I realized I could be targeted just for what I looked like (not even who I was!): he could have thrown a bottle at my head; he could have gotten out of the car and kicked my ass; he and his friends could have done a lot of horrible things. It was quite a shock. And now just like you, every time I hear about someone being targeted for who they are (or even, who they aren't) because of a prejudice, it breaks my heart, too.

I only got heckled once. I can't imagine having a difference that's obvious (skin color, for example) where I'd have a lifetime of heckles, side looks, snide remarks, low expectations, pity, hatred, distance, indifference, intolerance … I just can't.

What a world.

DataGoddess

I just had a run-in with my mom this past weekend over the fact that she likes to pretend I'm not bi because I'm married to a man. In coming out and being open about who I am, even though to all the world I look very straight (I wouldn't say normal, because I'm not), I do my damdest to get the point across that queer people can be anyone, are just like everyone else in their hopes and dreams, etc.

Being that open has cost me some high school 'friends' on Facebook, but I stopped caring about that a long time ago. My mom, on the other hand, has cut me to the bone with saying she loves me but ignores the parts of me she doesn't like.

I'm a freak in a lot of ways, I'm fat, intelligent, sarcastic, queer, poly, etc. And I prefer to hang out with people who acknowledge their freakdom, no matter what it is.

modeknit

Once a very unkind person assumed I was gay because, in her words, “Many unattractive women are…” This said at a cocktail party, we were in our 20's.

I'm STILL not able to entirely sort out what sort of “grown up” human would A) Make that connection and B) Say it out loud.

Mel

Okay. Was offended, as my first read was before your footnote appeared. Over it, now.

I never realized that you felt so isolated. Granted, I realize that you're writing this in the context of high school being a separate entity from youth group, but I guess I tend to think of high school as a time period, rather than an actual place. You know what I mean.

Anyway, I think your sociology teacher was the same as my psychology teacher (because I think there was only one for all of the -ology subjects… except biology). Do you remember how I went through that whole “everyone is inherently evil” phase after that class? Remember how I became anti-social and my mom thought I had been brainwashed? Those were the days…

Tanya

What a very thoughtful post. I was a freak/geek/nerd in high school. Though I had several good friends (who were also classed as nerds), I never felt like I fit in and I still don't fit in. But I did have a number of friends who where gay/lesbian and it didn't matter one bit to me because they were misfits just like me. I loved them for not being afraid of who they were and am grateful that they accepted me for the nerdy girl I was.

BTW, I had no idea (just call me clueless) that the IG were lesbians and that a good number of people who listened to them were until a few years ago. I played every single CD they had to DEATH. Perhaps that might be why I had several lesbian friends in college – LOL!

EllieDi

The homophobia, “omg she's gay and that's why she's weird” thing – that happened to me when I was 14-18 in my school, too. I was openly supportive of LGBTQ folks in an all-white, 2000-person town and also had the misfortune to be using that time of my life to sort out if I *was* gay or straight (or something in between). High school is a terrible time for a lot of people, regardless of if they're “deviants” or not. I'm not sure if supportive TV and movies would have helped back then or if they do now. All I know is that exposure like Glee *should* help prevent other teens from facing the horrible pressures of hate from people who don't understand.

SusanSW

I've not experienced this but did have 2 very very scary Anti-Semitic incidents occur when I lived in Florida in the 1980's that just shocked me down to my toes that people could possibly hate another human being that much just because of their religion and perceived prejudice. The kind of hatred that makes you want to lock yourself indoors and never come out again. My heart bleeds for anyone who had or has to go through this kind of racial, religious or homophobic prejudice. I remember that fear and how it put an immediate damper on any of my quick retorts or my usual willingness to fight back.

Michelle

Brilliant post. Also, I sorta stole your title just now for a try-out for a blogging JOB. I hope you understand. (I'll link if they publish!)

John Deshyr

As a kid who came out at the age of 13 in 1983, thank you for this post.

EllieDi

Totally! Exposure to a concept works both ways: If someone battling an issue sees it displayed on TV or in a movie, they know they're not alone and can draw confidence from that; if someone unaware of or biased against that issue sees it, they can be made aware that they should be more tolerant. Glee isn't going to convert anyone on the spot, but we can all hope that the audience is emotionally attached enough and intellectually aware enough to glean some lessons from it.

Mel

I wasn't sure you would remember my dark phase. Don't know why you loved it… I was kinda' bitchy, no?

What was nice, for me, was that my crossover friends (i.e. you, Larry and Nancy) made the school part tolerable (and occasionally downright enjoyable). I felt the pain of school isolation as much as the next guy, but you must admit that we had fun, too… public speaking class… okay, so one example may not make for a compelling argument, but I know there are others. Don't make me drag out that journal you wrote for me for graduation!

Yes, if we didn't have another outlet, then school would have been misery to the Nth degree. But, at least I feel lucky that we *did* have other things to turn to; many teens are not so fortunate. Ironically, though, while I thought that they USY friends were my “for life” friends, I ended up keeping in touch with about as precious few of them as I did high school friends. Weird, huh?

ncavillones

As you may or may not know, my mom is gay. So, I'm also in the “straight but have experienced homophobia” camp. I caught my fair share of school bus teasing but nothing blatant like the kid in your class, though one of the benefits of being deaf is that a lot of crap probably flew right over my head, so who knows how much I missed!
When I got to college, having a gay mom made me “cool.” Go figure.

Mel

Holy sh*t, you're right – this fall, we will have been friends for twenty years! That makes me shudder – yes, in a good way, but also in the way that it sort of pains me that I can actually say that about someone.

Your Willow/Buffy analogy is lost on me because I never saw the show. And, I am compelled to deny the other stuff, but I won't get into that here!

Though I am not one to call people just to share anecdotes about my 4-year-old (unless those people happen to be his grandparents, in which case I think it's okay), I did think that you would particularly appreciate yesterday's story. Did I ever tell you about the time he snottily criticized my dad for saying “who” instead of “whom” (and was correct)? Yeah, that's my kid.

Yes, we've had a long road. Though it's sad for me that you live thousands of miles away, it's definitely a tribute to our friendship that every time we speak (though few and far between) it feels as though no time has passed.

I can't wait to meet your kid, whomever he or she may be… and, you know that I will always expect you to call and tell me about it when s/he lays out the funny (yet embarrassing) one-liners, too!

Mel

You know what else? The other tribute to our friendship is that as I sat in the hospital last month in the midst of a horrible ordeal, you were one of the first people I called… not because I knew it was a reasonable hour in your time zone, but because (a) I knew that you could relate to the pain of reproductive disappointment, and (2) we've always shared our major life events… the good and the bad.

DataGoddess

I've honestly been surprised at the number of freaks in the knitting world, and have been very happy to gravitate towards the ones who fly the geek flag proudly. I found my people!

Julie

I was part of a new club at my high school that gave LGBT a place to go and talk about their issues. Many of my friends were in the club so it seemed to be the best place for my best (girl) friend and I to hang out. My BFF was president and I was co-president during the second year and naturally many people thought we were “together”. I remember thinking that it was funny and not really caring at all. Of course, my school had a lot of diversity, in culture and sexuality, and it was in the heart of L.A., not far from a predominantly gay neighborhood, so it wasn't too unfamiliar for the students. Several of the kids in the club were wards of the state because their parents had given them up for one reason or another, living together in a state housing facility for LGBT. I think that knowing what these kids were going through made it seem so stupid to be making a big deal whether I was gay or not.

knitgrrl

I'm trying not to think about my high school experience right now because it was so similar (and so soul-crushing). I tried everything to fix it and it still sucked.

To this day, one of my favorite (albeit gross) memories is of one of my male best friends taking the gum out of his mouth and splitting it with me after I'd just had a truly horrific experience…it was the best thing he could come up with to comfort me, and gross as it was, it meant a lot. (After all, I still remember it nearly 20 years later, right?)

amanda m allen

remember what dorothy parker said. heterosexuality isn't normal. it's just common.

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