Living the Questions
BY Tyler Helms
October 19 2010 6:20 PM ET
I am not the first to convey that growing up gay is a less than easy path. No matter how supportive your family, community, or friends might be, most gay adults can relate to the impact of being bullied, teased, and taunted. Oddly, part of me argues that this is an important part of the adolescent experience — learning to deal, adjust, and hold one's own in a world that is not always so kind.
But a larger part of me is reminded of the long-lasting impact that same treatment can have on one's confidence and feelings of self-worth. And even as an adult I find myself affected. Affected by recent e-mails in response to this very column, a place where I, without caution, speak my truth in hope of adding context to someone else's. E-mails, much like those bullies from years past, with ignorant words empowered by popular opinion and seeking to discredit my truth.
Initiatives like “It Gets Better” and the work of groups like the Anti-Violence Project in New York City seek to counteract these acts. But the lingering effects still persist — to say I haven’t been upset would be a lie. The reality is, at 29 years old, I have wondered, Just how much better does it really get?
I am not famous, nor exceedingly rich, and certainly have not made all the right decisions. And so, as someone who believes wholeheartedly in the power of conversation, perhaps parts of my story, void of a celebrity ending and absent of any noteworthy awards, will reiterate that there is light at the end of that seemingly endless tunnel.
It started early for me — first grade to be exact. Miss Peterson’s class at Knight Elementary just outside of Atlanta. I remember a classmate — his name was Justin — calling me a girl. I was so confused. I knew I wasn’t a girl. I knew all about the things that made me a boy. But I also knew that I wasn’t like Justin. In fact, I kind of liked Justin, the same way he probably liked Lauren.
But finding a way to express that truth in first grade was impossible. That feeling of angst and inability to communicate who I was would last for years. Fourteen more years, in fact, before I found the words to express who I was.
In third grade I came home from school and told my mom that I hated my voice. She asked why, and through the tears I said because it sounded too much like a girl's. It had become painfully clear when we had to record our voice for a book reading that day in class. This was something kids like Justin found so funny. The haunting laughter from classmates lingers in my mind today.