The newspaper was barred from writing anything about the event, concerned that it could be skewed in too many unsavory directions for staff, administration and students. If we supported the punishments levied at the lacrosse team's captain and the two boys, then the newspaper would be publishing a statement that, in essence, endorsed homophobia. If we disagreed with the punishments, which we did, we would be calling the administration homophobic, which they were. The captain of the lacrosse team, a senior who was graduating in mere weeks, was expelled. The two boys who kissed on a bet were suspended for "inciting a riot". Only one of the boys identified as bisexual. The entire school was spun up with thoughts and opinions about the event, and I can't forget it because it so perfectly described the climate in which I grew into myself as a student, as a woman and as a queer-identified person.
In high school, I avoided sexuality. The entire span of my high school career was marked with accusations and uncomfortable labeling from my peers. I dressed plainly, I was chubby, I was awkward and didn't know how to deal with fashion, beauty or any of the things girls were supposed to know. I wasn't particularly athletic, so I couldn't hide behind the veil of jock, and while I was smart and gifted in a number of ways academically, I railed against any opportunity to achieve because my experiences in middle school were so incredibly hard on my self-esteem. My peers, especially encouraged by my next door neighbor who was on the football team and marginally popular, called me names constantly. Lesbian, dyke, lezzie. They were whispered as people walked past me, scraps of paper dropped into my locker with threats and mean words scribbled onto them, epithets hurled during drunken parties at my neighbor's house (my bedroom window overlooked his basketball court). I was constantly engaged in their bullying. I was completely incapable of hiding. But it was all I could do to make it through each day, to graduate and to survive.
After high school I tried desperately to be straight. Apparently, I was also convincing. I had a number of interludes with men, but I also had impassioned friendships with women. In my freshman year of college, I got drunk and asked my friend who was bisexual what it was like to be with a woman. The next day, I went back to hiding. This continued until I was 22 years old. I felt safe enough to climb out of the closet and began dating women. As information about my 10-year high school reunion popped up many years later, I panicked. I searched Facebook and MySpace endlessly to find high school peers who were also gay, hoping that if I decided to attend, I might have some sanctuary. Out of a senior class of over 500 students, I only knew of four people who came out and were living openly gay lives. This didn't give me hope; it made me sad. If statistics provide any indication of the truth, that meant there were approximately 45 people were still out there, perhaps extremely closeted, or just not accessible to me because of security features on social networking sites. I tried to reach out to peers I went to high school with who were straight-identified and found that a number of them were dismissive of my concerns; "we are grown ups, Meaghan, stop worrying", "no one is going to have an issue, calm down". Make no mistake, straight friends, dismissing the concerns of a person who has been systematically bullied throughout their adolescence is also bullying, be it subtle or not.
In light of all the bullying and stories of young queer people taking their own lives, a common theme (and viral video project) has been pushed into the forefront...IT GETS BETTER. I contemplated creating my own video to post here, but I am not a videographer and I would likely come across as a very endearing gay robot. I'm also dubious about the true effectiveness that a bunch of aged gays, a number of them celebrities, can have on a population of young queer folks who are facing bullying in high school and in college. I thought about how receptive my high school would be, 13 years after I graduated, to having me back for an open forum about what it's like for gay people and how things will get better. Then I thought about whether I truly believe that it gets better. In short, I do. If faced with the alternative - not living at all - I can confidently certify that it does get better for queer folk. We are not all brave and strong, especially after facing invisibility or bullying for years and years, so it stands to reason that quietly separating ourselves from the mainstream and carving our own niches and families is good for our souls. I need to be honest, though. Sometimes it doesn't get better than that.
Just as there is value in every single living being on this Earth, there is value and greatness in every single young queer person on this planet. You all have a great big family waiting to embrace you, and I encourage you to explore and find us when you're ready. You can also, and should also, feel confident being around whatever people you prefer, including straight folks. And to be honest, I genuinely feel that is where the culpability lies. The basic tenets of social justice affirm the fact that the hardest work to end oppression must come from the oppressors, including those who are actively engaged in it as well as those who are complicit by virtue of being silent. I would likely have not succeeded to the degree that I did in high school without straight students and teachers bolstering me, patting my back and believing in me when I had no concept of how to do it for myself. Over the years, it has made my life easier to know that there is a community of people who are privileged as it relates to sexuality who openly and vocally support my life as a queer person. Humans are community-oriented beings; I am because you are.
Queer kids - it does get better. Believe in yourself, believe you are beautiful and perfect as you are. Explore, discover, read and ask the people who love and support you to hold you up when you are feeling low. Seek help when you need it, step away when it's time, and never, ever take harsh, hurtful words to heart. The worst kinds of meanness comes from people who are wildly insecure. You deserve to be here.There isn't a vista on the horizon where I can clearly say this sort of pain ends. My relationship with queerness is complicated and imperfect to this day. We are all born into this world imbued with freedom and often our access to it is obstructed by people who don't know better. It will get better when you rise above and separate yourself from the pain caused by bigotry, but that is individual and temporary. It will permanently get better when the bigots are silenced and we are all able to live our lives, no matter how we define them, without worrying about our personal safety. It will get better, and we need you here to make that happen.
Straight kids and adults - help make it better for everyone. You are part of this world, too. The more you ignore or tokenize marginalized people, the harder it gets for them. Talk to kids about bullying, talk to school officials, encourage compassion and acceptance. Stop the world from spinning out of control. Say something. Love people...all people. Not just when it's easy, either.
Image courtesy Pearson Maron - Rainbow Factory ($22)