I am sure we all have some horrible memories from childhood. No matter how cool, attractive or rich you may be, adolescence is hard. So this isn’t a ‘poor me’ post, more of a cleanse.
I watched Moonlight last night. Finally. Why did I never hear about it? I think I am pretty well read. Why didn’t any of my gay friends mention it? Never read a peep on Facebook feeds or any of my new sources. You have to wonder, did the press even notice it because of La La Land?
When the movie won Best Picture I couldn’t believe it. Not because of the envelope mix up but the fact that a low budget film about growing up African American and gay had made it to the top.
While I am white and have a mother that doesn’t smoke crack (not even a cigarette in 15 years!) and a father who is loving and present, it still resonated deeply. The gang of boys making fun of Little on the playground asking why he is so feminine. Looking for alternative routes ANYWHERE to avoid bullies. Eating lunch alone.
I woke up with the need to purge so many thoughts and feelings onto paper:
· The first time I really remember being made fun of was when my sister had gone into Turtles music store in Sandy Springs and for some reason I hung out in the parking lot. Must have been a quick trip for some Phil Collins. I saw a group of skaters from school and they walked up and smiled. I was so happy they were being nice. One of them just looked at me and said, “What up Fudge Packer!” I went white. I had no idea what that meant. I just smiled and looked down. Just like Little does so many times in that movie.
· I had been at Spalding Drive Elementary since I was in 1st grade then with the same people at Sandy Spring Middle School (SSMS). I remember my 6th and 7th grade years at SSMS and were hard. Lots of new kids came to school and some of those African American girls had something to SAY if they thought you were different. Funny enough, some of those girls ended up being the first ones to stand up for me later. This one girl was so mean to me that Ms. Jackson took us out of class and asked her what I had done to her and why she called me a sissy. She couldn’t reply. So she made her write an apology letter. I was mortified. More attention on me.
· One time when we were having school pictures taken it was my turn and I put my hands under my chin. I thought it was a rather fabulous way to pose. Some kid screamed out, “Yo, that’s how the girls pose! You are supposed to put your hands on the table!” Some other kid quietly said, “Leave him alone, let him put his hands wherever he wants to.” And so I kept them under my chin. Until the photographer coughed and asked me to put them on the table.
· My absolute worst year was 8th grade. We moved to a new house and I had to go to a new school for my last grade of middle school. All eyes on me. I remember thinking it was a good day if I didn’t get called a ‘faggot’. I would actually sing to myself I was so excited. Little victories.
· It was that year that Josh would wait for me every day before science class and just look at me and deadpan, “Faggot”. Then we would both walk into class. Every. Single Day.
· I was never good at sports. I snuck a book about Versailles onto the track! One day we were playing dodge ball and I actually did something right. I was so proud that I had tagged Mary Helen. As soon as I swelled with pride she just shouted, “Faggot!” Crushed again.
· One time this kid Brad told me to hold out my hand and show him my nails. I did and I fanned out my hand. He laughed and said, “girls do it that way, guys just turn their hand over like a fist.” That was it. No poking fun, just facts.
· There were some rays of light. This kid Jason Allan just walked up to me in the hall one day and said, “You have got to man up! Stop waving at people with your fingers, just nod at them with your head!” I did that and people started treating me differently. Just a little bit.
· Another ray of sunshine was Charlita Brown. Bobby Brown and Whitney lived near our school (for real! Check out the Thevis Mansion) and one day this tall, butch girl with braids down her back wear a bomber jacket and phat pants stomped onto the bus. She sat right next to me and introduced herself. I couldn’t believe it, a real live lesbian! At least I assume. She was so strong, powerful and sweet. She had come down from Chicago to live with Bobby for a while. As we all know, that house of pain was no place for kids and she was gone after about six months. It broke my heart when she told me she was moving. She stood up for me, she protected me and weirdly felt like my bodyguard (I know, the reference…).
It wasn’t until high school that I finally stopped thinking of myself as a ‘Faggot’ but gained the confidence to be me. I don’t know what fairy dust the sweet Lord sprinkled over Riverwood High School but there were some of the most amazing, loving, fun, diverse people all under one shitty, windowless brick building. It was also the early 90s and Deee-lite was on the cover of Time magazine, En Vogue was poppin as was Arrested Development (a band from Atlanta!) and people just seemed open to new ideas. ‘African American was just being used and Kwanza was being celebrated in school. Sure, I got called a fag here and there and it hurt. It hurt all-day and part of the next. But it didn’t hurt like it used to.
When I was in college I went full-blown raver and wore stickers on my face to class and died my hair every color in the rainbow. Charleston wasn’t quite as free thinking back then but I laughed when the construction workers in Marion Square made fun of me. I had built a wall of love, glitter and house music around me and nothing could hurt me. Or so I tried to believe. But I was blasting my house music as loud as I could in my Walkman so I couldn’t hear the shouts and laughs. They were still present.
I honestly don’t remember the last time I was called out in a negative way for being gay. One time around 2000 in NYC I was on my way to work on Madison Avenue as were thousands of others. I was ready to walk across the street when a bike messenger sped by, running the red light and looked me dead in the eye and screamed that horrible word, “FAAAAGGGGOOTTTTTT!” It was a whole new hurt. In front of crowds of people, in the middle of Manhattan, at 8:30am. I was down for a week.
This may explain my sadness seeing who our 45th President is. A bully. That kind of person had me thinking about suicide at 13. That kind of person left me hollow inside, years on end. That kind of person forced me to keep my head down for years. So when I see people marching, when I see petitions pop up in my inbox and when I hear how his house of cards is crumbling, it gives me hope.
But I won’t dare end this on a negative note. I live a life I never dreamed could exist. Living part time back in my spiritual home of Charleston, married to a man I love and having a job I wake up excited about. I have a family that loves me and a chosen family of people around the globe who give me life. But there are times, and we all experience them, that something reminds us of another time, another place, an experience we would like to forget. Moonlight flooded me with so many emotions that haven't been tapped in so long. I just hope the attention it is receiving will help some little LGBT kids out there find their purpose, find the love the deserve and find their true selves.