This last week I’ve gone walking a couple of times at the track behind my old middle school. I hadn’t been there in years. There were a few changes, but overall, it was still the same ole place I remembered.
As I was walking, a lot of memories came to mind. My middle school years were some of my favorite years of being in school. I had teachers I liked, classes and classmates I liked, plenty of friends, and the whole world ahead of me. I remember getting to read a lot. Every Friday in English class we got to read a book of our choosing for the entire class period. Our teacher would usually allow us to have snacks as well. I think it was during this time that I really developed a love for reading. It was the first time any teacher had just allowed me/us to read anything we wanted like that and to make something fun out of it. Come to think of it, I probably gained my love for reading in the sixth grade instead. We read a lot of good books in reading class that year. I remember having friends. I had more friends during those two years than at any other time in my life. I remember feeling confused about a lot of things, as I’m sure most kids do when they’re at that age. I remember I wasn’t gay. Okay, yeah, I was, but I didn’t really know it or understand it at the time—I just assumed I had some misplaced feelings that would eventually go away.
I remember the transition from middle school to high school was not a very good one for me. I had signed up for marching band my freshman year. The summer before school started I had to practice quite a lot with the others. I never enjoyed that. Band for me had always been about the music and having fun, not about marching and competition. To make matters worse, most of the friends I’d made in middle school band didn’t join that year, and the older students I was around made it abundantly clear that they didn’t like me. They never tried to reach out to me or befriend me. And anytime I tried I was put down or just outright ignored. They made fun of me. One of them in particular, I can’t number how many times he called me a faggot or queer and said he hated fags like me. I was miserable that year.
Looking back, I really wish things could have been different. I wish I’d done what some of my other friends from middle school did. I wish I’d taken a carpentry class or some other vocational class like they did. I wish I’d been able to make friends that year. I think, in hindsight, one or two people may have honestly tried to reach out to me. But when they did I couldn’t trust them. I was afraid of getting hurt. The rest of the time I was in high school, I was pretty much a shadow. I kept to myself and did everything I could to avoid others. Those few I was friends with never really knew me at all. They may have liked me, they allowed me to be around them, they invited me along on a few outings, but I know I never really let them know anything about me. They knew I was shy, quiet, calm, maybe even kindhearted, but that was all they knew. I wouldn’t let them know anything else.
I can see so clearly how much I changed when I started high school. But it’s when I was in middle school that I remember most fondly. I was more outgoing, happier, and definitely more positive about myself and life back then. I had friends, and I didn’t hide myself.
One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is why I have so much trouble making friends these days. I honestly think the answer lies in how I changed when I began high school. Before my ninth grade year, I was just myself. I allowed people to know me. But when things didn’t go so well my freshman year, I think I just quit letting people know me, and I gave up trying to know them.
I’ve been reminded lately, or perhaps taught, that trying to be anything other than myself is foolish. And wrong. I believe God values each and every one of us, including the unique qualities or characteristics we each possess. When I entered high school I stopped being myself. When I was myself, I was made fun of, bullied, and made afraid. Out of fear and hurt, I withdrew. I began hiding myself from others, and became more cautious of how I acted around them.
Almost three years ago now, I contacted an Exodus Affiliate Ministry in Indianapolis, IN. A counselor, Paul, offered to help me there. We wrote emails back and forth to each other, and once I became comfortable with him we began talking over the phone. I’ll always owe Paul a huge debt of gratitude because he pushed me to be myself again, and to open up to others and try to make friends. He also was very compassionate and understanding. Paul is one of the few straight people I’ve ever known who was willing to at least try to understand the things I’ve went through and offer real meaningful help and encouragement. And I never felt like he was judging me.
The last three years I’ve tried to follow Paul’s advice. In a lot of ways, it’s helped me. Some of it’s only caused more problems—though I don’t really fault Paul for that—in a more perfect world life would be easier done than said. But, it’s sort of because of Paul’s influence on me that I’ve done some of the things I’ve done to make friends, that I got as involved at my church as I did, and that I began this blog. He helped me feel more comfortable being myself. All of it’s been in the attempt to become me again, and to allow others to know me—to fully know me, and for me to know them.
All of these thoughts came to mind while I was walking.
I think fear can lead people to do some really terrible things. The ones who bullied me did so out of their own fears and prejudices. The fear of their bullying and anyone else thinking the things about me that they did caused me to give up on myself and others.
I look back and I wish I’d done things differently. I wish I’d looked those people in the face and told them to shove off. I wish I’d not paid any attention to them or cared about what they thought. I wish I’d kept on being myself. I wish I’d kept on trying to make friends. I wish I’d felt comfortable enough about myself to just be myself and let everyone know how I felt—about everything. I think I might have been happier if I’d done that.
The last year or so, I have tried more to just loosen up around people. I realize not everyone is going to like me. I am who I am though. People will either like me or they won’t. If they don’t, I can get over it. But, if they do, that’s great, and something worth fighting for. This last year, I have felt more comfortable being myself. I’m not afraid of people knowing me like I used to be. I’m not afraid to come across feminine or gay around others—it’s just how I am. And I’m not afraid to face criticism, even when that criticism hurts, because I know there are others who do love me, who do care about me, and who do value me as a person.
I guess the main point of all of this is that it’s stupid to allow others to tear you down and cause you to give up on yourself. Be happy being you, because there’s no one else in the world quite like you. And there’s something so truly special about that.