Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Thoughts before storytelling workshop

A few days ago we had a storytelling workshop at TEACH. Here's a piece I wrote a couple of weeks beforehand.


We have a storytelling workshop booked for later this month. I've been telling the same story, with just a handful of adjustments, for six years now. It's become engrained. I talk about positives: a loving family; finding community as a young adult; the freedom of finally finishing high school.

I hardly mention bullying, much less homophobic bullying. The kids excluded me, and I excluded myself, to varying degrees, for as long as I can remember. It's part of being an imaginative, intellectual kid. And the more excluded you are, the more awkward you become. And the circle continues.

I remember a kid calling my t-shirt "gay" when I was nine, at day camp. I told him that people could be gay, but shirts couldn't - was he stupid? - but that just made the other (bigger, cooler, sportier, more confident, prettier, smarter?) kids laugh. It hurt most when girls laughed at me, when I just wanted to impress them and join them.

So when the kids at my new school that fall called my outdated children's clothing "gay," I didn't speak up. I changed my clothes to something tighter and less childish, hated myself for giving in, and compromised that I'd wear only purple for the rest of the school year, just to keep some control.

The kids still teased me.

It was almost two years before someone next called me "gay." I was eleven years old, at camp - an all-girls overnight camp, this time - and one of my richer, prettier, more confident, and better-dressed cabin-mates called me a lesbian. I forget how it came up, other than that it was somehow part of the card game we were playing and "lesbian" basically was intended to be synonymous with "loser." I said that lesbians were cool and that I didn't want to play anymore. And that was it for any hope of friendship, or even peaceful cohabitation, with my cabin-mates. They didn't know what "lesbian" was other than an insult, when to me it was a word that I knew described some of my childhood role models. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to fight back.

That was really just the tip of the bullying iceberg...

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