By Gabriel Duncan
I came out when I was 12. I was in 7th grade. It was a rainy day. We were all gathered in the Media Center--the Library--to get out of the rain. Three days before I told one of my best friends. Her name was Eleanor, I think, and she was really supportive. I wanted to tell everyone then, I guess. So, I told the only other person I went to school with who was online. Who would have known . . .
It was one of those rainy Bay Area days, in the beginning of the school year. I don't even think the New Year passed. I was with a friend. I don't know who. We just walked in. The place was packed. And stuffy. We were about to walk out when this little kid, he was a shortie, came up and asked me if my name was Gabe. When I told him it was, he asked me if I was Bi.
(This was shortly after Matthew Sheppard was murdered. That's what made me want to come out. I was pretty sure I was gay then. But I didn't want to deal with more homophobia than I already had to.)
I had a tough decision to make. I could either tell this kid I was bi. (Gay). Or I could lie and tell him to fuck off. If I lied, and I came out later as . . . . Well, I'd get more shit than I would if I had if I'd just admitted it. I was going to come out sooner or later. God, I was scared. I told him I was. He took off out of the building like a bat out of hell.
Nothing happened for a week. The next day of school, no one talked to me. Nothing. Pretty much all of my friends disappeared, it was like being trapped in an alternate universe. Those were some of the loneliest days of my life. My self-imposed isolation was realized by the abandonment of my friends. I felt angry. And hurt as hell. I found new friends. I hung out with the other outcasts and pretty much found a different crowd. But it hurt like death. And it still aches today, eight years later.
A few weeks later, someone poured glue over my jacket. Then some kids started talking shit about me under their breaths. I felt like my masculinity was going to be challenged soon. But I'm not a fighter. Four or five years of behavioral therapy and conflict management brought me to a place where I'd rather talk than fight.
Then there was the yelling. FAGGOT! QUEER! HOMO! You straight people have no idea what this it's like. To be alone, faced with four or five people screaming.
But I didn't put up with it. I wasn't worried about retribution. I was really worried about death. The office gave me the run around. I found my Vice Principal during passing period.
"Hey Mr. *********," I forgot his name, "I just came out as Bi, and I'm getting a lot of harassment. I got that anti-discrimination packet in the beginning of school and I saw 'sexual orientation' listed. I want you to do something."
My dauntless VP said, "Well, Gabriel, this is a very serious situation, and we need to do something about this. Talk to the principal."
I thought, wow, cool! The principal is totally gonna help me out. I walked over the office, told the secretary I wanted to talk to the principal and we sat down. (The Principal and I.) I told him the same thing.
"I just came out as Bi, and I'm getting a lot of harassment. I know 'sexual orientation' was listed in the anti-discrimination packet and I want you to do something about it."
The principal sat back, he said, "Well, Gabriel, this is a very serious situation. And we need to do something about this. Go talk to the resource counselor."
LOL. That pissed me off. I got handed down to the lowest fish on the food chain. So I marched across the reception area, into the resource counselor's office and told her, "Look, lady, I just came out as Bi and I'm being harassed. I know this is covered in the school district's anti-discrimination policies and I want you to do something about it, now!"
[It wasn't exactly like that.]
Anyway, she gave me the same look everyone else did and told me, "Well, Gabriel, this is a very serious situation. We need to do something about this. Give me all of the names of the people who did this to you."
She took time out of school to sit down every single one of those motherfuckers and tell them harassing me was against the law, and next time, they'd be suspended or expelled from school. Holy crap, I felt vindicated. There were so many people that she put me back in class while she talked to them all. I think she talked to them. Most of them, at least.
Anyway, things were good for a while. I mean, I didn't get shit. The murmuring stopped and, certainly, the screaming had, too. But, I was a bundle of nerves. I think it's then I started receiving pills for depression. Fuck, I couldn't sleep, I felt sick, I didn't want to eat. I hated school. And it got worse. The screaming started again.
It was a year later, I was the last semester of eighth grade. My best friend was sitting with some assholes who liked to make my life hell. But it was her idea to scream Faggot. I didn't talk to her for two years. Heh. But it's not like I didn't still have to go to school. I played hooky. My GPA was 1.5 when I finally left. But there were fights. Fights. That little guy who asked me if I was Bi in the beginning wanted to fight me. And so did most of the bigger kids in my grade.
Word to all the fearless faggots: You have to hit them when the teachers aren't looking. But make sure they hit you in front of the teachers. I found myself in a hard place because of those fights. Was I contributing to this cycle by fighting back? My school's administration couldn't do shit. I was being threatened out of school, now, too. Getting hang up calls. A few people told me they were gonna come up on me while I was walking home.
I feel like it just happened a year ago now. I don't know how to make this as dramatic as it was. I can't tell you how fucked up in the head I had gotten, after being ditched 'cause I was gay, then being screamed at by my best friends, getting in fights with people I didn't even know, but who seemed to know me. I mean, I can load this up with grudges and hard feelings. It sounds like that anyway. But these are the facts.
My home life was like a polar opposite to what was happening in school. Sorry I didn't include this in the story earlier, but it wasn't the best time. The day that I was outted officially at school, I went home to tell my mom. (I thought she would understand more than my dad. I think women are more understanding about these things than men.) She was taking a nap in her room when I came in and told her. She was half-asleep. I asked her not to tell my dad, but she did.
It was the next day, still raining. I went to a gay youth support group. My first one. God, I was so nervous. I was hoping there'd be another masculine guy there. Someone who looked like me. But there wasn't. I was actually kinda shocked when I met everyone. I didn't expect the high voices or limp wrists. Sorry to enforce a stereotype, but I wasn't expecting it. All the web sites out there said stereotypes don't exist.
But that didn't stop me from going every week. That's how I got involved in GLSEN. (The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network.) . . . And my first boyfriend.
When I came home, my mom and dad were sitting at the dining room table. Mom told me she told dad. I was scared shitless. They looked calm, but they wanted to talk about it. I didn't know what was going to happen. I'd visited every web site about coming out, just to be prepared. But I wouldn't have to live with my friends, or a relative, or run away. Because I wasn't going to be yelled at, screamed at, or hurt. When we sat down, they told me they loved me no matter what. They told me I could talk to them about anything.
Words cannot describe the weight of my burden, or the feeling of being freed from it.
But I still hid everything from my parents. They wanted to know why I was so angry, so depressed, why my moods fluctuated. The antidepressants weren't working. I still wasn't sleeping. And I was "sick" every day towards the end. My mother put me in an alternative high school. I was still depressed and distraught. But, in an environment where I could be myself, I began to heal, and open up again.
This story ends with a dues es ex machina (that means "machine of god", it was used in old-school plays in Greece and Rome, dues es ex machina is best defined as "a miracle",) I know. But I had a lot of work to do when I got out. I made up all the credits I missed in eighth grade. Then started my freshmen year on time. Yeah, as it turned out, I wasn't a very good student anyway, despite my IQ, so I took the California High School Proficiency Exam and left.
The story continues. But this, for the most part, is my coming out story.
Afterwards, I became active in GLSEN, speaking on panels to student teachers. I've shared this story, over seven years, with at least two hundred students in high school and middle schools, and over two hundred student teachers who would teach grades K through 12.
The events of my seventh and eighth grade years in school will always be with me. The searing pain of those days has faded, but the scars are still here. I try not to let them get in the way.