Junior high was terrible for me. I've briefly alluded to this a couple of other times in my writing, but it'll never be a fact that I can forget. At the conclusion of fifth grade, my family decided to move across town, which meant that I would be attending a middle school that none of my friends attended.
I still remember the horror of going into school on that first day of sixth grade. I walked into the class for first period and discovered that I was walking into well-established friendship circles, full of individuals that had no intention of letting in someone new. Not to mention, there were way too many Abercrombie & Fitch logos. Crap, I was going to the preppy school in town.
There was one saving grace: Tiffany, my friend from church, went to to my school, and she was in my pod of classes. This became my solace, at least for the first month or so. After a couple of months of hanging out with Tiffany, we both began to form what I'll call our "eternal identities." Of course, I'm not referring to a solid state that we would remain in for the rest of our lives, but it sure felt like it. We would form an identity in middle school that would be nearly impossible to change for the next four years or so, and four years felt like eternity at this age. Unfortunately for me, I was associated with a girl, and all-girl friends, so I was doomed out of the gate. After a couple of weeks, the guys in my grade were starting to take notice of my lack of male friends.
Worse yet, Tiffany absolutely craved attention and drama. She loved getting a reaction out of people and would use whatever material she needed to get it. That's when she brought out "the picture."
The picture was taken previous summer when I was on a youth trip with her and all my church friends. On the trip, we stopped at a McDonalds to get lunch. In the McDonalds, there was a life-sized statue of none other than Ronald McDonald himself. After about an hour of lunch, us kids were getting restless and so we began daring each other to take a picture while kissing the Mr. McDonald statue.
I'm sure you can see where this is headed, but it's worth mentioning that I too enjoyed getting a reaction from people.
So, naturally, I gussied up and gave the Ronald McDonald statue a fat kiss on the lips to be met with screaming and laughing from my peers. In this moment, I ruined my reputation for the next three years. Tiffany had snapped the picture and brought it back to my new middle school showing it to all her friends, who then told their friends, and before I even knew it, all of the school was informed that I was, in fact, a statue-kissing queer.
I recall one day in Industrial Tech class when I was partnered with a Danny to work on a project. After the teacher had assigned us our project, Danny spent the next 45 minutes asking me if I was gay, then deciding for himself that I was. 45 whole minutes of being harassed by this middle school-aged jerk. I remember trying to hide the fact that I was shaking in rage and embarrassment. Of course, I wish this was the only time that such a thing had happened, but it wasn't. Middle schoolers can be cruel. According to anyone who was anyone, I was gay.
I wasn't...was I? I'm still convinced that I wouldn't like Danny if I knew him today.
Around the same time, I was in the beginning stages of inappropriate situations by someone close to me, who happened to be a male. For about two years, inappropriate things went on with an individual older than me, which made me feel simultaneously shameful but also loved and included. After all, I was the opposite of "included" at school at this time, but with this person I felt like I had a friend of sorts. Included as I felt, something deep within me knew that what was happening wasn't okay.
Over the course of the two years, I would battle back and forth about the situation and whether or not I should tell my parents what was going on. Maybe he didn't know better either. Maybe it wasn't really wrong. Finally, enough shame and conviction had built up inside my soul that I was compelled to tell my dad the embarrassing news.
Pure rage. Explosive fire.
It was in this moment of sharing the news with my dad that the shame of it all had calcified in my heart. I remember telling my dad in the car on the way home from church on Wednesday night. The night was already high-emotion because our junior high pastor had just announced his resignation (something that would happen a lot more in the following years). I was crying uncontrollably most of the night. The truth is, I didn't care at all about this pastor's resignation, I just felt like garbage for what [I thought] I had done.
My dad, furious at the news of what had happened, asked me if I had enjoyed the experiences with the person. As an adult, I realize that he needed to understand the situation before he addressed it, he was wanting to know if it was something I had found pleasurable. Unsure of how to respond, I remember responding, "Yes." At that admission, my father made the biggest mistake he'd ever make as my father: he let out a loud growl of anger that I can still replay in my head to this day. He was furious that something like this would create such shame in his son. Unfortunately, I only discovered this fact years later. In the moment, my naive young self interpreted his growl as anger and disappointment AT me not FOR me.
From that night onward, I made a pact with myself to never discuss anything about deep with with my father again. I never wanted to see that sort of anger from him again. For the remainder of my high school years, I would maintain a safe distance from my dad to protect myself from ever having to discuss personal issues. Misunderstanding others can be devastating.
My parents immediately enrolled me in counseling to help me work through the situation. I'm not sure if this counselor was terrible at his job or if it was simply because I was a bratty 11-year-old, but this therapist did absolutely nothing but make me feel embarrassed for the situation. I never really told the counselor the specifics of what happened between us and he saw it as a menial situation. I recall the counselor telling me it was normal if I had enjoyed the situations I was in with this person—a statement that a therapist later in life would angrily rebuke.
For the next 10 years, my sexuality hinged on the fact that I had undergone these sexual experiences. I was sure that it was because of these odd experiences that I desired to be in romantic relationship with a man.
Nearly every day I went to school, peers told me I was "gay" (among other choice terms that aren't worth uttering on this blog). Every day, the students questioned my sexuality, oftentimes bringing me to the point of masked tears and embarrassment. Needless to say, I was utterly ashamed of whatever these attractions were inside of me.
"I'm not gay" I would say to the students. But I felt gay, but maybe not for the right reasons.
*This post was revised after publishing, as I recently was given a more comprehensive picture of the sexual situations I was in. I was taught in therapy that it wasn't "right," but it wasn't interpreted like this and frankly, it wasn't malicious/vindictive in nature. It wasn't until later in life that a therapist informed me that this was in fact not something that should have happened between us and that it had clearly made a significant impact on me, regardless of whether or not the individual knew what we were doing was wrong.