I’ve accepted my sexuality, but I’m afraid that the bullying will get worse. Should I switch schools? Our elder has some advice to help a letter writer find her tribe.
Hi. I’ve written to you before, about a boy named John. I think you’ll be a little surprised by what you read next, but I am relieved to be saying this now. I am 14 years old and have been gay for as long as I can remember, but lately, being a lesbian has seriously damaged my school life. First of all, it was hard enough admitting to myself that the way I was feeling was valid. In my past letters, I reeked of falseness. I talked about boys with other popular girls and tried desperately to be ‘normal’ and ‘happy,’ but karma bit my ass and I ended up falling for the same popular girl I was trying to impress before. But that’s all in the past now. I’ve accepted myself as a lesbian at this point, despite hate from the church and such.
I’m not the problem. Michigan is. Though I did come out to a few select individuals, I ended up getting outed by some girl I never even told in the first place. She spread the word to everyone and was truly mean about it. I began losing friends, including the girl I liked at the time. She pushed me and spit in my stuff and ripped up my art. The harassment didn’t get better. I used to be a ‘popular’ girl, and I hung out around that clique often. Since my sexuality was exposed, however, I’m only acquaintances with some and close with very few… at the end of the day, I suppose I’ve rid myself of toxic people, but the bullying from former friends and confidants has seriously damaged me. I hang out with other people and continue to live my life, but this is really hanging over my head.
I guess the question I’m trying to ask is what now? What do I do? I have considered very seriously switching schools, though I know there are still people who are gunning for me and have my back. A certain girl has really helped me through all of this, and has inspired me to try one more year at my current school. High school is going to be terrifying. I’m convinced of that. I suppose I should illustrate that our school is infamous for a disturbingly high death toll – four or five in the last four years. Some were sickness, others suicide and one got hit by a bus. Not to mention the amount of near fatalities because of ruthless hazing. I don’t believe people will mature in the right direction if they age in this environment, and, well, it isn’t looking very good at first glance. I’m afraid the verbal and at times physical onslaught will get worse. I used to have it all, and by simply being who I am, it’s brought me down very, very low. I am already in therapy for cutting myself and smoking/reckless behavior, which I am deeply grateful for. This, however, has made my tendencies seriously worse. So how do I live my life? How do I be who I am when I am surrounded by people who don’t even try to feign opulence when I am around? How do I let go of the things they tell me – “It’s a choice!” “You’re going to hell.” – when all I wish for is to be happy? Thank you for reading this. I truly need someone.
Wow – such a letter! I hope I can be helpful. I need to tell you I have no personal experience with anything other than heterosexuality. So when I write from my own experience, you need to understand that I have not ever been in precisely your shoes. However, I have had to deal with plenty of rejection in my life, especially as a teen, so perhaps that can help me understand and relate to what you are going through.
Now I am in my late sixties, and more and more I hear my friends say, “Getting old is not for sissies.” I don’t mind that sentence, but I often want to remind them that “Getting through adolescence is not for sissies either.” I still view that as the worst time of my life. At least so far.
I am not making that statement to depress you. I am attempting to help you understand that your stresses are real and your stresses are not permanent. Do you know this website?
Please take a look at it. I think you will find several articles that will help you wade through this particular period in your life. And I especially wish to emphasize to you the “it gets better” part. Let me make a side trip here and speak more generally about why adolescence (in my opinion) is so very difficult.
When you are my age, you can look back at the many phases and stages you have been through. You have perspective. It is one very precious commodity of old age – unlike the droops and wrinkles and forgetfulness. And it helps keep you on a steady course. You can tell yourself: “Wow – this situation really sucks right now, but I know it won’t be like this forever.” When you are young, however, you have no perspective. And I know that what I did was panic. With every disappointment or bad mood or hurt, I thought to myself: “What if this means I am going to feel like this for the rest of my life?” It was horrifying and frightening and depressing as could be. All around me were people who appeared to be having the time of their lives – dates and dances and football games – and I was miserable. Clearly something was very wrong with me. What I did not know then (but I know now) is that most of those people were just as insecure as I was, only they knew how to pretend otherwise. We all bought the notion that the teen years are happy years, and we all pretended to be having fun. Such baloney.
OK – done with generalities. Let’s get back to you and your life. You have come out to a few people, and been betrayed. And you are getting bullied. But you seem to have one friend. I hope you can take your friend’s advice and stick this out for another year, knowing that with time it gets better. So why is it so miserable right now? Because all of you (everyone in their teens) is suffering from some form (or maybe several) of insecurity. When we are feeling insecure, we try to buck up our own self-image. And, sadly, some of us do that by taking others down. It is nasty; it certainly is not right. But it certainly seems to happen. So let’s just call it a fact. A very sad fact.
And it puts you in a very difficult position. I think you can best fight the bullying if you pretend that it does not get to you. People looking for a victim certainly want that victim to act like one. And so your job becomes acting as confident as you can be – even though that may not be what you feel. It is also a very lonely place to be. Because you may find that friends do not want to spend time alone with you. Perhaps they think you might make a pass at them. Perhaps they think others will think that they are lesbian too, and that such rumors will scare away the boys, and what could be worse when what you want is a boyfriend – more than anything else. (And that’s a whole other lesson: the fact that boyfriends make life more complicated – not less. But that’s a whole other topic and not the point of your letter.)
But those teen insecurities do not last. Why is that? Because people learn to talk and to ask gentle questions and to speak kindly to each other. “You’re a lesbian? Oh – I did not know. Oh well, I still think you are a terrific person but I just can’t like you in that way.” It seems so simple. And yet it is so impossible when we are young teens.
So what can you do right now? I am not suggesting that you avoid having friends – not at all. But I am suggesting that if you can develop large groups of friends – kids who do things in large groups, so that pairing up is not encouraged – I think you might be more comfortable.
My daughter did this when she was in high school. It wasn’t anything I suggested, but as I watched it going on, I really had to admire it. They had groups of mixed genders and mixed sexualities, but they were going around as a sort of mob of 8-15 of them at a time. There was safety in numbers (from people who might have wished them harm) and there was safety in numbers (because their group activities tended to discourage any active sexual behavior). And so they found the freedom to all be pals. They did serious things – such as go to concerts – and totally goofy things. One day one of them came back from the dentist with a bunch of dental floss. So they tied themselves up – all of them together – and then proceeded to try to walk down the block. It was a hoot. Somehow they had managed to drop their teenage angst and behave like little children – making up their own silly games. It was a beautiful sight, and I think it entertained the neighbors at the same time.
Am I saying you should avoid exploring your own sexuality? No. But I think you can put that in a place of balance. I think companionship is far more important than sex, although each has its place.
Since you are feeling betrayed by your current group, you may find you want to meet new people. But that is always a rather threatening quest, no? When we try out a new group, we haven’t any idea what we may find. I know my own anxiety kept me from even trying. Let me give you one tip that may help – something that I wish I had heard about much sooner. When you go to a new place to meet new people, what is your exact task? It is this: only to show up ready to meet new people. That’s it; nothing more! The showing up part is the hardest. But many of us, when we place ourselves among strangers, come home feeling like, “It was a bust; those people are all dorks; they’re just a bunch of snobs.” And somehow at the bottom of everything we feel as if we have failed. But here is the trick: Define your task, and praise yourself for completing your task. Do not accept a feeling of failure for factors you cannot control. Is it your bad that they were snobs? Is it your fault that they were dorks? No, of course not. You have no control over that. So focus on your job (getting yourself out there) and arrive with no expectations – of success or failure. Your job is only to show up and see who is there. Let the rest fall where it may.
This attitude clarifies for you precisely what your task is, so then you know when you have succeeded (did you arrive or did you stay home?). It also helps maintain your energy to try yet another group on another occasion. Most of us arrive in a new place with great hopes of finding kindred spirits right away. But that only happens in movies. It takes a great deal of work to find new groups and new companions when one is a teen. (That’s a task that gets so much easier as you get older. I think you will find that people are far less clique-ish in college.)
So there we are. I hope that in some of this chatter you have found some encouragement and some ideas. Here is another one. Is college in your future? I hope so. I hope you can find one in a large city, because there you will find that people are much more open to all types of people. And it’s not just the colleges; I think you’ll find the churches are more open as well and certainly some of them will not tell you that you are going to hell.
You said that you have a therapist. I am glad, and I am glad that you are grateful for your therapist. Now I am no therapist, but I have benefited (and greatly) from therapy myself. Please show this letter to your therapist, okay? Give him (or her) a chance to comment on it. That person has the professional training that knows how to help you. I can only give non-professional advice – with a sincere wish that it will help. You take care now.
Oh – before I forget: I like the way you write. You may find that all this, some day, becomes fodder for some great stories!