A decade. Ten small trips around the sun. Ten years ago I was 11 and in 6th grade, and to me back then ten years seemed like an eternity. There were so many other things to get through first, the horrible years of middle school that were so awkward and rough. High school, 16th birthdays, driver’s licenses, 18th birthdays, graduation. College wasn’t even a thought on my mind back then. I was trying to find my own niche again. The one I had in elementary school with my boys; John, Christian, Cory, Jonathen, and Curtis was being dissolved. I was no longer allowed to be “one of the guys”. The social structure of friendships was rapidly changing with the onset of puberty, and I was being left behind. We had all spent that summer together rebuilding our fort in the park that had been damaged by winter, floating the creek, and making our own scenes to Warriors of Virtue(yes we were obsessed, and geeky. we had seen it the fall before and couldn’t get enough of it) Once school started things started to change, we tried hanging out still but once the others girls in my grade knew I was still spending the nights with all of them, they started spreading viscous rumors that I was sleeping with all of them. I was hurt and offended, but apparently that’s what boys and girls were supposed to do together in middle school. So, slowly the boys and I started to drift.
Ten years ago a young man on the other side of the state from me lost his life. I remember first hearing about it. A young man who was attending college at UW had been horribly beaten. That was how my homeroom teacher put it. She was late and had came in crying, all puffy-eyed, red nose, and blotchy. I remember thinking what could be so horrible that our teacher is crying in front of us. She was so upset when she explained what had happened; a kid named Matthew Shepard had been beaten almost to death and left tied to a fence. She told us no matter what, it is not ok to hurt someone, taunt someone, tease or call names at someone who is different. I could understand that, I felt so different from my peers those first couple months of middle school. I didn’t know then that I would turn out to be very similar to Matthew Shepard, coming out my freshman year of college, I had no clue back then that my differences could be that I was queer. I know now the reason why my home room teacher took it so hard, was that her only son, I think about the same age as Matt was gay too, he didn’t attend UW, but now looking back I can understand how hard that must have hit her.
I didn’t know how to process any of this. I would have gone and talked to my dad about it but it was my mom’s week, and there was no way I was talking to her. That summer we had moved in with her latest boyfriend on a ranch a couple miles outside town. I took the bus home as normal, went about my chores of feeding the chickens, shoveling out the stalls, and piling hey bails on the truck so I didn’t have to do the next morning when I went to feed the horses. That night as the three of us, my mom, her boyfriend, and I ate dinner and watched the news, the same story was on. I watched wanting to cry, but something told me that was not a good idea. After the story finished we were all silent, and the boyfriend point blank looked at the TV and said, “The fag deserved it.” That was the end of the discussion, never to be talked about again in that house.
A lot has changed in my life in ten years. I moved away from my family. Became a liberal college student *laughs*. I came to terms with my own sexuality and came out. I go to the same school that Matt attended for a few short months, and now I work to better this place, not only for Matt but every gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender student on this campus. So they know that this is a safe place for them. I have always wanted to change the world. That was what I would answer as what I wanted to be when I grew up in elementary school, someone who changed the world. I want the world to be a safer place for my kids (if I ever have any, god forbid) than I grew up in, no matter what. I am working for a safer place for not just queer folks, but people of race, and different religions, I work to fight all forms of discrimination. We have to act up and speak out in our lives or nothing is ever going to change.
A lot of focus has been on the ten year anniversary of Matt’s death. And some people have been angry that not more has changed, that there is no monument to Matt, but there is more to it than that. It is the little things in our everyday lives. The fact that last week I walked past a group of students in the classroom building and a kid had said, “That’s so gay.” And one of his friends turned on him and told him if he was to be in her presence he could never use that phrase again. The fact that we have more and more people coming out, and at ever younger ages. Yes, there is still violence and hate in this world, but we are working on it, and I hope you help us. Don’t put up with intolerance, hell don’t even put up with tolerance lets strive for celebrating, for embracing one another no matter how different we are.
I came out to my mom this summer, and she didn’t disown me like I was terrified she would. Instead she told me over the phone, “that’s ok, that’s fine. So it’s a big deal, wait no, it’s not a big deal. You are still my daughter and I still love you.” She was supportive of me, the first in a very very long time. So you see things can change, no I haven’t come out to the boyfriend who is now my stepfather, but maybe with time, we’ll see. I am seeing change all across this country and it is amazing. I met people last week who were the same age as me and had come out in middle school, went through getting beat up, and is now speaking to campuses about the need to fight hate and injustice.
So, today what are you doing to fight discrimination, are you letting people get away with slurs, and name calling? Let people know you’re ok with them just the way they are, and they couldn’t be more beautiful for it. Oh and by the way we can’t fight fire with fire, so yelling and beating back is no way to fix our problem of intolerance k? Just an fyi.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” –Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence.