This I Believe

Jeffrey - Waltham, Massachusetts
Entered on December 10, 2007
Age Group: Under 18
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“You’re gay, kid!” and other select quotes from a teenager’s school years

That’s probably my least favorite phrase. I’m told it a lot, and there’s a story behind it. First of all, it’s not true. Second of all, it’s because of a pin, a button, a t-shirt; clothing that I wear labels me as homosexual? To say that I don’t believe in labels would be hypocritical of me, but I can say for sure that I do believe in freedom of expression, in things like “don’t judge a book by its cover” and the right to be who I want to be. Labels can do a lot of good and a lot of bad, and they do bad when they are slapped onto a person when the labeler knows nothing about who they are labeling.

Now that the people around me have grown up (for the most part) and stopped hassling me about what I wear, I can relax. But there was a time when I was constantly bombarded with “why do you wear rainbows?” and “why aren’t your pants long?”. I am not a person who sees someone else wearing some backpack and says, “Hey, I should get one of those!”. I don’t try to be different, but I also don’t try to be the same. And it’s not just suspicions of gaydom, it’s everything about me. Why should I dress, why should I act like someone I’m not? Sure, this all sounds familiar, but it’s not because I’m black or Asian or Jewish. It’s because I’m just not “normal.”

It sounds fine now, but at one point, mainly throughout middle school, it was much worse. Every day, I would have to put up with a string of annoying inquiries as to why I wore clothes that “didn’t match”, or “geeky kid shoes”, or socks that weren’t short enough, or a pin supporting our school’s GSA, or because that particular day, I had decided to wear my [gasp] rainbow tie-dye shirt. The jeers and embarrassments in front of the class never stopped. It got to the point where I would walk home feeling as if I wanted to shut myself in because I couldn’t please people by being myself. As if that wasn’t enough, anything I couldn’t or didn’t do (like play sports) was used against me. Pretty much any aspect of my personality or appearance that didn’t “conform” was turned into a negative insight into who I really am, and most of the time, those insights were dead wrong.

The assumption of my homosexual personality began way back in third grade, when I was first labeled “gay” by some jerk who seemed to think that my clothes were too tight, that whatever he didn’t like about me made me gay. Then, in fourth grade, “homo” was the word of the year. At that point, I had enough. I left public school for the tranquility of my own home. I left because I hated everyone and everything to do with public school. After deciding towards the end of what would have been my sixth grade year to return to school for seventh grade, it seemed as if I were due for two years of missed insults. Then, towards ninth grade, it started to improve. It’s as if there was a change in everyone; I no longer mattered. I love being left alone. It means many fewer worries. Now, I might be called “gay,” but it’s because the person who uses the word intends to call me stupid. In that case, I shrug my shoulders and wish them good luck finding a job with such bad English.

It’s not as if all of this hasn’t caused me alter myself for the consent of others. I used to spend hours thinking about what to wear so that I could go for one day without being harrassed. Now, looking back on all that wasted time, I think, “what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I have just worn what I had and been happy with myself?”. Seeing myself in a different light, I dress however I want. I don’t let it bother me.

You could say that I believe in not-having-people-bother-me-about-my-appearance. In a more broad spectrum, that translates into my belief in self-confidence, in personal freedom, in not judging a Jeff by it’s shirt, if that makes any sense. So bring on the insults if you are so immature, because they don’t do a damned thing. They just don’t.