When I was in the eighth grade, I hated my chorus teacher. He was a very kind man who loved his job and possessed an acute sensitivity to the progress and success of his students. That wasn’t why I hated him. He was gay. His high pitch voice, the curl of his pinky fingers, and feminine gait assaulted my thirteen-year-old sensibilities of how a “real” man should behave. My religious upbringing taught me people like him were an abomination. So naturally I joined a band of vicious kids intent on torturing the poor man. I turned my lips up at him in disgust, refused to cooperate in class, and dismissed anything he had to say with a hard roll of my eyes. Even my father thought I was out of control when in a row of A’s, he saw a glaring C for chorus. I didn’t care. I saw my chorus teacher as unworthy of my time or effort. I moved up to the ninth grade, but stayed in the same building because the eighth graders shared the same space with the high school crowd. I didn’t take chorus in the ninth grade. Instead, I developed a hard crush on a girl and my whole world exploded in a perplexing mess.
I confused her for a boy at first. And switched to believing she was a girl. And back to thinking she was a boy again. The confusion elicited by her gender presentation delighted me in unexpected ways; I wanted to talk to her and hear her story. When I entered the girls’ bathroom and found her there, the logical part of my brain declared, “Well, there you have it. She’s a girl so you can’t like her anymore.” But knowing she was a girl made me fall harder. So I semi-stalked her because I didn’t have an ounce of courage to approach her. I don’t think she knew I existed. Or if she did, never acknowledged it. I found out she had a girlfriend; they were the only lesbian couple in the school. Whenever I saw them holding hands, pangs of jealously stabbed my chest, but I also loved seeing them together: the times they kissed, argued, and hugged. I ached for what they had. With a girl. My brows furrowed whenever these thoughts zipped across my head. What was wrong with me? I would ask over and over again. I should like boys not girls.
It hit me later in the year that I didn’t completely like boys. I wanted more to be their friends, to be part of their inner circle, to be them even. I envied their fucking freedom. I paid more attention to my choice of clothes and realized, horrified, that I dressed more like a guy: collar shirts, baggy pants, sneakers and army boots, and vests. I loved vests. I saw them as my armor against the big, bad world. I wore my hair in a ponytail most of the time, wearing it down only for picture days. And dresses and heels were for church. The thought of wearing such an outfit to school never crossed my mind, even something slightly feminine. I had to laugh at myself. Here I was, a homophobe who happened to be the most obvious queer in the school. But I wore make-up so maybe it wasn’t quite so plain to see. I wouldn’t know the word for how I presented until the end of college: tomboy femme.
I took chorus in the tenth grade and made a conscious effort to know my chorus teacher better. That’s why I know he was a kind man who cared deeply about his students. Such qualities about him flew over my head in the eighth grade because I refused to see his humanity, refused to see him beyond his sexuality. I laughed with him, talked to him about things in my life, listened to stories about his, and did my best to excel in class, paying close attention to his instructions to perform better in upcoming competitions. I can only imagine his confusion about the 180 in my behavior. But I never apologized for how I treated him two years ago. And that was a mistake because he left the school the year after. When I asked why, the answer broke my heart. The bullying had been too much for him so he quit. Moved to Provincetown. It was my first time hearing about this place that some students’ referred to as a gay Mecca. The sadness over not being able to apologize followed me through the rest of high school, the rest of life really, all while I secretly pined for a gorgeous, highly unavailable girl.
Whenever hateful conversations about gays and lesbians came up at home, I stayed quiet instead of joining in on the homophobic rant as I used to when my mind was different. My silence was a scream in the middle of it all. A scream for the hate to stop. A scream to let them know that I was gay too. That those conversations crushed the most delicate parts of my soul and fed my fear of coming out. Religion, Haitian culture, community and family ties, honor, keeping up appearances, and being normal–I was too afraid to stand up against such a superbly trained army of manufactured soldiers. I was only one person after all.
In grad school, after suffering from depression in college and nearly killing myself over my sexual orientation, I asked myself this one question: are you willing to destroy your world for the truth? I didn’t have an answer then, but I do now. With destruction comes the opportunity for rebirth. I will build a new world, a world supported by truth. I will continue loving myself and telling myself one thing: Please, live.