I was thinking about all the controversy about what we say and free speech. There is a thin line between free speech and speech that incites feelings so intense within an individual it verges upon bullying. We must be careful what we say, because we can truly harm with our words. The “sticks and stones” argument is good in theory, but let’s be honest…words hurt. Whether we want them to hurt, words can be stabbingly painful, can take our breath away. Words can make us feel destroyed.
The solution is not to tell someone being bullied by words to get over it. That is easier said than done. So many of us put on a fake smile and try to pretend everything is alright while inside we are dying. We need to be told we are loved. We are cared about. We matter.
I was bullied incessantly. From the time I entered the public education system, I was bullied. Well…not in preschool. For some reason 2-4 year olds are not as big into bullying. Once I was in kindergarten, I was tormented by my peers. I missed school because I told my parents I wished I was dead, simply because of the teasing I endured. I had a really great, supportive kindergarten teacher, Marcia McElroy (Olwick). She was very intuitive to my needs as a student with a disability but no one, not even her, could protect me from the incessant bullying I endured.
For years, I’d walk down hallways with children quacking at me, making fun of my limp. I was very tiny until 5th grade, when I started taking steroids for asthma. I doubled my weight from 60 lbs. to 120 lbs. in six months, and the onslaught of fat shaming commenced. I had no supportive teacher that year. My needs were a nuisance to my teacher. As I entered puberty the teasing intensified. The forced perms I was made to have intensified the teasing. I was made fun of for my clothing, my disability, my hair, for existing.
Then came the realization I was attracted to women, and the onslaught of bullying continued, but this time it manifested from a new source…my home.
I was Catholic when I came out, as a 16 year old who’d been tormented for years by peers, for just about every other aspect of my life. Now, I was accepting the fact that I was even more different. I didn’t want to accept it, and I fought it.
My bedroom was downstairs, so I had quite a bit of privacy. I spent countless nights sobbing into my pillow. I begged “G-d” to make me normal. I prayed. I did the rosary. I hated myself, because I believed everyone else hated me.
When I came out to my parents, it was in anger. I was mad and I wanted them to hurt. After I told them, P became irrational. It became obvious there was no “accepting” it. My dad was quiet. He was sad. He mourned. He lamented. Then he got over it and accepted it.
Still, every night I shed tears. I cried because I was different. I cried because I assumed I was gay (I’m not I’m trans, but I had no idea what trans meant, back then). I cried because my life was already hard enough. Couldn’t I be normal?
I was miserable, and wanted to die. I tried…more than once. I came close even slicing up my wrists until they were raw. There was no help for me. I could keep praying to change an essential part of who I was or I could kill myself. Nothing was working. I thought the world would be better off without me. I thought my family and town would be better off if I was dead.
Then something happened. I got involved in a group for LGBT people. I spoke to others like me. I learned not all people hated LGBT people. I learned to accept myself. I learned to stop the self-hate. It took time. The bullying still continued, but slowly, the tears dried up.
By the time I acknowledged I was trans, my life had begun to stabilize. I wasn’t ashamed of who I was. I was no longer praying to change. I was no longer trying to kill myself. I was happier. I was healthier. One of the greatest days of my life was coming out as “Dominick”. Another was my legal name change being approved by the judge. Another was when they changed the gender marker on my ID to “Male”. Every surgery, every shot of Testosterone, I feel as little more like myself. Each event is a victory. I am happy with me.
While I still have a lot of acceptance to work on when it comes to body image, due to long term abuse and the self-hatred I felt for so long based on how I looked – fat, ugly, unattractive, I’ve come so far in every other aspect of my life.
I did not find happiness in trying to change myself. I found happiness in accepting ME for ME. Black, white, asian, gay, straight, male, female, transgender, able-bodied, or disabled…we all have to learn to love ourselves for who we are. Until then, we will continue to be miserable. We will continue to hate ourselves.
So, when we look at comments in the public that are disparaging to LGBT youth, we really need to think about their impact. We know the statistics. LGBT kids commit suicide in higher numbers than their peers. They are bullied more. They face uncertainty and self-hatred. They need our support and love. They do not need to hear they are bad, unnatural, or wrong. Those words hurt. They sting. They cause harm.
Nobody would choose to endure what we go through as LGBT people. Who would choose self-hatred? Family hatred? Community hatred? Societal hatred? Who would choose to have less rights than others? Who would choose to be considered unnatural, not normal, or worthy of going to hell by family, friends, or society, at large? No one. We are who we are, and until we accept it as a natural part of our being, we will suffer with self-hatred and loathing.
I didn’t choose to be me. I just am who I am, and I think I’m pretty spectacular. If I wasn’t Dominick would I be so caring? so loving? so hardworking? All I know is I’m who I am and I’m glad to be me. Those who accept me know I’m happy and healthier living the truth. We should ask nothing less of anyone else.