Old Nemeses New Friends

Many of you have heard about the “It Gets Better Project” which began in September 2010 when Dan Savage and his partner made a video to inspire hope among young people facing harassment. Unfortunately, many youth who identify as being gay, are questioning their sexuality, or exhibit characteristics and behaviors that society has stereotyped as “being gay”, are subject to bullying, harassment, and abuse.

I know that for myself —

As a youth, I did not consciously know that I was gay, nor did I even look at guys in a sexual manner. I was self-absorbed, confused, as well as being physically small, weak, and awkward. I also had a mouth — even at a young age, I was quick with the insulting come-backs. I was a ripe candidate for being “picked on” by other guys. Back then, the pejorative term for kids like me was “sissy.” — “Oh, you’re a sissy!” or “Let’s beat up the sissy today!” or “The sissy throws a ball like a girl.” On and on… I heard it every day.

I was fortunate that my twin brother took pity on me. Being at least six inches taller than me since we were 10 years old, and heavier too, as well as more graceful and naturally athletic as well as being very popular, my brother became my “go to” guy to jump behind for protection when the bullies circled around me. Most of the time, that worked. Even when the bullies found me alone, the mere threat of “telling on them” — that is, informing my brother who hurt me — would be enough to get them to back off. Not every time, but most of the time that worked. So I was saved from physical abuse.

There were two classmates in junior high and high school who particularly sought out ways to make my life miserable. I don’t know why, but to them at the time, they thought it was hilarious to do things that would upset me and make me cry. They found new ways of harassing me outside the protective arms of my brother.

Well, we grew up, graduated, and went our separate ways. I never really saw those two guys again after high school. I might have seen them at high school reunions, but they were with their friends and I was with mine, and we didn’t speak with one another.

Our relationship began to change when we became Facebook friends with each other in 2009. Each of them learned about me and I learned about them, and we learned together that as adults, we weren’t all that different. In fact, one of these friends reached out to me for guidance on how to help his teenage son who was identifying as being gay.

This past Friday night, my high school class had an informal reunion. I saw those two guys there. What impressed me was that each of them sought me out to apologize for “being a jerk when we were in school.” They both wanted to become friends as adults. They eagerly sought acceptance of their apology.

As the former Senior Class President, when it became my turn to take the microphone and speak for a few minutes, I accepted their apologies publicly — in a nice, tactful, respectful manner. I called them to the stage, shook their hands, and hugged. We all smiled, and I can tell from the faces of my other classmates that this mutual gesture had made a huge impression. We all heard for the rest of the night how impressed our classmates were, since they knew that we didn’t get along when we were in school. I also heard from some other classmates that they see hope for their children who are — for whatever reason — being bullied in school.

I think my new-old friends and I will be speaking at some school assemblies together later in the school year, too. Win-win for all. And that’s how it should be, because…

Life is short: it does get better.