My purpose in contributing to the stories here on Cedarville Out is to offer a model of reality that has helped me navigate a variety of hostile cultures I've encountered throughout my life. I want to give current LGBTQ+ students a vision of internal resistance and resilience in the face of shame and fear based culture that we are all too familiar with. I will do this by way of story telling. I invite you to come along with me on this journey if you're ready.
I was six years old when I met my first bully. Her name was Kelly. My family lived in a quiet neighborhood in a house with wood siding. One day an older girl from my street singled me out to bully on the school bus. The culture on my bus was a hierarchy with fourth graders at the top and kindergarteners at the bottom. When you started out in kindergarten, you were only allowed to sit in the front seats and by the time you reached fourth grade you had the power to sit anywhere you wanted - even to kick younger kids out of their spots.
Kelly was a year or two older than I was. She had her choice of seats and she just so happened to sit next to me, every morning and every afternoon. She would whisper cruel things in my ear until I was crying and counting the stops until I could get away from her.
I let this go on for about two weeks before I reached my breaking point and did something about it. One afternoon I took a seat four rows back from the front, as far back as I could go for my year. Cool kid, right? I wasn't going to let Kelly sit with me today. I wouldn't take it any more. I sat by the aisle and put my backpack next to me, filling the rest of the bench. The kids on my bus were filling in when there was a hold up as Kelly stopped where I was sitting. She quietly told me to move over. I stared straight forward and didn't budge. She told me to move again, louder this time. I sat still. Frustrated, she raised her voice, pushed her hips against my shoulder and told me to move another time. I braced and held my position. The other kids started telling me to move over too. "What's the hold up?" everyone was wondering. I caught the bus driver's eyes in the rear view mirror, she looked agitated and in a hurry to get the rest of the kids seated. The bus had a schedule to keep. The kids yelled louder. Kelly was full on yelling now. The bus driver joined in the chorus of people telling me to just move already. I held true to my intention and waited for time to work in my favor. The kids started pushing forward in one mass and Kelly was forced to choose another seat. I did it. I was free. No tears today. I had reached my limit. I overcame the will of my bully, my peers, and an authority figure to free myself from Kelly's insidious whispers.
The bullies that came after the bus incident came as wolves dressed in sheep's wool. They introduced themselves as my friends. It took me years to discern their true nature. On Sundays I listened carefully to spiritual leaders so I could learn how to live "right" and in accordance with god's will. These leaders taught me that I was a depraved, evil being to my core and because of that I couldn't trust my mind, body, or heart. They taught me to distrust my own thinking and feeling and to rely on them to interpret god's will for me.
I trusted them and in return they carved me into pieces and set me at war against myself. I became my own bully so they didn't have to.
I treated myself with a cruelty I would never treat another person with. I hyper-focused on each and every way I failed to live up to god's "perfect" idea of who I should be. I tormented myself for simply existing.
What changed that was the realization that, I too, am a person and I should treat myself with at least the same amount of kindness and generosity that I treat others with. Golden Rule Reversal: Love yourself as you love others. I knew how to love - just not how to love myself.
Our minds, bodies, and hearts are on our side. They are us. We do not have to be at war with ourselves.
When I listened to myself about what I thought of my queerness there was only this quiet love that emerged in the absence of my bullying whispers. The same quiet love that had always been there, waiting to be embraced. I put up with my own bullying a lot longer than I did with my first bully on the school bus – I was twenty-two years old when I finally overcame the will of the bully inside. From there I learned to be still and listen to the quietness; to be my own guide and trust the path my feet led me to.
The cultures we are a part of are often times beyond our ability to influence significantly but there are ways to change our own internal reality for the better. Even when we are powerless to change our external reality, we still have the other-worlds of our minds to take refuge in. The key is to recognize and claim the authority you have over your own mind, feelings, body and soul. Take it back from those who falsely told you it didn't belong to you. We belong first and primarily to ourselves.
As a wise man once said to me, "You're stuck with you for life so you may as well be a friend to yourself."
I hope that my words inspire your own visions of better ways of being with ourselves and the communities we are a part of. Much love and good luck out there!