But those memories of bullying, depression, and longing to be "just like everyone else" have always been there, lurking just beneath the surface. The focus on gay teens taking their own lives and bullies doing things like breaking the arm of another boy because he dared to want to be a cheerleader bring them all to the surface.
I was one of those bullied kids. In grade school, I was the sissy, the one who didn't play sports, who walked his baby sister around the neighborhood in a stroller, who preferred the quiet, gentle company of girls to boys. I was the little boy who stayed inside, reading, while my parents exhorted me to go outside. They even put up a basketball hoop on the garage in the hopes it would make me more like other boys. My father was the only one who used it.
In the school cafeteria one time, one mean girl went around the table, pointing out all the people who were in her class the year before. "I was in Mrs. Kincaid's class with him, and him, and him, and her, and him...and her," she said at last, pointing at me.
In sixth grade, a pudgy boy made me his after-lunch sport and would make it his business to get in line as we went back to our classrooms, where he could punch me and body slam me against the wall. I remember praying in my bedroom for him to stop. God must have not been listening those nights.
As I grew up, the taunts went from sissy to queer and faggot. It was all okay; I was able to leave that identity behind once and for all when I went away to college, where no one knew me from my past life.
But the scars remained. They made me painfully shy and introverted. I think I was afraid if I spoke up too much or made my presence known too well, people would catch on that I was "different" and the teasing and bullying would start up again, only in more sophisticated ways, like alienating me.
I'm not writing this in the hopes that people will feel sorry for me. I don't want your pity.
I want you--and especially if you're a little different kind of kid as I was--to understand that it does get better.
It may not get better right away from outside.
It has to get better from inside. It took me thirty years and more heartache than you can imagine to say to myself that I was tired of fighting and exhausted from pretending to be someone I was not. It was terrifying to lay down the shield and the sword and come out, fearful of those childhood reprisals rising up once more, but I did. I had to. I couldn't go on living a lie--that would have been suicide in either a literal or figurative sense.
I could at last say, "You have trouble accepting me? You think I'm (fill in the blank)? Well, that's your problem, not mine."
Because once you come to love yourself for who you are, once you realize you are not a "mistake" and that you are not a product of what someone tells you you should be, it gets better.