This is the first installment of a multi-part series detailing my experiences during the initial realization of my sexuality at twelve years old and the subsequent struggles I endured because of it. Capturing these moments is a difficult and extremely emotional process for me. I hope at least some of you will read along and find something worthwhile. – Trev
Part I: Sitting on the Edge of Heaven
Self discovery can be a tremendously beautiful and illuminating experience. It is a time when a young person chisels the brilliantly unique sculpture that is their identity, sharing characteristics with many others yet somehow amalgamating into one that is wholly its own. I remember the initial joy I felt: pure, unreserved. An abundance of internal confetti rained down as all the various parts of my self united for a toast over a grand celebration of realized soul. Recognizing a personal talent, experiencing a first kiss, discovering a taste in music or a sense of fashion; there are few processes on this Earth as manifestly beautiful and natural as this. Left to its default, this time can contain some of the most glorious experiences in a person’s life. For some, this is exactly the case. For others, such as myself, the party gets busted. This is more in the sense of a malicious raid conducted by abusers of authority rather than justice being brought upon some obstreperous breakers of law. It didn’t start out awful, however.
My development began like anyone else’s. Eighth grade was the year I discovered a significant amount of myself, especially the sexual components, while the previous three were mainly focused on basic survival. Middle school was a mostly dark and treacherous tunnel of an experience, but eighth grade would emerge as the beaming light at the end of it. It’s not that I was brutally shoved into lockers or stricken with abject poverty. Materially and externally, I recognize that I’ve lived a relatively fortunate life. My assaults have been almost exclusively emotional in nature. These, of course, range from the minor to the more substantial. For an example of the former, when it came time for the rather inclusive fifth grade Christmas play, yours truly was honored with the role of the most corpulent character in all the land: Santa Claus.
Getting stuck with the part of Crisco Kringle can be attributed to my being quite portly in those days. Upon receiving the role, I was distinctly told by my teacher that we would place, “… a pillow or something,” under the tawdry, red outfit when the time came, because of course I hadn’t been typecast for being the plumpest pupil in the room. Needless to say, come showtime, it became quite clear that my designation was based on fitting the costume more than the role. After getting dressed I asked about the proposed padding only to be met with a terse, “I think we’ll be okay.” Yep. So this festive Humpty Dumpty rolled his jolly, fat ass onto that stage and gave it his all, sans pillow or dignity. It’s worth noting that I don’t have much red in my wardrobe to this very day, as if the mere sight of it irritates me, like some kind of bulimic bull. This is still far less direct than the time my seventh grade history teacher recommended I try out for shot put because I was, ‘nice and stout,’ (to this day I get triggered when perusing selections of beer) followed by derisive chuckling by both he and my supposed “best friend” at the time. Both at home and within those halls, these sorts of minor aggressions would be consistent but trivial compared to the larger tribulations to come.
General body dysmorphia aside, by eighth grade I had started eating better and moving more. Turns out self-hatred can be somewhat of a motivator, at least temporarily. Point is, I was feelin’ myself. I had an unprecedented level of confidence and comfort towards school, in part because that prepubescent, transitional phase where kids are desperate to prove their maturity and value against increased competition had simmered down. People had on the whole chilled the f*ck out, at least until next year, when we’d once again be launched into the bottom of a feral, hormonal wilderness. It was at this time I also started to recognize my attraction to other boys. In the earliest stages, before feelings left the unnoticed, background hum of subconscious and entered the frontal realm of labels and suppositions, these feelings granted me nothing short of unadulterated bliss. Crushes developed, boners boned as my overly naive mind navigated itself through exciting, new territory. All of this culminated into a moment where I was taking care of the placement of teachers’ mail per my duties as an ‘office assistant.’ (This willingness to please and assist authority would come to plague my development more than anything else.) Staring into a name tag-covered wall of schlocky, wooden cubes, my internal monologue reached it’s breaking point. Just say it. Admit it to yourself. Aloud, alone, I resigned and whispered, “I’m gay.”
In this instant I actually smiled. There was no feeling of wickedness or vice. Once the word had materialized, however, it was a short amount of time before indoctrinated judgement cast its dark, unloving shadow. My party got busted. The scratching sound of needle being abruptly ripped from vinyl pierced through the room as men in uniform despotically kicked down my doors of self, barking and breaking as the joy was replaced with fear and the celebrating turned to living nightmare. Such is often the experience of being gay in rural America. Much like the figurative festivity, the risk of continued disruption is usually mitigated by relocation, ideally to places that honor the separation of foliage and fashion. I tabled the problem at hand for the time being.
Over the following weeks and months I endured internal warfare. Images of the scaly, smelly flesh of demons that had been taught to my obsessive compulsive mind since I was six flooded my spirit. Shrieks of anguished and aflame dis-obeyers served as the soundtrack to what was supposed to be a formative and wonderful period of my life. The invisible crusade raged on until, one night, I decided to call upon the One I had been taught to in times like this. I knew what I was feeling was wrong, but I didn’t actually feel wrong. I also knew that I loved God very, very much, and I wanted all of his love in return. So, amidst the backdrop of another unnervingly still, Midwestern night, feeling as small as I ever had, I seated my twelve year old self on the edge of my bed. With desperation and incertitude, I held my clammy, adolescent hands together and spoke to him, aloud, “God, if there is any way, any way at all for you to love me the way I am, please do. Please, show me that you do.” There was no response. I remained confused and alone, waiting for God to love me. Waiting for permission to love myself.
Trev Richards is host of the weekly talk program Trev on UIC Radio; Live, Wednesdays 8:30 – 10:30 PM Central Time. Follow/listen on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, iTunes and SoundCloud