My Journey

By J.R. Gerber

My childhood was similar to that of the average boy's. I played sports, ran around with my friends and wore only athletic clothing for the majority of my youth. However, I always felt like I was just a tiny bit off from the other boys. I was never an outcast - just different. Being young and at times immature, I had no clue what it could possibly be. So I continued with my life, always a little curious about what exactly it was that set me apart.

By the sixth grade, having grown impatient, I analyzed everything I could to figure out what was different. I played the same sports, got the same grades, and laughed at the same things as all the other boys. I was like them in so many ways,yet, felt so different.

One day, my sister and her friend were talking to each other and the topic of two boys holding hands came up. That was the first time I heard the word "gay." I had never heard that word before and in my curious state, I asked what it meant. My sister said in a general definition that it was when two guys liked each other. From that point forward, I slowly began connecting the dots. During the summer after sixth grade, I realized what it was that made me different. Afterwards, a strange feeling that I had never felt before came over me; it was a feeling of confidence.

...the summer after sixth grade, I realized what it was that made me different

While I was raised in an accepting household and never felt ashamed or afraid to be gay, I kept my mouth shut about it until I knew who I should tell and how I would tell them. It was during seventh grade that my new found confidence was deeply shaken. Two of my friends were joking around when one of them jokingly called the other a “faggot.” It was the worst word I had ever heard; it sounded mean and cruel but I wasn't sure of the definition so I quietly asked one of my close buddies what it meant. He said the word is a malicious name for a gay guy. Shocked that my friends would say such a word, I brushed it off thinking he probably didn't know how bad it was or how bad it sounded to me.

As time passed and we grew older, I noticed my friends' behaviors grew more and more homophobic. I wanted to tell them to stop, but I feared being singled out. They remained clueless for a couple more weeks, but I felt the urge to talk to someone about what was I was feeling. I decided to open up to a really good friend of mine. I was extremely nervous and hesitant, but once I told her, she responded in a way that I did not expect. She said, "Wow! I always wanted to have a gay best friend!" Her reaction lifted a giant weight off my shoulders and gave me the confidence to tell another person.

The next day, I decided to tell another one of my friends. He took it a lot worse. He was creeped out and thought that it meant I had a crush on all the guys in the group. I tried to explain to him that it shouldn't make a difference in our friendship and that I was definitely not interested in anyone at the time. I was extremely blindsided by his reaction because I thought that I would get the same reaction from my other friend. However, he understood after a couple days and we were able to talk and interact with each other as usual. I decided that I would just tell my entire group at once in order to avoid receiving the same reaction as the first guy. But I was too nervous to do it myself, so I asked the first guy I told to tell them.

They were all shocked, but they said that they would treat me the same and that it didn’t make a difference. Unfortunately, the very next day they acted differently. Most of them sat away from me at lunch, and the others wouldn’t talk to me. I asked why, and they denied the fact that they were doing anything different. I brushed it off and let them do whatever they would do. About a week later at lunch, I grew sick of their exclusion, and forced them to talk to me. I was told that I was a faggot and that they didn’t want to hang out, talk to, or eat lunch with me. I left the lunch tables and went straight to the office so that I could say I wasn’t feeling well and go home. That night was the first night that I cried myself to sleep.

I didn’t go to school for the next couple days because I didn’t want to get close to anybody who could be mean. When I finally returned to school, everybody knew. The knowledge of my sexuality reached far beyond just my group— the whole grade knew, plus some more. I was constantly asked “is it true” and “who do you like?”At lunch, everybody stared. I tried sitting with my friends, but they ran away when I got close. I sat alone in the halls for that lunch and kept my head low during class to hide my face; it was the worst day of my life.

My sister, Ramona, would occasionally find me in the halls and invite me to come eat with her. During those first few months she was my only friend.

At home, on the other hand, nobody knew I was gay. I felt comfortable with my family so I didn't try to repress my personality. One day, my sister and I were watching a movie together. She continued to talk about how cute one of the actors was, and I agreed. My mom overheard us talking about him. Later that day, my mom and I went to the grocery store together and on the ride home, she asked me hesitantly, "Are you…gay?" At first I completely denied it, but after about two minutes of awkward silence, I quietly muttered, “Okay, I am.” She wasn’t upset at all, she simply said, “Okay” in a cheerful voice and we continued the car ride home.

A couple days later she came to talk to me about it and I explained that I had felt this way for a while and that I was sure and comfortable with it. She was absolutely positive and supportive about it. I decided that because my mom knew, it was only a matter of time before the entire family would find out. So I told both my sisters. Ramona, the middle child, had the same reaction as my mother. She carried on with her life as if nothing had changed. My oldest sister, Beethoven, said that she already knew. She said that she could tell before I even told her. I couldn’t believe how easy it was with my family; I felt blessed and fortunate to have them. However, life couldn't have been more different at school.

For the next three months, I didn’t have a full conversation with anyone. I sat alone in the halls at lunch, and cried on the way home after school. My sister, Ramona, would occasionally find me in the halls and invite me to come eat with her. During those first few months she was my only friend. She knew that my friends weren’t talking to me, so she urged me to find a new friend group. She suggested that I find a group of girls because “they’re more fond of the gays!” I took her advice and found a couple of girls that I had known for a while. We hung out during class and ended up eating lunch together.

I paid no attention to any of my old guy friends. They eventually came to me and admitted that they were jerks and out of line. I accepted their apology, but decided that I would spend more of my time with my girl-friend group, and occasionally hang out with the guys. However, I was strict; if they said anything derogatory, I would leave and not talk to them. Of course there were always incidents where they couldn’t control themselves and sometimes I would break down. But for the most part, they seemed to understand and learned how to act.

I couldn't believe how easy it was with my family; I felt blessed and fortunate to have them

By eighth grade, I had two solid friend groups that I could be with. The guys were fun to be around and play sports with, but I always enjoyed being able to come back to my best friends, the girls, who I had the best times with. By that time, almost everybody in my grade was accepting of me and in my eighth grade graduation they voted me the Larry McCarty Award, for being "kind and brave."

Today, I am extremely comfortable in my own skin and happy with who I am. Of course, there are still hard times. Bigotry is everywhere and it often greets you when you least expect it. However, overwhelmingly I feel accepted and supported by my peers. So many others have experiences that are scary, difficult, and often cruel. My advice to anyone going through their own journey is that it gets better. Any pain or sadness that you experience throughout your journey is worth finding and expressing yourself.