I stood outside of a homosexual establishment called Dru’s Place on one of the most memorable nights of my life. It was about a year ago. I stood near the intersection of Madison and McNeil, on a cold night full of stars among great friends. We had plans for a fun night of karaoke, cash for beer, and a car full of grannies at the nearby intersection calling us “a bunch of faggots.”
Just moments before, my friends and I were standing outside of the bar’s entrance, talking when a dark-purple PT Cruiser pulled up to the red light. An elderly woman sitting in the passenger-side leaned out of her open window and called out to us, “Hey. Are y’all about to go in there?”
A little puzzled, my friend responded with a polite, yet reluctant, “Yeah.”
What could this senior possibly want from us? Did she need us to find someone inside? Was she curious as to the type of establishment we were about to patronize? Nope. She just wanted to take a moment from her day to tell a group of harmless, well-mannered strangers, “Well, y’all are a bunch of faggots!”
Growing up, “faggot” or its variant was the word I feared most, the reason why I stayed in the closet for so long. I was brought up to believe that a man or boy unfortunate enough to be verbally branded with this badge of shame lost all rights to his dignity. All it took was a single word to be uttered maliciously for the recipient to become instantly inferior to his ridiculer. I know this because growing up, I was addressed by this word on more occasions than I wish to remember.
Each time I was called “faggot,” or “queer,” or “Cary the Fairy,” I felt like I lost a little bit of myself. Word by painful word, my confidence was chipped away until I found myself loathing who I was, uncomfortable in my own skin, desperately praying every single night that God would make me straight by the time I woke up the next morning. Why couldn’t people understand that these aren’t just innocuous words. Each syllable caused heavy emotional pain. I feared dispute, so I avoided confrontation with my bullies by ignoring them, allowing the hurt to fester.
My revenge was not to lash out. My revenge was to prove to my antagonists that I was straight. I dated girls. I even married one eventually. But while I wore this flimsy façade of a heterosexual male, I daydreamed about defending myself against these attacks on my character with a triumphant display of violence, justified by the fact that their mental abuse was slowly and painfully killing me.
But during the 26th year of my life, a series of circumstances (that I’ll probably share at another time) led me to shed the constricting, heterosexual uniform I felt forced to wear for so long. After 26 years, my soul became too heavy, and I was exhausted from hiding my true self. With a dreadful sense of defeat, I decided it was time to admit that my bullies had won.
It was a difficult rebirth, but I eventually learned to walk again. With my new life came the freedom to remove myself from the environment that suppressed me. I found a place where people accepted the one aspect of my vast personality that shunned many of the people I once called “friend.” Through these people, I gradually learned how to rebuild my confidence (though, it isn’t the same as it was before) and accept myself.
13 years after my rebirth, my confidence was tested while standing outside of Dru’s Place located at the intersection of Madison and McNeil. Aware of the world in which we live, I knew this type of harassment was inevitable. I just didn’t expect it to be administered by someone who probably dated Strom Thurman in high school. But there it was.
It took a moment of awkward silence before my brain registered what she just said. Her words bounced around in my head, taunting me to react. Something inside me told me that I was too old to just walk away a victim. I had paid my dues. It was time to tell this woman what I felt. So I laughed and said, “I know, right?” My friend just shrugged and looked at me, his expression saying, “Is this woman really trying to insult us?” The car of seniors laughed and drove away. My friends and I went on with our night, unphased by their drive-by gay bashing.
But I haven’t forgotten that incident. How could I? It was the night I learned that with the right formula of people in your life, you CAN come to accept yourself despite the vitriolic world in which we live. If you feel like you are somewhere you don’t belong, keep looking. They’re out there. It takes patience, but after all these years, I am not ashamed to say that I am a faggot; I am a queer. I’m Cary the Fairy.