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I’m Not a Monster, I’m Just Gay: Surviving Family Trauma and School Bullying

closeup of a white person with a serious expression, one hand to their face, rainbow colors painted from the bottom of one eye to their cheekbone and a drop of red streaming from the other eye
(Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash)

Commentary, Samantha Kennedy

After seeing how my family dealt with relationships when I was growing up, I was scared I would also suck at loving someone.

I was 12 when my fear seemed inevitable. I had a crush on a girl in my class and was pretty sure I was a lesbian. Some of the other girls in my class created an image of me as a monster. Sometimes, I still see myself this way: a scary, big thing, not quite a man or a woman, someone you shouldn’t be alone with. For some reason, they treated me like I wasn’t a person anymore.

The year before this crush became public, my school district implemented an anti-bullying campaign that teachers and counselors praised. I remember watching a documentary about bullying and hearing a spoken-word poem in math class, but the bullying just got worse.

My things got thrown in the garbage most days and a group of girls would jump me weekly, sometimes daily, and there didn’t seem to be much anyone could do to change things. An older cousin told me to get over it because “it only gets worse.” I cried every night. I couldn’t stand to be alive if I were only going to get beat up every day.

Since it kept happening, I thought something must be wrong with me. I think it was around this time that Dad thought the same things the kids did (that I was a monster because I was gay) and Mom rarely hugged me. I didn’t know if she was scared of me or if I was scared. Everything I felt, even if it was love or happiness, was gross and twisted in some way.

>>>Read: Coming Up and Coming Out as a Little Gay Latino in the Bay<<<

Mom and Dad, who were divorced, always seemed to have unstable relationships, both with each other and other partners. I didn’t understand why they were allowed to do so much bad to each other and other partners but still look like and get treated like any other couple.

My family looked back on that relationship — filled more with resentment than love — and remembered it as another loving but tragic situation. I didn’t get the same grace. Each belief in the family seemed to be of convenience. They decided my parents’ relationship was flawed but normal to make themselves look better, but they criticized my gay relationship to justify their discomfort.

When I started dating my first girlfriend, Mom and most of my family only acknowledged her as a friend. It was different from having my feelings seen as predatory. Instead, it was as if my feelings were less than those between a man and a woman.

That created problems in the relationship. But most of all, I was worried I’d do the same things my parents did. Most of the bullying stopped because I ended up at a different high school and then dropped out, but my anxiety kept getting worse. My family continued in their dysfunction while refusing to acknowledge my girlfriend. That combined with the echoes of the bullies to make me feel I was doomed to turn into my parents or the monster everyone said I was. So I waited.

I was confused when those things didn’t happen, partly because that meant I was responsible for my decisions. I had to go to therapy, which my family doesn’t really believe in, and figure out how to deal with my family’s traumas, my internalized homophobia and how the former fuels the latter.

Eventually, I didn’t have to constantly focus on surviving through each day. I felt I was in a much safer place, where I could admit who I loved and wasn’t disgusted by it. I knew my mom calling my partner of three years “just a friend” wasn’t close to the pain I felt before, but I knew it mattered.

Part of that realization was thanks to my partner. They grew up fairly religious and have a complex relationship with God and their parents. Even though we didn’t grow up the same, my partner’s own struggles as a lesbian helped me see how every little thing adds up and matters.

Small things my partner does, like serenading me with Elton John songs and making me knafeh whenever I want, add up. But the bad things, like hearing the nasty words I do from strangers, add up too.

By calling my partner a friend, my family was refusing to acknowledge the love I worked so hard to feel. I think Mom and everyone else will say it one day, but for now it’s up to me to recognize that love.

This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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