I was subjected to anti-gay bullying long before I came out publicly at age 17. When I entered 6th grade, I was labeled a fag. I still have my yearbook to prove it.
For me, the day the yearbook was released was fraught with belly butterflies. After all, the best way to measure your self-worth (in my 12-year-old mind) was counting the people who scribbled "See ya next year" or some other banal message. Regardless of the content, it was a message meant just for ME.
I was in the locker room after gym class ... all awkward elbows and knees, clutching the collection of memories to my chest. I remember sheepishly asking one of the more popular, and less sadistic, boys in my class to sign. Before I knew it, my book had made it around half the room! "See, Doug?" I thought. "Things are looking up!"
The bell rang. The other kids started to file out, and my yearbook was placed unceremoniously back in my lap. I should've waited to read their messages in private, but I was craving that validation, that "you're one of us" chumminess that I was SURE was contained within those pages. I opened the cover and my heart dropped.
"FAG!!!" read the largest entry in black magic marker. They had even marked out some entries that others had made earlier in the day. My cheeks burned with shame and my eyes brimmed with tears that threatened to spill over and prove that I was the sissy-boy they all claimed I was. I now know real men cry. But if you want to make it through middle school with your dignity intact, boys and girls, you never let them see you sob.
Perhaps my peers truly realized my sexual orientation years before I did, but they don't deserve that much credit. I was a skinny, bookish kid who enjoyed choir and drama instead of sports and the straight-man soap opera that is the World Wrestling Federation. I was different, and that made me an easy target.
I'm now 33, and I suppose I should be used to such treatment. After all, I've endured it for over half my life, and I'll always be different. But here's the thing: I'm not used to it. I'll never be used to it, and I shouldn't have to be used to it. But, I'm still subjected to it. Now, instead of enduring the hurtful words and actions of my peers, I have to face religious and political leaders, celebrities, news organizations and complete strangers proposing legislation like HJR-6.
I never did let my school age bullies see me cry, and today's bullies won't get that satisfaction either. I refuse to let the ignorant mar my future like they marred my past. We will speak, act, and vote... and in doing so let it be known that bullying, in all its forms, won't be tolerated.