At sixteen, I coward into over-sized sweatshirts during class so that no one could bother me. The soft cotton felt like a womb that isolated me from the rest of the world. A world in which two high schools took my attendance because one of them already knew my secret. In one of them I came out to a group of boys.
“Hey, kid. Are you gay?” one of them asked from the back of the room. Him and his friends all sat on the edge of their seats, waiting for my answer.
“Yes.” I said. The one kid laughed and turned around. My lips felt numb. I just told a total stranger my sexual preference and now that whole class knew. My stomach rumbled with nervous energy. A kind of energy that vibrated throughout my body for the next couple of months, as I skipped school and stayed in bed, shivering.
I needed to get away from everyone. My parents considered sending me to Harvey Milk High, a school in New York meant for LGBTQ teens. They considered this because back then any other institution seemed a threat to my mental health.
Day and night I imagined kids beating me up in the corner of a classroom. Any classroom that provided a safe space for their hatred. The locker room where no adult ever checked on students. The side of a trailer that the school never used after Hurricane Katrina blasted through the campus. The tennis court, band room, or even the courtyard where one student got beaten up during lunch period. No on interfered until the hitter got in enough punches to give the victim several bruises to heal over the course of a few months.
I feared this even though I laid in bed a couple of miles away. So I never went back. Another school opened its doors to me. One with a whole body of students that never asked about my sexuality. A place where no one could suspect anything other because of my “shy” personality. I would just sit quietly until the last bell rang.
At sixteen this option might feel the most logical as fear installs itself into every body movement. It plans out everything from getting to school to eating lunch to someday starting a Gay Straight Alliance Club. A club where straight people could hug a gay person without any reprimanded by their friends. Friends that write “lesbian” on a teachers walls because she hosted the first club meeting. Friends that start rumors about two guys initiating intercourse on the stairwell between classes because they became the first gay couple at school.
I ran the club until my senior year and by then I made enough friends to no longer need a place to feel safe with people. I could wear a rainbow belt on campus without thinking about the violent repercussions it could potentially stir. Boys no longer seemed like a threat because a ton of them talked to me in class. We talked about poetry, guitars, and television shows. I made friends.