There are all kinds of bullying stories. It seems that everyone has a tale to tell, especially if they are gay. In some ways bullying stories are as common to hear as our famous coming-out sagas. Perhaps sharing our story is a way for us to bond together, to relate to each other, to show how far we have come. Are times changing? Are things getting better for kids in schools? Is the world becoming a nicer place where everyone is accepted? I would like to believe so, but there is still a lot of work left to do. There are certain things that we cannot control. Some kids are always going to be mean to others who are different. They may learn how to hate from all sorts of examples in life: parents, grandparents, peers, media, church, etc. What can we do? I think we must continue telling our stories, showing the world that we will not tolerate bullying, educating people that we are not lesser human beings. Our human rights should not differ from the person sitting next to us. With that said, I share with you my own story.
The first time I realized I was different from the other boys was in elementary school. I had no interest in sports. I talked differently: My voice was as high as a kite. I was incredibly scrawny and shy for my age. I gravitated toward hanging out with the girls, not just because I felt more comfortable around them but because I was not accepted by the other guys in my class. I did not have an athletic bone in my body, and I wore big black-framed eyeglasses that covered half my face. I dreaded gym class and despised anything that would mess up my perfectly parted hair. Talking about what girl was the hottest or what my favorite football team was did not interest me, and the guys knew it.
From elementary school through high school, I was tormented, teased, pushed, and ridiculed for being different. The worst was during junior high, where you reach that age where you are supposed to have a girlfriend or at least talk about who you hooked up with over the weekend. I dreaded going to school during this time. There was a group of guys who knew I was an easy target. They would jump at the chance to call me “fag” in front of a crowd or make fun of the way I was dressed. They once shoved me into a harp case in music class, locked me in it, and started banging on it as hard as they could. My screaming did not phase them. They did not give a shit; they loved to hear the other kids roar with laughter. These same guys would deflate the tires on my bike so that I would be late to school, and they would whiz past me, screaming out gay slurs.
The name calling is what killed me the most. It messed with my head and sucked out any confidence I had. My sense of self did not exist. I felt so confused in my own head, because I had so many of my own questions going on in there. I really did not understand what being gay meant back then, nor did I understand what it meant for me. I would cry myself to sleep at night, or I would lie awake, praying to God that I would wake up different. I wanted to die. I did not want to continue living my life. I wanted to wake up the next day and think and act like the other guys. When you live your life with all these negative thoughts in your head and hear the worst things you can imagine said about yourself, you dive deep into a very dark place. It was one of the lowest moments of my life. After high school I felt like I had to have sex with girls to prove something to everyone (and to myself). Afterwards I would feel horrible and worse because I didn’t enjoy the sex. I hated living a lie and was so deeply confused.
I finally found my strength through my family and going away to college. Later I would come out to my parents, sisters, brother and all my colorful aunts, uncles and cousins (a very large Italian bunch, let me add). I had not even kissed a guy yet, but I knew that I had to come to terms with who I am and the fact that I was born this way. I was born gay. I remember talking to my mother, who was sitting across from me at a restaurant in Arizona. She knew I had been distant and not myself for a long time, and she said something that I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life: “Matt, you know, if you were gay, we would all be fine with that. We love you no matter what.” I remember driving out of the restaurant parking lot and taking a huge breath. It felt like I’d thrown a pile of bricks off my shoulders. Going away to college helped me tremendously as well. To this day I still hang out with the friends who accepted me for me, ever judged me, never teased me and always had my back.
When I hear about young kids wanting to kill themselves or crying out for help because they are being bullied in school, I want to tell them to never give up. I know what it’s like to not want to go on, but I am so glad I did. It does not just get better; it gets a hell of a lot better! Life works out in the wildest ways, and things that you dream of actually can and do come true. As I sit here and write this essay, I look to my left and see the person who brings me the most happiness, my boyfriend of six years, Nick. He has kept me grounded in this crazy Hollywood town, and I know for sure that I could not have done it without him. Nick is truly one of a kind. The only thing missing now is the ring! Yep, I am waiting for him to propose (and so are our families!). What can I say? I am a traditional guy at heart. You better believe we are going to have one big Italian wedding, with lots of food, dancing, and celebration. We want to go all out and celebrate not just each other but life and equality for all.
There is always a light hiding behind your darkest days. It just takes your inner strength to release it. Once you have it, nobody can take that away from you. Let us all continue to support each other and stay strong.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or visit stopbullying.gov. You can also visit The Trevor Project or call them at 1-866-488-7386.