I’ve mentioned before random memories coming back. Like my memory of Matthew Shepard’s death. That was a memory that I wouldn’t call so much banished because on the anniversary each year when I saw photos of him I would feel deep sadness. But I really didn’t let myself dwell on the part that event played in my life. I’ll never know if I was close to coming out then or not but it definitely made me very willing to shut down. Part of the reason I mention this is that today was the 25th anniversary. I didn’t think about it until I opened up instagram this morning and was greeted with a picture of Matthew and the reminder that today was the day he was beaten and left to die. I think in some small part I exorcised that demon a little this year. Coming out finally took away a little of the sting. Maybe talking about it helped. But it was the first time in all these decades of anniversaries that I didn’t see his picture and start crying. I mean, it absolutely still makes me sad and angry that someone robbed him of growing old. I don’t think that will ever leave me, but I think some of the tears were a mix of grief for myself and the life I didn’t live and honestly fear being reawakened over and over. He was almost exactly five years younger than me and I had only just left college myself. It all felt too close then.
Anyway getting to the other part of this post that in a way is connected. Out of the blue this week I remembered a bullying incident. Or really I should say a string of incidents and the conclusion. I had shared a random Facebook post that asked what reason(s) you were sent to the principal’s office. I only remembered a couple of innocuous events and listed them. Awhile later a friend replied relating his incident was related to being bullied. And it hit me like a brick. I had gone to the office and sat beside my bully. Now the bully was punished but it was the culmination of weeks? Months? I’m not sure honestly but I remember being afraid any time I saw him at school during 7th grade. I still don’t have solid memories of the events. I have one dim recollection of being cornered in the bathroom and managing to get past him through the open door. The last time he kicked me in the shin so hard I hit the hallway floor but it was witnessed by a teacher who took us both to the office but cleanly indicated I was the victim. Whatever happened to him after we saw the principal it was the end of the bullying from him.
I’m very carefully not saying much more because I currently live in the same town all these years later. And honestly have not laid eyes on him in years and have no idea what his story was. I don’t even honestly remember anything about what he did aside from my physical terror. Maybe he had a horrible home life. Not that I’m looking to humanize or forgive what he did per se just that life is complicated and I recognize some bullies have their own awful stories behind what they do. Who knows but I don’t want to dredge up the past enough to even try to get those answers. I wasn’t even entirely happy remembering what did come back at all.
When I started therapy that was one of the questions the therapist asked about my childhood. Was I a victim of bullying? And I said I had one recollection of a very minor event and nothing more. I remembered very much feeling like an outsider but I didn’t remember more than that until now. I amended that answer this week. Because there was at least one significant episode of bullying that I had packed away at the bottom of a drawer somewhere.
Is there more? Again I’m not really sure I want to know but it was a question I posed to the therapist I’m working with. Is there more? Other episodes of bullying? More to that particular story that I’m not remembering right now? His response was that he felt the reason those memories had resurfaced was that I was finally able to cope with them. And there might be other things but if there are they’d come when I was ready to handle them too. I’m not sure it sounds as comforting typed out and invariably paraphrased but it felt right. I’m not thrilled as these unwelcome recollections but I’m not paralyzed by them. I’m also not going to spend my time purposefully trying to stir up unpleasant memories. If they come on their own so be it and I’ll hope that means I have become equipped to process them as suggested.
The bigger take away for me was that I also see a dotted line between my bullying and my reaction to the death of Matthew Shepard. I see a reason why I was already fearful at the heart of things and Matthew Shepard’s murder was my exhibit A that being gay was inherently dangerous. I also see a connection between being terrorized and my anxiety dealing with people and particularly men. None of these things on their own were probably enough but it’s definitely another piece of my puzzle.
It doesn’t help that it’s still easy to find open hostility. I can’t tell you the number of times in my life I have heard casual homophobia from various co-workers and casual acquaintances. It was always my cue to distance myself. Further, read any public post that has LGBTQ+ connections that has gotten decent views on the big social media sites and tell me you can’t find people who are outraged that queer people exist? Listen to the public rhetoric lately from politicians. Even if they aren’t aimed at your particular corner of the queer community you can be sure it will be later.
I don’t think the world will ever be perfect for my community in my lifetime although I would love to be proven wrong. It’s improved some and for that I am so thankful. I feel as if I sat on the sidelines of that fight to date. In the spirit of doing the right thing, I voted for the right politicians, etc. but I was not as vocal as I feel I should have been. Hopefully there’s time to do better. I said it on a social media post somewhere but not in my blog before. Thank you to the brave people who fought for things to get better before and during my lifetime. Definitely made of sterner stuff than I have been. I couldn’t dream of a world with so many openly queer people, gay marriage, etc. It’s not perfect but it’s more than the world offered not so long ago. And I hope the attempts to claw back some of the positive change is the last dying gasp of dinosaurs who see they are going extinct.