One of the guysSometimes, Alan wishes he were the opposite of everything he is. He’d love to be popular and be the life of the party. He wants to be a big brute.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
Editor’s note: This is the final in a series of articles focusing on diversity. The articles are a collaborative effort between the Echo Press and the Diversity Resource Action Alliance, a community organization committed to strengthening the understanding and appreciation of diversity.
Sometimes, Alan wishes he were the opposite of everything he is. He’d love to be popular and be the life of the party. He wants to be a big brute. He wants to be the guy with the notches under his belt and the guy crushing beer cans against his head.
But Alan (not his real name) isn’t like all the other guys.
He likes poetry. He’s a hopeless romantic. He dressed as the pink Power Ranger one year for Halloween. He’s petite. His voice is soft and high. He’s sensitive and likes to talk about his feelings. He’s always been friends with girls and is the shoulder to cry on.
“I’ve never felt like I was one of the guys," he said. “I was always very girly.”
Because of his effeminate qualities, life has not been easy for Alan, a college student from Alexandria. He has been bullied and ridiculed. He has been called faggot. In school, he had few friends and was ostracized.
When Alan was little, he didn’t think he was different from anyone else. But in 6th grade, that all changed. The teasing began in earnest, rumors began circulating that he was gay, and he was constantly questioned about his sexual orientation.
“It blows my mind that we are trying to figure these things out when we are still kids,” he said. “It was constantly insinuated. If none of that had happened I would have thought I was straight.”
In middle school things steadily got worse. He has story after story of how other kids would torment him. One boy in particular constantly harassed Alan and urged others to join in. The boy blatantly made fun of him in front of the entire class in a skit he had written. And he once approached Alan, tried to give him an earring, then asked outright if he was gay.
“I said no and he left,” Alan said. “He got about five feet away and said to the rest of the class, ‘Hey, guys, he said he was straight’ and they all laughed. It was like they had a pool going.
“I couldn’t go around a corner without being called a fag,” he continued.
High school was even worse and was an incredibly bereft time for Alan. He wouldn’t even eat lunch because he didn’t want to sit alone. He tried to make friends through humor and cracking jokes, but it always fell flat.
“Sarcasm was my medium. That’s how I coped,” he said. “I was very cynical.”
Unfortunately, Alan didn’t have his family to lean on. He was afraid to tell his parents of his confusion about his sexuality because he knew they wouldn’t understand, accept or support him.
It finally got so bad in high school that Alan tried to end his own life by swallowing 60 pills. Even in the emergency room at death’s door, Alan wouldn’t discuss it with his father.
“I’m scared,” Alan said, adding that he still hasn’t told them. “I feel like it’s the elephant in the room and I have to tiptoe around them.”
But after that incident, he was finally able to admit it to himself.
“As afraid as I was, I used to whisper to myself, ‘I’m gay.’ It gave me this sense of pride,” he said.
Although acceptance is still a constant struggle, things are beginning to head in the right direction for Alan. He is attending college and then plans to move to a bigger city with a more diverse and accepting population. There he hopes to pursue his dream of being a singer/songwriter and perhaps finally get his “moment in the sun.”
“What’s the harm in giving me a chance?” Alan constantly wonders of people who won’t get to know him based solely on his sexuality. He also wonders why some people think that being gay is something someone “chooses” to be.
“I’m flabbergasted that people think it’s a choice,” he said. “I used to say I want to trade my brain on the black market. I want to be the guy from American Pie or Animal House. I would trade anything to be that guy.”
“The biggest thing people need to learn is just to meet a gay person,” he concluded. “They don’t have three eyes, they don’t burn buildings. They live the same way you do, they want the same things you do.”
When it comes right down to it, Alan is no different than anyone else. He wants to be accepted. He wants to have friends. He wants to be loved. He wants to be happy. And he wants to live in a world where it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, or if you like boys or girls. He wants to live in a place where he doesn’t ever have to worry about being “one of the guys.”
He wants to just be himself.
Editor’s note: The following information was supplied by the Diversity Resource Action Alliance (DRAA).
In a 2007 National School Climate Survey, students reported being frequently targeted, bullied and harassed based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
As a result of teasing and harassment, students are at higher risk for depression, suicide and dropping out of school. The statistics are striking:
• 73.6 percent heard derogatory remarks such as “faggot” or “dyke” frequently at school.
• 86.2 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) students reported being verbally harassed, 44.1 percent reported being physically harassed, and 22.1 percent reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of sexual orientation.
• More than half (60.8 percent) reported they felt unsafe in school because of sexual orientation, and 38.4 percent felt unsafe because of gender expression.
The consequences of a negative classroom environment are real and far-reaching.
• 31.7 percent of LGBT students missed a class and 32.7 percent missed a day of school in a one-month period because of feeling unsafe, compared to only 5.5 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.
• The reported grade point average of students frequently harassed because of sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed.
These statistics are from the 2007 National School Climate (New York, NY: GLSEN, 2008). A full report can be found at http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/library/record/1859.htmlurvey.
Stereotype. A mental image of a group based on opinion without regard to individual differences.
Prejudice. A negative judgment or opinion formed about a group without knowledge of the facts.
Assumptions. Conclusions based on limited knowledge of the facts.
Discrimination. Treating people in a less favorable way because they are members of a particular group. Discrimination is prejudice in action.
Bullying. A conscious, willful, deliberate, hostile and repeated behavior intended to harm others. It is assertion of power through aggression.
Bullying is not a conflict to be resolved; it’s about contempt – a powerful feeling of dislike toward someone considered to be worthless, inferior or undeserving of respect.
According to “Alan,” his story no different than that of other teens and adults living in the community. He is interested in forming a Gay, Straight, Lesbian, Transgender (GBLT) support group. If interested in being a part of this alliance, call Oscar Bohrorquez, director of intercultural services at Alexandria Technical College (ATC), at (320) 762-0221.
For further support in dealing with issues that relate to acceptance, prejudice and diversity, the Diversity Resource Action Alliance (DRAA) meets at ATC the fourth Wednesday of each month, with the exception of this November. For information, call (320) 762-4466.