While my upbringing was drenched in a place of privilege and love, it was also one where I quickly learned the importance of navigating through the trenches of bullying.
At 30 years old, I am still navigating through these trenches.
Where I come from, “gay,” was a horrible thing. A curse. A sin. “A perversion,” some still argue. Needless to say, I resisted this reality for years, dodging any bullet which flew my way. And in addition to dodging metaphorical bullets, I also denied this reality by swearing up and down that I, Michael Anthony Goodman, was straight.
My elementary school bully disagreed. In fact, he never once referred to me as, “Michael.” Instead, “Gay Boy,” would become an identity. I accepted it.
And I avoided him at all cost.
My first encounter with homophobia appeared in fifth grade. From a social capital lens, I was a top tier elementary school attendee. Other kids copied my fashion (JNCO jeans), listened to my stories, and showed interest in the things I was interested in…everyone, expect my elementary school bully. My bully hated me. For two solid years, every time my bully saw me, he referred to me as, “Gay Boy,” pushing me into walls and imitating my, higher-pitched-though-not-yet-hit-puberty, stricken voice.
At some point, I even started to respond to this new identity. I was Gay Boy, no longer Michael Anthony Goodman, minus the “out gay” part, and in major fear of the repercussions of disagreeing with my bully. You didn’t disagree with your bully.
You couldn’t disagree with your bully.
You see, back in the day, there was something charming and rewarding about being a kid who had yet to hit puberty – no voice issues and no size issues. But when you hit puberty and one or both of these things had yet to change – all hell could break loose. And it did, on me. I avoided my bully at all cost, and made a conscious decision that I, Michael Anthony Goodman (or, “Gay Boy,” according to my bully), was not gay.
This moment still terrifies me today.
It terrifies me to remember the feelings of half-knowing who you are, yet half-knowing you couldn’t possibly be that. And my elementary school bully would not be the last bully I encountered through adolescence (and unfortunately, even adulthood). Just last night as I was heading home from dinner, and in preparation for the State of the Union, I watched a man drive through Logan Circle and shout, “FAGGOT,” at a guy who was trying to cross the street before the signal gave way.
Connections to our past (and our memories) are all around us.
On a cabinet behind my desk, I have a Post-It note that reads as follows:
Bullying has no place in our schools and communities.
Speak up for those who can’t.
This specific note was created for last year’s #DayOfSilence, however it was something that re-caught my eye last week as I walked into work. Furthermore, it’s something that has been on my mind as I continue to work in a world (specifically, the United States) and industry (education) where this kind of address is needed.
These words will not appear in an elementary school text book, however they existed as a giant part of my upbringing. Knowing the impact, how are these words still appearing in school environments across the country? Is this something we’re addressing? Of course, we can surmise multiple variations of how to answer these questions, however the truth remains as such:
Bullies continue to hold power over kids without.
How does an 8-10 year old understand the idea that gay = insult? What example are you living for your kids, students, or communities? How do you approach bullying and oppression, from in-person to web-based violence? Are you even paying attention?
I’m reflecting on this part of my life journey today, as I was recently reminded of the power that bullying has over people. And in the spirit of living more authentic in 2016 and beyond, I am pushing myself to share more stories of who I am and how I’ve learned and developed. Here’s to all those gay boys out there (and gay boys-adjacent), just trying to evade their elementary school bully. March on.
Releasing, “Gay Boy,”
“The son who finds the courage to come out as who he is and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”
– President Barack Obama, 2016 State of the Union
Hundreds of thousands have now shared these sentiments online via social media. This son, who President Obama references, is all of us, in some way.
Do you have the courage to override everything you’ve been taught?