Inspired by a question I got while doing a demystification of homosexuality intervention in a school.
Q. When you encounter homophobic incidents, does it hurt your feelings?
Sometimes. Sometimes I can laugh about it. Like the time I was walking home late at night after going out clubbing. We were pretty obvious — me, dressed to kill in my club clothes, flamey to the max, him, wearing no shirt and leather pants. And, most importantly, holding hands. And this guy on the other side of the street yells, “Tapettes!” And I go, “What a smart man! However could you tell?”
Sometimes it terrifies me. Like the time I was trapped in the metro station, and those kids between me and the stairs started chanting, “Kill the faggot, kill the faggot” to the tune of the “Ride of the Valkyries,” and I had no idea and no way of knowing whether they were serious or not, and I plunged my nose so deeply into my book – I am not looking, I am not looking – and dear gods that train took a year and a half to come, and I was sizing up the feasibility of jumping into the tunnel and running for the next station if they tried to jump me. That was the first and so far only time that I’ve called the police on a homophobic incident, because it was a death threat, and it’s not like I thought they were going to put out an A.P.B. on it but because I wanted it to be in their books and in their statistics so nobody could deny it was real, it happened.
Sometimes it just makes me angry. Like the time I was with my friend Éric in the government office, and some big lout in the elevator took exception to my rainbow flag pin and started talking smack about queer people to his girlfriend or whoever, and then as we were right at the counter being served, and his number got called, as he went to his wicket he passed behind me and sotto voce went “Yo, faaaaag.” I will be damned if I was going to take that bullshit, so I bellowed across the office, “If you don’t like fags, honey, you’re in the wrooooong f**king city!”
But sometimes it just hurts. Like the time the boy from Winnipeg I like and I spent a beautiful sunshiny day at the Biodome and the Botanical Gardens, picknicking at the Maisonneuve market, walking through the flower gardens and gorging ourselves on mulberries, and on the metro on the way home I was tired and I snuggled up to him and put my head on his shoulder, and this skinhead saw us, scowled, and got up and moved away. And part of me was laughing — “Ooh, you moved! I’m so intimidated! You really showed us! Oh please, don’t retreat at us again!” — but another part is the weary frustration that says, For pity’s sake. It’s spring, it’s Montreal, we’re young, we’ve had a lovely, romantic day, we’re holding hands. Was that really necessary? Are you almost done? What is the point to all this?
I have had similar experiences in the metro, people muttering “fag” under their breath, or a group of 3 guys laughing at me, and gesturing that they were going to slit my throat. I also was not sure how to react… do you take the threat of violence seriously? Do you brush it off? Do you say something?
With the guys gesturing that they were going to slit my throat, I stared at them right back and flipped them a big fuck you, but I only really felt safe doing that because there was a lot of people in the metro at the time, otherwise I probably would have been more apprehensive.
This didn’t take place in Montreal, but homophobia is not exclusive to one area, nor is this blog.
My Experiences With Homophobia in Northern Ontario Schools
At the age of seven, I had my first experience with homophobia. At first it was rumors, but during my high school years, it escalated to physical harassment.
I moved to the Greater Sudbury Area at the age of seven with my mother, from the Ottawa Valley District. It was my third week in Grade two, at a new school, and I was terrified. My elementary school experience was never exactly what I’d call pleasant, and I will never say that I long to return to those years.
My emotions throughout elementary school, were turbulent, and had the ups and downs of a roller coaster theme park ride. Within my first few weeks of school, I had all my lunches stolen. After a couple of months, I no longer possessed any school supplies, as those to were stolen by my peers. Day to day, there began this cycling routine, where I’d beg my mom “please don’t make me go back”. I learned many things at a young age from my peers, such as; it was wrong to be gay, sex was cool and something we were supposed to do for the boys and everyone did drugs, and you were crazy if you didn’t. Everyday of school felt like a risky game of cat and mouse. I’d try to get into the classroom before I was targeted in the hallway, tell my teachers I felt ill to avoid recess breaks, and for the first time in my life, I learned what it felt like to have no friends. My goal each day; to try and get home before anything bad happened, and this continued to be my goal for the next seven years of school.
During grade eight, every student picked the high school they wanted to attend. I choose one away from my peers I had shared a classroom and playground with for the last seven years. The last night of summer vacation, I lay in bed for hours, sleepless. I vowed to myself that high school would be different. I was not going to be the victim anymore.
When I started high school, I was 14 years old. I knew what it meant to be gay, and there were many times when I wondered if that’s why I felt different. A word I hadn’t heard before was ‘Homophobia’; but I had already, for years, been experiencing its meaning.
Within my first week of high school, I quickly came to the realization that this ‘amazing’ time in your life that many people spoke about, was not going to be my high school years. I met many new people, made a few new friends, and lost many others. I was bullied, and sometimes I became the bully, because of the anguish and anger I experienced, along with many other emotions. I was cornered in hallways, threatened in bathrooms, and centered out in classrooms, all because of a sexuality I never put any thought into yet. These taunts came in verbal, emotional, and physical form. I learned to fight back with words, tried to block out painful emotions, and I decided never to fight back physically. Some old labels travelled with me, some new ones were created. My grades in high school have never been close to spectacular, and my attendance record is as bad as it’s always been. My health practically went down the drain. My best defense was to just walk away and try and forget what was said to me that day.
So once again, school became this unwanted routine that I dreaded. There were some differences from elementary school though; sometimes I was invisible.
I attended the same high school for three years, and over this time I went through many altering experiences. I went from cheerful to bitter, and I hated people. I wanted nothing to do with anyone; in fact, all I wanted was to die. Grade 11 was my hardest year of high school.
Two weeks before my grade 11 year started, I began my first relationship with a girl. She was someone I had known for a few years, and this felt like a dream come true. I thought ‘finally, I will be happy’. During my grade 11 year, I started identifying as bisexual. I joined a youth group in a near by city, and met other youth going through similar motions and emotions, dealing with their sexualities. Although, I made some new friends outside of school, my life in school only got worse. It didn’t take long for my peers to start expressing their opinions and disgust in my sexuality. I came out to everyone I knew during this period of time, including select teachers, family, and friends. Other then a few supportive friends, the reactions were a unanimous dislike towards who I am. It was nine months after I started identifying as bisexual publically, before my first friend congratulated me and gave me my first hug.
Nearing the end of my first semester during grade 11, I experienced what I feel was the worst act of homophobic violence I’ve ever dealt with. I was a peer tutoring in a class of six kids, whom I was supervising in the weight room, while the teacher ran an errand. One of the boys approached me quickly, invading my personal space. Two others immediately joined in, and when I told them to stop and leave me alone, they started touching me everywhere. They said things like, “do you like this, because you should, dyke”, and violated my body with their movements. The entire situation played out in only a few minutes, it really felt like forever. I stared crying, shaking, and panicking, and I just wanted to escape their hands, and be invisible. When I finally did get away, I had to crawl through their legs to do so. I got myself out of the corner, and ran into the hallway, where I was visible to other classes. The boys stopped, and sneered, shouting out vulgar insults, but kept their hands to themselves. I started walking quickly down the hallway to get away. As I went around the corner, I ran into the teacher returning, who immediately asked if I was okay. I just said I felt sick, and kept going, without stopping. I didn’t stop until I got to girls bathroom I used to hide in. When I got there, I just sat in a stall, and cried.
I never told the teacher or anyone else what happened in the weight room that day. I was ashamed, and it took years before I ever talked about it again. I switched schools for my grade 12 year, in hopes of escaping the memories, hurt, and scars left on my body from the past three years at this school. When I was accepted, and transferred schools, I tried to start new, and be a stronger person.
Again, in grade 12, I met a few new people, and made new acquaintances and friends. I continued going to the youth group, and started taking part in our local pride week events. I kept my activities a secret from my unsupportive family, and became distant from most of the people I knew. I was determined; I would no longer be hurt. My new school felt a little friendlier and understanding, but it only took a few weeks for homophobia to show its face in my life again.
This homophobia in my new school was different from any homophobia I had experienced before. I wasn’t a direct target for other students anymore, but instead, a target for some teachers. Their looks of disgust were obvious to those receiving them, and the hints, and eventually demands to hide my sexuality hurt. I was at a point in my life where I couldn’t handle this anymore.
On January 12th, 2008, I left my mothers home. I was dating my third girlfriend, and felt completely in love, and was tired of having to sneak around and suppress my feelings in public. I moved into a shelter for homeless female youth, where I lived for nearly two months. After that, I moved into an apartment, and started a life with my girlfriend, independent of my family. By March 2008, I dropped out of high school, after the re-occurring advice from a respected teacher that my health was more important then my education at this point in my life. I was physically ill, emotionally exhausted, and ready to give up on life.
Dropping out of high school was one of the hardest decisions for me to make. It was also something that created more tension in my family of retired and current school teachers. Eventually, I stopped trying to keep in touch with my family, and began focusing more on where I was going to be in a few months.
During that year of my life, I turned 18 years old, experienced living independently, ran my first credit card bill up far beyond my budget, moved out of province to create a new life with my distant father, came to understand the dysfunctional ties of my family more, and eventually decided to stop running. Christmas 2008, I came back to Sudbury to visit my mother, and old friends. I enrolled into an adult education program at my old high school, made plans to move back into my mothers’ home, and began trying to get my life back on the pathway I wanted it to be on.
I still experience homophobia, and I am still not as healthy as someone my age should be, nor do I ever expect my health to be average. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and again, I’ve learned how you just have to balance everything in life and about the difficulties doing so. I worked hard in school, in life, and at home, hoping to repair some of the painful wounds created over my absent year, and I can’t speak for everyone saying life is better, but I feel I have made progress. I took part in a committee planning a symposium for LGBT youth, and later on a conference for teachers, where I gave a speech, similar and less formal then this one about my experiences with homophobia. I began creating a more realistic idea of life for myself, and working in the directions needed to achieve it.
I am currently nineteen years old, and I’ve just graduated from high school. Right now, I have no idea where life will take me; all I know is where I plan to go today. I no longer hold a place on the honor roll in school, nor am I known as a top achieving student. But there are many other things I know; many of these which you will never learn about in a classroom. I know what it feels like to be victimized, to be bullied mercilessly, and to not understand why. I know what it feels like to be depressed, and I remember what it feels like to want to die. I’ve seen the angst and scars life often leaves on youth today, and I carry a fair share of my own. I know what it’s like to be a high school drop out, and the looks you receive from others. I also know what it’s like to go back, to feel out of place, and to be treated differently and looked upon with low expectations. I know what it feels like to be judged, for both whom you are, and who you’re not. I know what it feels like to be a young, bisexual woman, and to defy the image others have for you. I know first hand what homophobia is. I know what it is to be happy, cared for, and loved. I know what heartbreak feels like too. I know what neglect does to someone, how physical abuse hurts, and how emotional abuse scars. I know what it feels like to be sexually harassed. But that I know best of all; I know what it feels like to pick yourself up, brush off the dirt, and keep walking the pathways of life, among those who taught me first hand what life feels life. My favorite piece of knowledge; I know I am going to be okay.
– Written by Colleen Joy Scally
This speech has been presented verbally, in a freestyle manner at a Conference designed to educate teachers in the Northern Ontario School Boards on homophobia and its effects on the students, organized by Access AIDS Network, in Sudbury, Ontario.
It can also be found on the site for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered Youth Line for Ontario in their blog, at: http://www.youthline.ca/blog/?p=147
Please ask for permission before using elsewhere.