I grew up in the United States in the state of Alabama…still live there now as a matter of fact. Both of my parents are still married to each other. I only have one sister, but we have more cousins than you can count. We lived in a tiny little town that to this day only has stop signs and no stop lights. I have some wonderful memories from my childhood.
Alabama, like much of the South, is a very religiously dominated area. In fact, Christianity and college football are the two main religions. Some people classify hunting and fishing as religions too, but for most people, those are still considered sports.
I attended a small, private school from 1st through 12th grade. When I was in 3rd, I had my first “lesson”, if you will, in the fact that I was different and different wasn’t necessarily good. It was recess. Some of the girls were talking about how cute the high school boys were. I commented that I thought one of them was cute too. One of the guys in my class overheard, picked up a rock, threw it, and hit me near my left eye. Oddly enough, I got in trouble for it when the teacher found out. I must not have learned my lesson because I basically did the same thing in 4th grade, but this time I only told my best friend. She told the teacher, and the next thing I know I’m getting a lecture about how “boys don’t say other boys are ‘cute’” and “should only feel that way about other girls”. I learned to keep my mouth shut after that. It would be 6th grade before I knew the way I felt had a name.
From 7th through 12th grade, torment was a regular occurrence. If only Nick Nelson had been around to punch someone for using “a very bad word”. Alas, there was no Nick to prevent the use of cruel words, getting tripped, shoved, having your locker destroyed, or even getting tossed out of a 2nd floor window. It wasn’t just me. There were less than 20 boys in the school that didn’t play sports. If you didn’t play sports, then you were labeled as gay whether or not you were gay, and no, they were not kind enough to use the word gay. All of us suffered to some degree.
When I was sixteen, my favorite aunt asked me if I “felt like I might be a homosexual”. I’ve always been too honest for my own good, so I told her yes. In response she told me she loved me, but that being “that way” wasn’t the life she wanted for me and if I was going to go down that hard road, I shouldn’t tell my uncle or my cousins because they wouldn’t want to be around me anymore.
Fast forward to eighteen. I was attending college. No one knew me. I could reinvent myself. I met a boy. He was unabashedly gay. We went out a few times until I found out he was seeing other people too. That’s fine if both people want that, but I have always wanted the people I’m with to want to be with me. So, that didn’t go anywhere.
My next boyfriend lasted about a year. It lasted until I found him in bed with another guy. I broke it off with him. He tried to kill me. Yeah, really. My parents found out that I was gay, had been dating an older man, and that the guy I had been dating had tried to kill me all on the same day. Definitely not the way I had wanted any of that to go down. My dad had some papers drawn up to legally transfer my car in my name with the intention of sending me on my way. My mom locked herself in their bedroom to pray and cry for two days. Before my dad could shove me out into the world, my mom came out of the bedroom and told him that she was going to “handle” this part of my life, but that they were not disowning me.
What followed was several tense months. Lots of awkwardness with some yelling. The yelling usually involved me being told by my mom that I was a sinner who was going to “burn in Hell” so the silences were nicer. My mom was mortified that people would find out. She made me swear that I wouldn’t tell anyone in her church or in our family until she and my dad were both buried.
There were also psychologists, psychiatrists, and even a pastor from another church who dabbled as a counselor. Some of that was good because I was honestly messed up. I was 19. The only two guys I had dated not felt I was enough for them, and one of them tried to kill me. Things got so bad at one point when I had a gun and came close to doing some serious self-harm. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
The roaring twenties
In my 20’s, I decided to change to a university in another town. That put me several hours away from my parents. It was a very busy time. Co-founded a gay rights group on campus, was a photographer for the only gay newspaper in the state, acted in plays, sang and danced in a little cabaret act, volunteered at a gay hotline, had several jobs that were not the norm (but make it really fun to play Never Have I Ever), started my career, and had two long term relationships that were mostly happy. My second relationship lasted 11 years. It also ended 11 years ago. That’s right folks. Add it up. As they used to say in my day, “I ain’t chicken no mo.”
Single after 35
I tried to get back in the dating scene after my ex bought a mustang convertible, joined a gym, and told me he “didn’t want to be a couple anymore”. It was not easy. Dating has never been easy for me. I am basically Charlie Spring after all. I even have the unofficial Heartstopper quiz results to prove it. So, I was now over the age of 35, 5’8”, not fat, but not thin as a twig, and honest enough to admit to all of that in my profiles. Add in that I actually want a relationship rather than just sex too and BOOM! Yep, you guessed it. My dance card was pretty open.
My last date was in 2016. It ended with the cops being called after he urinated on my carpet and assaulted me when I tried to clean it up. It was embarrassing and more than a little scary. Believe it or not, I hadn’t given up yet. No, that came a few days later when I started talking to another guy online who dropped me like a hot rock after a couple of days because he realized I was honest in my profile, but get this. This time, I wasn’t fat enough.
For years, people refused to even meet me claiming I “must be posting fake pics” since don’t appear as old as I say I am and because “with that height and weight, I must be too fat” for them. Now, this guy is telling me he won’t meet me for coffee because I am not fat enough. Yes, I look young for my age, but what person over the age of 21 lies about being older? No, I’m not a gym rat. Yes, call me old fashioned, but I actually like to feel something for a guy before I get to know him in the biblical sense. And I couldn’t take it anymore.
I deleted all social media aside from Instagram. (Why keep Instagram? Eh, I like the pretty pictures.) I deleted all dating profiles. All of it. This started the period of my life where I focused on work, focused on my art, and focused on my two dogs. If Prince Charming wanted to find me, he was going to need to knock on my door and refuse to leave.
You know from my other post that watching Heartstopper flipped a switch in side me. I don’t know if this will last. Part of me even thinks it is silly that a show meant for young adults could be the reason I feel like rejoining the world again. Seeing the love that the Heartstopper characters have for each other made me realize that I’ve spent too long living half a life because someone is embarrassed of me.
If you have a similar story or are going through a rough time now, you are not alone. There is still good in the world. Other people have been where you are and made it through. You never know when the smallest thing might turn things around.
There wasn’t anything like the It Gets Better Project when I was younger, but it does exist today. Visit https://itgetsbetter.org/ to learn more about their mission to uplift, empower, and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) youth around the globe.