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The Insidious Effects of Middle School Bullying Still Linger in Me Today

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My high school wasn’t the place to come out. The word “gay” was thrown around like confetti (which would actually be gay). It was literally every other single word out of these kids' mouths. This is gay. That’s gay. This teacher’s gay. This bench is gay. My lunch is gay. My mom is gay. (I think you get the point.) Of course, kids would defend themselves when called “gay” by adamantly protesting, teaching me from an early age that I don't want to be gay. 

That’s why it’s no surprise that zero kids my year, in a class of 150 students, came out during our time there. (In hindsight, we were actually one hell of a queer class, and the majority of my friends in high school have since come out as gay, bi, or lesbian. It’s incredible how we attract one another in our closetedness.)

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Since middle school, everyone always suspected that I was gay. But everyone assumed that my two older brothers were gay too. They are not, but like me, they’re more in touch with their feminine side, and have no desire to act stereotypically masculine. So I didn't think I was gay. I thought I was like my brothers: straight but still fabulous.

And yes, I was called a faggot from time to time for doing musical theater and water polo (the gayest sport of all sports), but for the most part, it was just whispers said behind my back. Then that one “friend” — aka that girl who loves drama — would tell me who was spreading all the “Zach’s gay” rumors.

I knew I wasn’t gay. I loved women. I loved having sex with women.  When I broke up with my girlfriend at 17 years-old, I cried for a week straight. That’s not something that gay men do. Still, I always found men attractive. I also really liked focusing on the guy, more specifically his penis, when I watched porn.

When I got to college, I hooked up with my first man within a week of freshman year. This led to dozens of drunken nights of making out, getting blown, and having sex with men. It led to me having a girlfriend, but watching a ton of gay porn, and then crying about it. It led to unhealthy behaviors because I didn’t think bisexuality existed. Remember, this was back when there was little visibility surrounding male bisexuality, and I didn’t know a single man who openly identified as bi.

When I did, however, think I may actually be bi, I quickly threw out the idea, in large part because I didn’t want to prove my high school bullies and all those kids who called me “gay” right. (Even though I am bi and not gay, they would still say, I knew it, as if that's some huge accomplishment on their part.)

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I now know it’s a silly reason to not embrace my (bi)sexuality. But after years and years of being the subject of gay rumors in middle and high school, the thought of giving those kids, who were bullies (although perhaps not in the traditional sense), the satisfaction was infuriating.

This is also why I haven’t gone to a high school reunion or stepped foot back on campus since graduating a decade ago.

I don’t want to have to explain myself. I don’t want to be the subject of gossip. I don’t want to see the kids who led me to sleepless nights of confusion, anger, and self-loathing. I know their actions weren’t malicious, and now, out of all the kids who ridiculed me behind my back, I’d say only a handful would actually have a problem with me being bi.

Still, this is the effect that bullying has on us years later. Hearing “that’s so gay” from a young age does irreparable damage. Bullying — in its many insidious forms — harms people, and when we’re young and struggling to embrace our sexuality, it does so even more.

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So today, on Spirit Day, I go purple to remind myself that bullies should no longer hold power over me like they once did, but to also let the younger generation of queer kids know that I support them through all the social bullshit that happens during middle and high school.

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