I heard the word faggot for the first time in fifth grade at the tetherball arena. The Pratt twins were the first to say it. Then, somebody also wrote it on the desk next to me with a dry-erase marker during indoor recess. Mrs. George desperately tried to wipe it off but it left a permanent and cloudy outline. I think that I was the only student in the class who was conscious of its existence. The foreign word made me uncomfortable because it sounded like maggot, and I hated maggots: they’re repulsive.
I came out of the closet for the first time in sixth grade to an entire bus of middle schoolers. It was by accident, because I didn’t even know I was gay at the time. But everyone else apparently knew, which was annoying. And it still is.
It was all because I threw a green skittle at the popular girl who teased me relentlessly. We were on our way home after a Fall youth retreat, a spiritual weekend of s’mores and self-discovery. Instead, I discovered other things about myself. I didn’t find Jesus in the closet.
The retreat was a tragedy. The popular girl bullied me because of a popular boy. He ruled our school and even created an exclusive pretend mafia in the eighth grade. I shouldn’t blame the popular girl entirely, she was just a spineless jellyfish like everyone else. It was the popular boy who started it all. He was the source, the first to call me out.
I even offered him and his friends one of my blueberry pop-tarts as a peace offering on the first night—maybe if I was nice, I figured. I remember the fat one taking it. They replaced the rectangular toaster pastries with gravel the next day. I knew that it was the popular boy’s idea because I caught him throwing rocks on the metal roof of our cabin in the night to scare me. Thankfully, he transferred in high school. I forgot about him, for the most part.
The popular boy and I left Texas to go to the same college in the Midwest, unintentionally of course. We reunited on the bus when we left for passage, a transition camp for first year students. I had sourpatch kids with me instead of skittles. I will probably see him in the dining hall tomorrow; our college is small. I’m an art major now.
He made fun of me for attending arts and crafts during free time. I preferred to make magnets with the girls over a sweaty dodgeball tournament with the boys. Magnet-making meant personal safety, and the girls who were there were all nice to me. I wasn’t an idiot like he thought I was; I could see straight through him, like glass after windex. He just wanted to peg me as hard as he could, in the face, with foam balls. The balls scared me. I still have some of the “fagnets” that I made at the retreat in my desk at home.
I wanted to pelt him with every skittle color in the packet, not just the green one. Taste the rainbow.
I flung the green skittle at the back of the popular girl’s head because I could hear her talking about me. Her hair was frizzy like spanish moss, and it probably smelled like an old kitchen rag. She obviously hadn’t washed it over the weekend because the skittle bounced off her stinky hair like rubber. I expected her to go down like Goliath but she just turned around with a vile smirk on her face that was even nastier than her hair. Her hair is straight now.
She then, publicly, asked me when I was going to come out of the closet. The figure of speech had become the running joke of the retreat. Everyone had been encouraging me to come out; they asked what it was like inside. With courage, I stood up and confronted the populars. I’m proud of who I’m and I am proud to be in the closet, so your words don’t hurt me. The bus broke into laughter. Innocent pride morphed into paralyzing shame. Even the girls who were at arts and crafts with me laughed. Everyone knew but me. I was confused and my tongue was an abnormal color because of the skittles that I had been eating.
I was naive. My parents picked me up from the church that afternoon in the white Toyota. My eyes glazed over, glossy like two dark marbles. My parents looked concerned and kept the car in park. They waited.
I asked them what it meant to come out of the closet. A few seconds of silence passed but it felt longer, like minutes. Staring at my dad, my mom had turned pale white like the color of my dad’s knuckles as he clenched the steering wheel. We were still in the parking lot when my mom broke the silence.
That was the first of many realizations. Though years have passed, I certainly haven’t had the last. Everyday, I have to walk through my college dining hall, only to express a fake smile to the popular boy who incessantly ridiculed me. The boy who told me what I was before I knew who I was.
We play pretend, ignore the past. He overlooks what he did, the things he said. And I forget the shame that he instilled in me. But, I’m doing more than just responding back now. I’m making my own statement, and I don’t need a green skittle to do it.
I’m proud of who I am and I’m proud to be out of the closet.
Sure, the rocks and the words sent my way startle me sometimes, but I’m not afraid anymore nor am I unsuspecting. I was afraid to come out of the closet because I didn’t know what would be there. I’ll tell you this though: confidence is there, individuality is there, grace is there, others are there. And Jesus is too.
While the closet is stuffy and dark and cramped, outside I can see myself in the mirror, have others hold my hand, and follow Jesus as I walk further away. Sometimes I feel like the more I follow Jesus away from the closet, the closer I become to him, and the more gay I become. It’s funny that way. But, I’m being led away from loneliness and shame. I am being led by faith. It’s my testimony.