Happy Spirit Day! For those that don’t know, #SpiritDay is an annual LGBTQ awareness day started in 2010 by Canadian teenager Brittany McMillan (McMillan is my middle name). This day was created in response to many bullying-related suicides of gay school students. Now promoted by GLADD, we go purple to support LGBTQ youth in a united stand against bullying during National Bullying Prevention Month.
School should always be a safe place for children to learn, grow and discover themselves but unfortunately it is not always. When I was in kindergarten my teacher pulled my mom aside and voiced concern that I was gay and also dyslexic. I was bullied for both all throughout school. In first grade my parents sent me to a new school, a special school for dyslexia. I also began going to a child’s therapist for “social skills”. I was basically depressed all the time because I didn’t have any friends and I knew I was different. I went to many different schools growing up which was always hard being the new kid. I quickly learned that I was in fact different, and I also quickly learned the need to hide that to fit in. But I was still bullied. I hardly had any friends growing up so when I would come home from school, I would sit in my room for hours just listening to music, playing computer games, and finding things online (dialup :/ ) that I could relate to. This was my safe space to be myself but more importantly to discover myself.
For middle school I went to a new Catholic school. My last few years there were really difficult. The bullying got worse and I started getting into fights, one of them I remember being physical. I always ended up being the only that got in trouble and it seems like I was always in the Principal’s office. I was too afraid to tell anyone that I was being bullied because I was too afraid to admit that I was gay.
This bullying followed me into high school, a Catholic high school. The first few weeks I was so anxious, nervous, miserable that I worked myself up to getting physically sick. I vomited almost every morning and cried over having to go. I tried my best to fit in and lay low, but the teasing kept following me. By the time I was in high school I knew deep down that I was gay, but I didn’t feel safe to say anything. It was hard going to a school that was based on a religion that basically told me I was going straight to Hell.
I was a big Myspace user around this time and that is where I was able to meet people like myself. I was very ready to get out of high school and I chose to go to a college that very, very few of my classmates were going to. I wanted a fresh start, a new beginning where no one knew me. I could have, I should have chosen to be my complete self in college, but I chose to create a façade. I joined a fraternity and became part of a toxic environment known for hazing, bullying and not being inclusive. I hid who I really was for years and became a small part of the problem. I started to make some really good friends in college, but they didn’t know the real me. They knew who I wanted them to know.
My late junior year and senior years I started coming back to Atlanta almost every weekend. I would come to town, stay with new friends, some I would meet online, and I would not tell my parents I was home. I was thrown into the gay culture, left my innocence at the door and I really started having an identity crisis because of it. At some point of my senior year someone caught on and felt the need to out me and expose me. Someone printed out Grindr conversations I was having, including photos, put them in an unmarked envelope and hand placed that in my parent’s mailbox in Atlanta. Talk about feeling violated! I remember my mom calling me. I was at my fraternity house. She called and all she kept saying was "I know". This was one of the most uncomfortable, maybe the most uncomfortable conversations I have ever had. I think she was in denial and for sure was not accepting in the beginning. Neither of my parents were. My mom and I stopped talking for almost a year until I officially came out. It wasn’t until after graduating and finding my tribe that I felt safe to be my true and authentic self. As you all see often, my mom is one of my many best friends and I live my life now with no apologies. It wasn't easy but it got better. My parents now have been to more Gay Prides around the world than I have and probably like my boyfriend John more than they like me most times.
The reason I share all this is to hopefully make a difference for at least one person. It truly gets better and you matter. Sure, I still get bullied sometimes but mostly from blank accounts on Instagram or people dealing with their own insecurities. What matters now is I know who I am and what is important to me. No one can tell me that I am not important, I am not valid, and I don’t belong here. It took many years to get to this place but I now hold my head up high. So please join me in taking the pledge against bullying at glaad.org and keep in mind that when voting in this election there is one candidate who continues to exploit our differences and there is one who plans to bring us all together.
© 2020 Jaxson Ratcliffe