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As Normal As You
Part One: Stephen
You know, I always thought airplane seats were extremely uncomfortable, but they’ve never been as bad as this. It’s like I’m sitting on one of those big boulders by the beach in California; but instead of being surrounded by soft sand and listening to the sweet, serene sounds of the ocean, I’m squished between two obese men dressed in pale t-shirts and growing facial hair that is so horribly kept, it should be a crime. There are no crystal blue waves in site and no sounds of seagulls tweeting. Instead, I have to listen to the painful growl of the Boeing 737’s engine.
The flight’s been long—surprisingly long. I know it only takes about three hours to get from Dallas to San Francisco, but it feels like I’m about to land in Japan in half an hour, not California. I tried to fall asleep. I tried many times, but my mind just couldn’t find peace, you know? There’s just been a lot of uncertainty lately, and it feels like my world is crumbling. It’s kind of distressing. Actually, it’s incredibly distressing.
About a month ago, I got an offer to teach English at a public high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. Having just graduated college a year ago, I was eager to begin my new life on the west coast, but first I had to get something off my chest. For years, I had been keeping something secret from my family for fear of how they may react. And just last night as I finished packing my bags, I let it all out.
I gathered my mother, father, and brother around our kitchen table and prepared for disaster. I felt like my face was melted and deformed because, to them, I was little of who I actually was. They saw me as the sweet, normal child they had raised, and now I was going off to live on my own. But I was guilty. For so long, I had been hiding from the truth and, in doing so, I was hiding the truth from the people I love. Now it was time to come out of hiding, to step out of the closet.
I looked my mother in the eyes. Her azure irises sparkled with pride as she gazed at me, her eldest son, a college graduate soon to be a schoolteacher. Around her neck, she wore a cross. It sparkled in my vision, blinding me from the pale faces of my family.
“Mom. Dad. Mikey,” I began as I stared into the overwhelming reflection of my mother’s cross. My heart was going to the beat of a heavy metal song, which really sucked—I’d always preferred Beyoncé to Five Finger Death Punch or Helloween. My lips quivered as I continued. “There’s something I have to tell you guys, and it’s not easy.”
It definitely wasn’t easy. I couldn’t decide if this was one of the worst moments of my life or the best—probably the worst. It felt like everything hurt, as if my arms, legs, and body were melting into one giant blob. I was just a piece of silly putty.
“Go on, you pussy!” my brother urged.
“What is it?” my father asked anxiously. “Is your job not real? Are you not leaving tomorrow?”
I couldn’t hold it off any longer. Today was d-day. It was time to pull the trigger.
“Well, I’m just going to come out and say it.”
The light reflecting from my mother’s cross dimmed and I could see the faces of my family. Their eyes still gleamed with pride, their mouths were all wide open, and I could see chains hanging around each of their necks.
“Guys, I’m gay. I like men,” I puked the words out involuntarily, gagging on each syllable. I was no longer in the process of melting, but instead I was already melted like a piece of wax—helpless.
My family stared at me as drool dribbled down from the corners of their mouths. The silence was painful and cold. It was like we were playing the quiet game I used to play with my elementary school students, but instead of the silence being caused by a desire to win a game, it was caused by discomfort. Seconds crawled by and there were still no words or responses; just nothing. It was awkward—surprisingly awkward. I never expected coming out to be comfortable or easy; I always thought it would be one of the toughest tasks of my life. But as much as I tried to prepare for it by running through the various ways it could happen in my head, I never expected it to be this awful. My knees buckled like a seatbelt, and my toes pointed weakly together like those of a measly pigeon, and finally, as my eyes slumped to my feet…
“I always thought you were a faggot,” Mikey broke the silence, his arms crossed tightly.
The word grated me as if I was just a block of cheese. So there it was: I wasn’t myself anymore. I was no longer Stephen Beckstead. No. I was a faggot.
Of course, my brother was only fifteen, and he liked to use the word “gay” loosely. To him, it was gay to not be allowed to play videogames or to have three tests on Friday. To him, gay wasn’t real, it was just a derogatory term like “shitty” or “asshole.” But his values were not malleable and his mind was stubborn. He had made up his mind years ago that he did not like gay people and not even his own brother would change that. I only hoped that my parents had greater maturity and would respond with tolerance and support.
“So that’s why you never liked sports?” my father chimed in.
I was wrong. Tolerance was out of the question. And my father was wrong too: I did like sports. I had always loved the Dallas Cowboys and watched their games with him every Sunday. But in this moment, I wasn’t a man or a football fan; I was a weak little faggot.
“Just,” my mother said as she dropped her head into her hands. “Just let me think this over.”
I felt like I was choking on my own breath. I had never felt so gay, like such a faggot. And I had never felt so unsafe in my own home. In fact, it really didn’t even feel like home at all anymore; it wasn’t warm or cozy. I ran upstairs and plunged into bed because I just wanted the moment to be over; I wanted to dream, to enter that dream world where I create everything and I make all the rules. Tomorrow, I would leave my intolerant household for good and I would be in San Francisco where people like me are welcome, and no one calls you a faggot.
The plane shakes as its wheels make contact with the runway, and I squeeze out of my seat into the aisle of the plane. It was difficult to leave Texas on such a sharp note, but I know my family isn’t going to make me feel better. San Francisco is where I need to be to be appreciated. It will be my refuge, the safe haven for gays and faggots like me. Now, I’m stepping off the plane and thanking the pilot as the flight crew smiles back at me as if I’m straight like everybody else. They must not know what’s wrong with me. Or maybe they just don’t care.
Part Two: Lauren
God, I hate substitute teachers. They’re always so oblivious and so distrustful. I feel like they think we are messing with them every chance we get, which is somewhat true. It’s like they think everything we say is part of a prank we are pulling on them because they don’t know what’s going on in the class. Like today in English for example. I walked into class to see this jolly, plump Santa Claus character spinning himself around in Mr. Beckstead’s office chair. His name was written on the board in this curly, cursive writing, and it read something like “Mr. Salzedo.” I’m not really sure if that’s right though.
So I walk to my seat, and you wouldn’t believe what he did, like really. This guy has the nerve to utter these words from behind his silvery facial hair, “Good morning sir.” Sir! He freakin’ called me sir! At first I was embarrassed because I mean it’s pretty embarrassing to be mistaken for a boy. But then I thought about it, and I guess I am pretty boy-ish. I have really short hair that could be considered to be a boy’s hairdo and I do kind of wear boy’s clothing like cargo shorts and t-shirts and stuff. But I’m not a boy. I’m a girl. I have boobs and I wear a bra, for Christ’s sake.
Well, I did what anybody with even a teaspoon of guts would do and I corrected him.
“I’m not a boy, sir,” I replied politely. His eye sockets scrunched up into little wormholes for his pupils to poke out of as his beard made it clear to me that he was puzzled. “I’M A GIRL, GODDAMNIT.”
The bell rang and as I remained in my seat, so did he. Without a response, he began class.
“Welcome class,” he announced as students settled down in their desks. “My name is Mr. Salzedo and I’m going to be substituting for your teacher today.”
I looked around the class and everyone rolled their eyes. Everyone hates substitutes.
“Now, according to your teacher’s instructions, you guys are supposed to be practicing your lines for your Romeo and Juliet performances, am I right?”
Everyone in the class nodded their heads. Freakin’ Romeo and Juliet. I could never get that play. I mean beyond the old gibberish English that I can’t understand, I can’t wrap my head around how two people of opposite sexes could feel such deep love for one another that they’d rather die than live without the other like that. Now, Mr. Salzedo’s head was pointed down to the little half-slip of paper on which Mr. Beckstead had written down his instructions. The substitute’s bushy eyebrows furrowed and he curled his lips upwards so they closed over his nostrils.
“Say,” Mr. Salzedo inquired. “Is your teacher a man or a woman?”
Without hesitation, everyone in the class shouted back, “Man.”
I was already thinking like what’s with this guy and mixing up people’s genders, when a faint afterthought was vocalized.
“Well,” the boy sitting next to me started. “Sort of.”
Immediately, the class erupted in laughter as the substitute stood by in confusion at what was so funny. I knew what was funny though, and it wasn’t that funny. Mr. Beckstead was a little bit feminine as men go. In fact, he was actually gay. He was very open about it and informed our class on the first day of school as we were all doing our little introductions that we always do on the first day of class. I remember admiring him for that. I was jealous that he had the courage to tell a whole class of judgmental teenagers that he preferred men to women. But I think I was alone in my admiration.
All year, I’ve heard students call him a faggot when they get bad grades in his class, and I don’t even want to get into the kinds of jokes they tell about him. It’s as if him being gay is causing them to fail English or at least that’s what they seem to blame it on. Some boys in our class joke that he has a crush on them and warn their friends to guard their butt holes when he asks them to stay after class to go over their essays, and that’s really disgusting. Like ew.
People just don’t see Mr. Beckstead for who he is, you know? He’s just a great English teacher who loves words and writing and helping out his students. He also happens to be gay, and people let that overshadow the fact that he’s a great teacher. It doesn’t make sense. It really doesn’t. Because Mr. Beckstead is just as much of a teacher as he is gay, but people just peg him as the gay guy, not the teacher.
Well, soon the laughter subsided and class began. Students got into groups and began practicing their scenes. There weren’t enough guys in the class to fill all the male roles so I was cast as Romeo. Ciara was Juliet. Ciara was so beautiful, probably the most beautiful girl in school. She had this really perfectly straight blond hair and perfectly smooth skin and just the perfect facial structure.
As we read our lines, I could just feel this vibe. It was like I was really Romeo and she was really Juliet; we were in love. I recited mine perfectly and she stuttered a bit, but she made up for it by smiling and giggling a little bit each time she messed up. The moment came for Romeo and Juliet to kiss and I swear I like felt it, like I was really going to kiss her.
Call me crazy, and maybe I am, but I recited my line perfectly and then proceeded to lean in with my lips squished together and puckered; they were anxious to meet her’s. I was mere centimeters away, about to make contact, when her arms grabbed my shoulders and pushed me away.
“What the f*** do you think you’re doing?” she yelled. “Get away, you dyke!”
The whole class was silent, awkwardly silent, as everyone turned to look at Ciara and me. She had this utterly disgusted look on her face, as if she went to the toilet to find it with the seat up and clogged. Tears welled up in the corners of my eyes as I could feel the humiliation squirming around in the pit of my stomach. Flagrant giggles began to sound around the room. They were popping like popcorn in the microwave, starting with just a few chuckles and eventually erupting into laughter. I couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe I was just imagining this in my head, but I felt like among the laughter I could hear a faint chant, “Dyke, dyke, dyke, dyke…”
And now I was nothing more than a dyke. I was a lesbian girl who always tried to make moves on straight girls, at least that’s what people saw me as. And as I edged out the door, all the other girls backed away in fear. They mustn’t get too close to the dyke; she might rape them.
Part Three: Epilogue
We are faggots. Both of us.
Yes, I am gay.
And yes, I am lesbian.
But we are only fags, because people choose to see us this way. We are made to be faggots by assumptions and stubbornness, by culture and faith, by the status quo and those who think they are normal.
I am not normal.
And I am not either.
We are different. We are different, not just because we are attracted to members of the same sex, and not just because we are more feminine or masculine than other members of our gender. Yes, this does make us different, but this is not all. We have different interests and different strengths. Some of us are incredible at math and others are amazing artists. Some of us are smart and some of us are mentally disabled. Some of us can walk and some of us cannot. And we do not discriminate because we are different in these ways.
Believe me, you are not normal.
None of us are.
But not all of us are picked on or called names for being different. Not all of us must hide our differences from the public. No one is shunned by their family and peers because they are especially athletic or because they have red-colored hair.
And yet my brother called me a faggot.
And yet my peers labeled me a dyke.
Because I am different.
Because people see me as being too different.
But how are we more different from you than you are from your favorite athlete? Or from the president? Or from a super model? We are all very different, so how can we decide who is too different?
Yes, I am gay.
And yes, I am lesbian.
We are faggots.
And we are as normal as you are.