No one can remember the very first time they hear a word. I thought I did and I was wrong. This was intended to be a one part story, but it quickly turned into a two-part story. One I will have to tell in reverse. As I was saying no one knows the first time they hear a word, but they can remember when the first time a word impacted them. Faggot is one of those words. The first time I heard it. The first time I felt its impact. I was walking home from school.
I was in the 6th grade so maybe all of twelve or possibly going on thirteen. There I was minding my own business walking home on the side of the road. At the time I lived in this tiny town in Illinois. A farming town not far from St Louis. This has nothing to do with anything. I’m just setting the location of the incident. Don’t be fooled ignorance can be found anywhere on this planet. Walking through the grass on the side of the road when a car of teenagers drove by. One of the assholes screams faggot at the top of their lungs.
The sound of his voice was enough to lock this memory in my brain for a lifetime. At the time I didn’t even know what the word meant. What he meant by it. But I didn’t need to. The word itself was enough for me to know it meant something awful. So vulgar in its delivery. Slammed into my face as though it had anything to do with who I was or what I was doing. I didn’t need to know that it had anything to do with being gay. I didn’t need to know that word’s meaning to know that I never wanted to use it.
Being young, being scared, being confused by this strange and awful word I began to cry. I ran the rest of the way home with tears down my face. My mom recognized something was wrong as soon as I entered the house. She went into to full-on mother mode. “What happened? Are you okay? Who do I need to kill?” It took a moment for me to get it out. I didn’t want to say it let alone hear it again.
“Some kids in a car called me faggot.”
“Well, are you?”
“Then it doesn’t matter. Words don’t have meaning unless you give them one. So some assholes called you a faggot. They are assholes. You gave them the power to let them hurt you. All they were trying to do was hurt you and you let them. People are going to say horrible things. They might even say them about me. Doesn’t matter unless you let it matter.”
I stopped crying.
That’s the thing about words. They don’t really mean anything. Placeholders for a feeling, a thought to cut like a knife. But no one said you had to let them cut you. I carry that message with me every time someone tries to stab me with their vulgar, easy exit words. I hear their bullshit attempts to piss me off and I laugh. I’m the biggest faggot on planet earth. What else you got?
Words have a way of haunting you even when you think that they don’t. I said and I thought the first time I heard the word faggot was when those kids drove by. Maybe that was the first time I thought it impacted me as a person, but during the writing, I realized it wasn’t. I thought about just forgetting the whole thing. Thought about pushing it back down like I had for most of my life, but why should I?
Digging deep into the back of my mind. The first time that the word took something away from me was when I was a child. No idea what age I was. I could ask my mom, but we don’t talk about that time of our lives. It was during the reign of my mom’s second husband. The dark times of my life. The times I try to forget, but the memories always come back up. Stories for another time possibly.
As a child, I was really into gymnastics. No idea why, but I was. Maybe I saw it on the Olympics or something. My mom signed me up for classes and away I went. Every Thursday I got to learn something new for my new passion in life. Until one Thursday my mom couldn’t drop me off for my class. So my stepfather had to. Had to take some precious time out of his busy schedule of being an asshole to drop me off. Looking back after all the shit he put us through it doesn’t surprise me what he said when he picked me up and an hour later. “Did the little faggot enjoy his gymnastic class?”
I cried. He hit me like he always did. “Toughen up.” I don’t remember much after that. I know that I didn’t go to any more classes. I know that my mom always wondered why I lost interest in it and I’m sure I wondered, just like I do today, why I didn’t say anything.
If you see something… say something… If something is happening… say something… I know the hardest thing we can do in this world is ask for help… I’ve lived through it myself… My mom got it the worst… I don’t blame her for what happened during that period.. but I do wish she had asked sooner… No one deserves to be abused verbally or physically… it is not normal and it is not okay…