After A Fashion

Stephen on the It Gets Better Project and recapturing the passion in life as a result of reconnecting with an old schoolmate

GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME Recently, I had a deeply personal and emotional experience online that drove home once again that technology can be as awesomely beautiful as it is dangerous. One of those ubiquitous Classmates.com e-mails got me thinking about someone with whom I'd attended Jackson-Keller Elementary in fifth and sixth grades in San Antonio, 1967-1969. She was named Sandra Singer, and we were classmates through seventh grade at Nimitz Junior High. She was the class clown, a quirky, cute, funny, and adorably outgoing Jewish girl. I loved the way she looked and dressed – an early fashion obsession of my disturbed mind. We weren't especially close, but after tracking her down on Facebook, it turns out that I also left an indelible impression on her. Those years were some of the worst of my life. I was a fucked-up kid, not unlike so many others, but I was way different from anyone else in school. I never had to "come out of the closet." I'd been gay since the day I was born. Everyone else knew I was gay long before I had any idea what it meant. All I knew was that I thought girls were fabulous and I was fascinated by all feminine accoutrement. I did not like sports and was usually injured when forced into them. I liked drawing flowers and making Barbie dresses – secretly. At school, I was the butt of a lot of jokes due to my natural propensity toward more feminine pursuits and my distinct lack of any sort of interest in typical male activities. I was bullied regularly, harassed verbally and physically by schoolmates, and my teacher seemed to hate me. But what parent on Earth is going to listen to a child whine, "My teacher hates me"? Mine certainly didn't. I pleaded illness regularly to avoid going to school, but not very successfully. My parents both worked, and I was too young to stay home alone. Not that home was a sanctuary for me anyway. There was a lengthy period during which I was beaten by my older brother, Scott, on an unpleasantly regular basis. I'm sure I was an embarrassment to him, not that that was any excuse. I was deeply scarred psychically, but my brother asked for and received my forgiveness many years ago. I've never written about this before, but the fact remains that it was simply one facet of the reality of my life at the time. School was another, and between the two, I felt like the most worthless, miserable fuck-up that God ever created. I wanted to die thousands of times but didn't know how. I have felt like pretty damaged merchandise ever since then – not that the situation that was occurring at the time continues to occupy my every waking thought, but I am indeed haunted by it. And then I found irrefutable proof of the nightmare online written by someone I'd never ever forgotten. On the Jackson-Keller page, Sandra posted our sixth-grade class photo and she and another classmate tagged everyone. And there was our teacher, Mrs. Hunt, in the picture. Another schoolmate mentioned that she didn't remember Mrs. Hunt but that she looked very young. My friend replied: "You're lucky you didn't know Hunt. She looked good, but what a mean rotten person. She was worst to Stephen Moser – she was physically and emotionally abusive to him. I felt so sorry for him." I was stunned to read this and saw that it had been written in November 2009. I could not believe that another human being had written that about me. But it was the naked truth and a very dirty little secret to me. I was so profoundly touched that I posted a message thanking Sandra for confirming some of the shattered missing pieces from my childhood. She wrote that she had many memories of my mistreatment at the hands of our teacher because she, too, had suffered for being the class clown (an act that hid the damage that she was suffering silently at home). She wrote about Mrs. Hunt smacking me so hard with Sandra's ruler that it broke because I was having a hard time with Spanish. And another time I was punished for some transgression by having to hold a stack of dictionaries in my arms. When they became too heavy and I started to cry, she stacked even more on. It's a small part of what I remember. Sandra wrote me and delicately crossed into even more personal territory by saying that she remembers me being mercilessly teased by my classmates. "All these years, I've been living with the shame of not having done anything about your abuse, and it's been awful. I never thought I would have the chance to tell you how sorry I was that I wasn't stronger then. But that shame was also very motivating, and I've spent my life standing up for people who needed support." All of this was happening concurrently with the recent tragedies of kids committing suicide over the reality or perception of being gay. When I saw the video of Joel Burns of the Fort Worth City Council make his heartrending plea for more understanding of this, I felt like I had been struck by a bolt of lightning. When I was told I was going to die three years ago, I pretty much lost the will to live. And now? I'm still alive, damnit, so I'd better get back to living again. I have to try to recapture some sort of passion in life – something to care about spiritually. There is an incredibly wonderful campaign called the It Gets Better Project (www.itgetsbetterproject.com) meant to give hope to young gay kids who are going through the things I went through. It gets better. Maybe. Maybe not. It would be hard to deny that the damage was permanent – it's still affecting me now. And it still affects Sandra. I want to use my experiences to help make it better for someone else. I don't know what else I really have to give that could be more meaningful. Having found some healing in all this is an unexpected gift, and, yes, it does make it better. Even if just a little. Happy Thanksgiving.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin style, It gets better, suicide, gay teen, abuse, Mrs. Hunt, Jackson-Keller Elementary, Sandra Singer, Nimitz Junior High, facebook, Classmates.com, Joel Burns, Fort Worth City Council

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