By John Tozzi of Galleria di Giani
October 11 is National Coming Out Day. This year, it feels like there will be a shadow over the day, due to all the recent tragic suicides that have befallen our community.
You will all be missed.
I am a 45 year old gay man. For those of you not versed enough to do the math and understand, I came out at 22, in the mid 1980’s, when the world was first gripped by the AIDS scare. It was not an easy time to come out. Just hearing the word “gay” made people recoil, afraid they would catch something. It was not an easy time for me. But then again, my teens were no picnic either, for so many reasons.
I was bullied for being smart.
I was bullied for wearing glasses.
I was bullied for being fat.
I was bullied because I was not particularly good at most sports.
I was bullied because I hung out with girls at school most of the time.
Yeah, I had it pretty bad.
I would get pushed against the lockers. I would have my books knocked out of my hands and kicked down the hall. I would have things taken from me while the bullies played “keep away”.
I endured taunts of “four eyes!”, and “fatty fatty two by four, can’t fit through the classroom door” and “sissy” and “brainiac” and “poindexter”. Thankfully, since Glee wasn’t on back then, I never had to endure the slurpee in the face.
It was probably the only taunt I was ever spared.
Because it is important to me to reach out to each and every one of you today, I am going to do something I never in my life thought I would do. I am going to tell you something I have kept secret for over 30 years. I have never shared this story with anyone at all, ever, but I am about to share it with you today. That is how important this topic is to me.
When I was in junior high, because I was fat, I had those breasts that fat kids get. Since it was junior high school, most of the girls hadn’t got theirs yet, but there were mine, plain as day. There was one guy, named Jo Jo, who used to grab them whenever he saw me in the hallway. Oh yes, as if all the verbal taunts and teases and physical abuse weren’t enough, I also had to endure sexual harassment as well.
As you can tell, my teenage years were kinda sucky.
And to those of you wondering, yes, I did contemplate suicide. I had two very long, difficult nights a couple of years apart, where those thoughts consumed me.
Thankfully, I didn’t go through with it either time.
I am not telling you this to make you feel bad for me, or to pity me, or to win some “my teen years were worse than yours” contest. I am telling you all of this for the best possible reason.
I am now a 45 year old man.
I survived it all.
I survive it still.
Yes, it is obviously still all a part of who I am. But it is not the biggest part of who I am. It is in me, but it does not consume me. Yes, I still live with it, but I still live.
I have a happy life, finally. It took me a while. I had to make some difficult choices in my life, but I did it. I moved away from a backwards thinking town and never went back. I fled to a better place, to a more accepting place. Here, I can be free to be open, to be honest, to be exactly who I am, and to feel the love of good friends, and a good partner. And I don’t have to apologize for it, fear it, or hide it.
I deserve these things.
You know what, so do you.
When I was a teen, gays had virtually no rights at all. We could be fired, we could be denied services. Just twenty years later, we can legally marry in several states. We are getting closer to being able to open serve in the military. Many cities, counties and states have us as a protected class in their equal opportunity laws.
Take it from one who knows, the fear, the self loathing, the abuse, yes, it all feels bad. But it is nowhere near as strong as the power you feel when you can hold someone you love in your arms, and hear them tell you they love you. It will happen. You just need to stay around to see it.
Someday, the whole country will allow us to legally marry. It is coming. You just need to stay around to see it.
Someday soon, we will be able to openly serve in the military. You just need to stay around to see it.
And, most importantly, twenty years from now, it will be YOUR turn to pass on your survival stories to the next generation, so that they can know. You just need to stay around to do it.
You just need to stay around.
You just need to.
John Tozzi is a fine art photographer and jewelry designer.
Please visit his website at:
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