In 1978, when I was barely 13, I participated in the sport of gay bullying. Which makes me the classic closeted thug who later turned gay. The boy I bullied was a wonderful friend. He was an artist, and an extremely talented one. It was his artistic skill that made me so jealous, not his manhood. But I hid that, and instead I called him a fag.
I remember him saying to me, "Matt, you know this isn't true." And me gritting my teeth and growling bitterly under my breath just loud enough for everyone to hear, "You're a fag." We never made up. So I am writing this essay to publicly apologize to a man who later went on to become a father of five boys, and who never exhibited a homosexual tendency in the entire time I knew him.
And here's the rub, when my own sister was dying of a rare illness, it was this man, a hospice nurse, who nurtured her at a critical time in her struggle. And that was how I treated him when we were young. How's that for a smack in the face? One well deserved slap right upside the head, I'd say. I am George Minafer in Booth Tarkington's "The Magnificent Ambersons", receiving my comeuppance.
It didn't stop with him. I belittled other gay kids in high school to protect my own perceived manhood. One boy is now dead. His senior picture pinned there to a yellow cardboard poster of "Our Dead" someone put together for my 30th high school reunion. I was a gay bully who now owes the world an explanation why he can never apologize, face to face, for calling yet another boy a fag. That boy is now dead.
I'll venture an explanation as to why a closeted kid would bully another boy. If you can pass like Susan Kohner in "Imitation of Life", you do it to survive what is already being inflicted upon you, a hetero-fascist world of man-hate. I grew up a middle class American kid in the 1980s, in a factory town, in a rural county, in an atonal state, and "fag!" was thrown around like dirty rice at a shotgun wedding. There was just so much "You are the rubber and I am the glue." I could stick.
In public high school it was also my turn. And the bullies didn't come one at a time. When they came for me they sent the wrestling team, they had to. They sent the Coaches, the Assistant Principle, even the Spanish Teacher to break it up. And I fought in the locker room. I fought in the hallways. I fought on the playground and in the parking lot. I fought with my fists and I fought with weapons like metal chairs, aluminum baseball bats, plastic lunch trays, even the January ice became a weapon wedged in a softer snowball.
I broke their skin and they broke mine. I remember waking up to a bloody snowman. A long red snot rocket reaching from my nostrils to the ground as I lay dying of humiliation. I fought like I am fighting now for an excuse to the madness of bullying. There is none. Bullying is something a physically superior boy in a working class town does to rise above the fray and prove himself. He finds the soft targets in other boys, raises his bow and arrow, aims, and fires at the soft spot.
No one ever apologized to me for bullying. But I think about it a lot. What it would mean to have bullies line up as men and offer me an apology. It would mean something. It would mean closure and a bit of peace. Maybe people who once bullied others for their sexuality, or any other reason, can take this moment to apologize to them. Make a video, create a website, I don't know, I'm not technically inclined. But for me it never got better until I took it seriously and said, "I am sorry." Then stopped acting like it was all child's play. We take it into adulthood.
For you, who I slurred, I am eternally grateful for my comeuppance, horrified by any pain I may have caused you, and deeply sorry for bullying and calling you a fag. Especially when you are the rubber and I am the glue, and everything I said bounced off you and stuck to me.
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