I vividly recall the first time I was called one. Amy Crews, my first grade teacher, asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. Mark Jones wanted to be a fireman. Sean Adams wanted to be a doctor. When it was my turn, I stood up from my desk and firmly stated, “I want to be a dancer.”
My teacher politely smiled and nodded, but the rest of the class laughed so loudly that it pierced my eardrums.
Over the parade of laughter and finger-pointing, I heard the words: “You gon’ be a faggot.”
So on that day, before I could comprehend what it meant to be gay, I understood that being myself made me different. Boys were supposed to be construction workers, heart surgeons and athletes. Dancing was for girls. And I was not a girl; I was a faggot.
As I progressed through school, I got to know a few other boys, who like me, wanted to be dancers or baby sitters. But, I was the only one who wasn’t afraid to say so. So when the “real” boys bothered us, I fought them. When I went to the guidance counselor, he drilled me with a slew of ridiculous questions.
“Why don’t you want to play football in P.E., Mr. James?” he would ask. “Do you spend much time with your father, Mr. James?”
I spent my childhood and most of my teenage years wondering why people thought there was something wrong with me. Why was being my natural self so different from everybody else? And most importantly, why couldn’t I just be normal?
When I turned 14, my grandmother held a church ceremony for me. I invited my friends, the majority of whom were gay. I remember when I came to church a week later, the preacher called me to the altar. He hugged me and declared before the congregation that I needed prayer. There I was, in front of about 400 people, all praying that God removed the demon spirits from my body. The preacher asked God to “save me.” In that moment, between the tears, confusion, and embarrassment, my mentality changed.
I began to research sexuality and how it was related to religion and social structure. I came across the word “patriarchy.” The term, according to Google dictionary, refers to a social system in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. Immediately, I realized why our society was so obsessed with masculinity, or what it meant to be “a man.”
It was about power; it was about tradition. Since the beginning of creation, people had used religion to disguise these things. My sexual orientation, to some, had subjected me to a life of powerlessness.
Lucky for me, I found motivation in knowing that as long as I was openly gay, people would pre-judge me. Who I chose to love was going to have no direct effect on my success in life. It meant I would have to work harder. I knew it meant the odds were against me, but I found a sense of confidence in knowing that the greats before me had to overcome those same obstacles connected to tradition.
I knew I had to be an advocate for change, and the best two ways to do so was to write about social injustices and to educate others in a way that would prevent future injustice. Every time I lose my ambition or become overwhelmed by the negativity, I think about that day in the first grade and my drive is revived.
But this is not the first grade. This is not my grandmother’s church. I will not submit to patriarchal tradition.
I don’t need to.
People have no choice but to see me for the quality of what I produce, and not how I live my life or whom I love. Success means more to me than it does to those who see me as the underdog, so I push harder.
I treat my life as if it is a piece of art. Failure is not optional. I may look small, but I have big dreams. I enjoy proving people wrong. It makes them respect me more.
I am unique. I am destined for greatness. I am not a faggot.