By Sonny Lemmons:
It was one of the first times that I knew I needed thicker skin. Because to cry would just add fuel to their fire.
Growing up, I always had adults remark about what a “sweet” or “caring” boy I was. I was one of those kids who was quiet, introspective, and kept to himself in elementary school. But carrying the label of “quiet” into my next phase of education brought its own set of problems with it. While the concrete jungle of the elementary school playground can be vicious enough, the transition to middle and high school is pretty much sink-or-swim in terms of social survival. Add into the mix that this “sweet,” “caring,” and “quiet” kid also showed an interest in and aptitude for choir and the theater, and that he had a number of female friends…
And suddenly, I was “gay.” I had to be “some kind of a faggot.”
Long before I cognitively understood what a slur was, I knew in my heart what one felt like. Every time I was harassed by my peers for befriending — but not trying to “get with” — one of my female friends, I was made to feel like less of a person, as if my burgeoning manhood was dependent upon how many bras I had unhooked. Why couldn’t I just care for someone without caring to cop a feel? So what if I had no talent, ability or real interest in sports? Why was what I was interested in considered un-manly?
I was made to feel like there was something wrong with me for being myself.
And so, I tried. I tried to fake toughness. That their words didn’t phase me. And while despite their taunts I knew I was heterosexual, whatever pain I may have felt was undoubtedly doubled for my friends who were struggling with questions of their orientation. For them to hear this term used out of context as a label reflecting something considered intrinsically broken or wrong with a person caused this lie to wound more than just its intended victim. To use this word – or any other descriptor of race, gender or ability – as a pejorative label takes an entire group of people and reduces them to an insult to make someone feel incompetent, stupid, or emasculated.
Psalm 139:14 promises me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. If my wonderfuness happens to come wrapped in a musical number, so be it. Romans 12:6 (NLT) assures me “God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.” I Peter 3:9 (NLT) convicts me to not “retaliate with insults when people insult you.”
Today, I try to continue illustrating and living out compassion and having a heart for others. Christ’s sensitivity for others and compassion towards the weak and disenfranchised might have brought on the same taunts in school.
And I not-so-ironically, take a small amount of pride in that.