Faggot, Queer, Sissy Boy

Justin Davis

         I remember the first time that someone asked if I was gay. It was in 5th grade (even 5th graders can be vicious), and, to be honest, I didn’t even really know what it meant. We lived in a rural area, and in the rural South, boys had to grow up to be men. But you couldn’t simply be a man. You had to be a “manly man.” And that meant that boys couldn’t cry, boys had to hunt and fish, and any feminine traits that a boy had were sure signs that he would grow up to be gay. As my schooling went on, the rumors and prodding began to become more vitriolic. I was bullied consistently throughout elementary, middle, and the first year of high school. I was pushed into lockers, poked fun at in the locker room because of my tiny frame, and had chairs pulled out from under me when I tried to sit down at the beginning of class. While there were many reasons as to why I was targeted for bullying, one of the reasons was because my peers thought that I was gay.

 

         Sure, I was different from the other boys around me. I wasn’t (and still am not) masculine, I never had any real romantic interests, and I wrote terrible poetry in my spare time. I was always the more artistic kid. I would stay indoors and draw rather than go fishing. I would play music instead of going out with my rifle and shooting deer; still today, even the thought of killing another living creature causes me great distress. I was always closer to my mother, and therefore I inherited a lot of her amazing qualities. I learned how to be empathetic, how to nurture and encourage others, and how to keep everything incredible clean and orderly. Because of these things, however, I was labeled as a “sissy boy.”

 

         As I grew older, and began to question my faith, new insults came hurtling towards me. I was first called an atheist when I was thirteen years old (even though I didn’t identify myself as one, at least not at the time). Then, I began to hear the word “faggot” more and more frequently. Even after I moved away from that awful place where I grew up, words like “queer” and “freak” refused to leave. Even in college, some people persisted in questioning my supposed “manhood.”

 

         When everything around you is telling you the same thing, you begin to start actually believing it. When people tell you that you are a failure, you start to believe that nothing you do will ultimately matter. When they tell you that you’re a freak, you begin to believe that you are radically different from everyone around you. And when everyone is telling you that you are gay, you begin to question your own sexuality. This is what happened to me.

 

         Since so many people were conveying this message to me, I started to wonder if they were indeed right. Let’s face it: I had never been in a real relationship, I wasn’t really looking for one, and whenever someone asked who I had a crush on, I had to pretend like I was hiding something in order to mask the fact that I literally had no one in mind. Did I find particular men attractive? Sure, but not really in a sexual way. Does that mean that I have same-sex attraction? I spent countless hours pondering these things, and what they meant for my life. I remember thinking that being gay might actually be a good thing for me. At least it would explain so many things (such as the lack of interest in female relationships).

 

         After years of wrestling with my own sexuality, however, I came to the conclusion that I was straight. I was (and still am) sexually attracted to women. I don’t feel that same pull towards other men. And I’ve learned to be comfortable in my own skin. I can admit that I find men attractive without feeling like I’m somehow going to lust after them. There we go. Problem solved. Take that, you bullies!

 

         But does that mean that I can just separate myself from the homosexual community? Since it’s not my problem to deal with, should I just not worry myself with the way that homosexuality is perceived in our society? For a while, I thought that the answer was yes. And that makes sense, in a selfish kind of way. Sure, kids are bullied because they are gay. But I’m not gay. I have my own fight to deal with in regards to combating bullies. I should just be relieved that they have one less round of ammunition to fire at me. Besides, being gay is a sin, so there’s a sort of justice to how they’re treated. I’m the victim here. I’m the one being hurt for no good reason. ME! ME!! ME!!!

 

         That way of thinking fell apart when gay friends of mine started to harm themselves. Self-harm had been a problem for me in my early teenage years as a result of the constant bullying. When gay friends of mine started talking about their struggles with being ostracized and labeled as “different,” I began to see that we weren’t so different after all. When they started talking about their battles with suicidal thoughts, it forced me to look beyond my own selfishness, beyond my own hurt, and beyond my own past. It forced me to see them for who they really were.

 

         They are human beings who deserve love and respect just like anyone else. In fact, they probably deserve more respect than the average person, because swimming upstream is never an easy journey. Sure I was bullied because other people thought that I was gay. But I never really was. That was never a part of how I identified myself. It wasn’t a part of who I was. The amount of suffering that I experienced can only pale in comparison to the shame, guilt, and pain that someone who actually does identify his/herself as gay may potentially go through. I cannot imagine how it must feel for someone who does identify as gay to be attacked based upon his or her sexual identity. I can sympathize, but only partially.

 

         The Christian community has failed in addressing the gay community. We’ve identified people with their sin. We’ve convinced ourselves that a person’s value and worth is determined by who they have or haven’t slept with. And I’m guilty of this. Oh, how I am terribly guilty of it! And for my own self-righteousness and hypocrisy, I am so deeply sorry. For what right do I have to pretend that I’m better than anyone else because I struggle with different things? It is absolutely ridiculous that anyone would be subjugated to mistreatment for any reason, let alone for his or her sexual orientation. I have participated in perpetuating a system in which honest and genuine people are hurt because they do not fit a particular mold of what some deem as “acceptable.”

 

         These days, I’m drastically different, but yet the same. I’m a proud feminist, which I definitely could not say only a few years ago. However, I still don’t have many masculine qualities (aside from my epic beard). I’m still occasionally poked fun at because of these qualities (or lack thereof).

 

And that’s okay. It’s not about me anyway.

 

         It’s about the men and women who face adversity from others merely for their sexual preference. Women face a standard in which they can be tomboys in youth, yet expect to become feminine as they enter adolescence. On the other hand, men face a standard where they are not allowed to show signs of femininity at all. I’m honestly sick of seeing Facebook posts with a picture of a dirty hand or a car motor with a caption saying, “If you’re boyfriend doesn’t know what this is, then you have a girlfriend.” Okay. So now the amount of dirt on your hand, or your knowledge of cars, is a signifier of your sexual orientation?

 

         Why is femininity in men a bad thing anyway? Why do insults against men hearken back to feminine language? Why is it that less masculine men are called, “little bitches” or “pussies?” Why do we say that someone “throws like a girl” when he/she doesn’t throw fast enough? Why do we try to insult men by likening them to women? Women are amazing, and any attempt to put down another human being by referring to women ultimately falls flat. Being a feminine/less masculine man is not something to be mocked and ridiculed. It’s something to be embraced. Just because a woman can bench-press more than you, doesn’t make them less of a woman, and it certainly doesn’t make you less of a man. Let’s be honest. Most women could probably bench-press more than I could, so I speak from experience.

 

         So what does this mean for the Christian community? How should we react to the increasing awareness of the fluidity of sexuality and gender? Even if you believe that gender is binary, how should you treat those who believe differently?

 

We should, as in all things, keep our arms open.

 

To embrace.

        

To love.

 

We should work to help those who are oppressed in our society. We should be aware of the diversity within and beyond our Church walls, and be willing to learn and grow from it. We should mimic what Jesus said and did, and reach out to the lonely and abused. We should stop trying to impose this socially constructed standard on people whom we’ve never even met. Stop trying so hard, and rest in the Spirit of God.

 

May we be an open church, willing to listen to the stories of our neighbors, and responding in the grace and mercy that we’ve been shown through Christ.  So whether you are straight, gay, transgender, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, or anything else, know that you are loved. No matter what flag you fly under, know that we all can come to the cross, just as we are.

 

         God doesn’t have a gender. Believe it or not, in Scripture, God has both masculine and feminine attributes. So do not be afraid to reflect the image in which God created you.

 

As for me, that’s exactly what I plan on doing.

 

I’m going to keep being who God created me to be, feminine traits and all.