Growing up in the South, the fact that I would rather hang in the kitchen with my mom and aunts instead of playing ball in the yard with my dad and uncles made it clear from an early age that I was not the boy my dad expected me to be. The obvious disdain for his son made me know that my father and I would never be close, never be respectful, that we would never love each other. At the age of twelve, I asked my father what he would do if I told him I am gay, and without hesitation, his response flew out before I had fully formed the question, “I would disown you.”, he said as he looked me square in the eye. This was the day I knew, without doubt, that I had no father. It would only be a few years later when he showed me that my thoughts were valid.
By the age of ten, the manner in which I was treated simply because I was different, had led me to the point of my first of many suicide attempts. I had no idea how I could live in a world that hated me for feelings that I myself had no understanding of at the time. I didn’t know what “gay” was as a child. I was called queer for years and had no idea what it really meant, I simply knew it wasn’t good. From spending my daylight hours facing torment and trauma at the hands of my classmates to going home to a father who knew he was raising a queer, and despised me for it; I saw no purpose in living in this Hell. After failing dozens of times at ending my life, at the age of fourteen, I chose to come out of the closet. I didn’t do this out of some need to be clear and honest, nor out of a desire to be accepted; I honestly looked at coming out as the one surefire way to end my life without failure. After all, I had been told for almost fifteen years that fags should be killed, so this had been what I was waiting on to happen, my final release. Ironically, most of the kids who had made my life hell for so long didn’t seem to care. The bullying stopped, and I felt free and normal for the first time in my life.
That peace did not last long, because my parents soon got wind of my new found freedom, and decided to “help” me by sending me to a new school where I could be pumped full of the love of God, and be freed from my sin of gayness. My nickname at this new school quickly became “Faggot Jeff”. This name haunted me for the first decades of my life, until a realization hit me– I do not have to hide from being who I am. I took Faggot Jeff and gave him a makeover. I began referring to myself as Gay Jeff, and soon found myself becoming known in the LGBT community as The Gay Jeff, someone who spoke out against the wrongdoings and immoral behavior of those who saw me as less than human. I took a name that had been used to destroy my peace as a child, and I turned it around to make it into a battle cry of sorts, a secret identity that freed me from being the oppressed, tortured little boy that I was, turning him into a force of good and truth for those who have faced the horrors that I have known. It was in doing this that I discovered something which I had never truly believed– It does get better. It gets better if we do not allow ourselves to remain victims of our tormentors, we have to make it it better.
The road to a better life is a road that is specific to the person traveling it, however, the pit stops often tend to be in the same area. For this reason, I would like to share with you how I was able to survive and strengthen myself. First of all, it took me discovering that I was not alone in my trauma. I believed that I was the only person who had ever faced such hardships and pain, yet once I started speaking with others and listening to their struggles, I found that I had been alone simply because I hadn’t reached out to anyone. By becoming a part of the growth and self-acceptance of others, I was able to become a part of my own personal growth and acceptance, this changed my life forever. I found that I was able to not only listen and actively care for those who shared the issues that I lived, but that I could actually do something to be sure that no one else ever had to suffer the way we did as children. This treasure of an idea was the birth of my adult life. It was my Jean Grey moment, the fires of hatred had been extinguished and I was finally able to rise from the ashes as the mighty Phoenix to strike out the hatred that had inundated our world and destroyed the peace living within our future’s most precious asset– our children. Which is why I chose to sign on as a member of the One Million Kids team, I know all too well how important it is for the children of today to know that they are loved and cherished for whomever they may be. They are our future, they are our legacy, and they are important.
My pledge to you is this: Whether you are a child who is currently facing the fear of getting on that bus and dealing with one more day of bullying from your peers, or you are an adult who is still reeling from the trauma you faced as a child– I need you to know that if you rise from the fall, if you reach out to those who are around you, if you seek a better life, you will find it.
My Name is Jeff, and I’ve Survived Being Bullied