Resting My Pain on Paper, Rising to Happiness

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I am not hard to understand.

People, those with good intentions, will struggle to know me, basing everything on how my life has shaped me. But I am not difficult. I am not a mystery. And I am not defined by who I love, or what’s beneath the rainbow belt I wear. I was born under storm clouds, but don’t be fooled. I live on a rainbow.

I’m a military brat. Kids with parents in the service, that’s what we call ourselves. I’ve never seen it as derogatory though. It’s simply another part of my very large identity. What you need to comprehend about being a child in the service is that my first introduction to anything LGBTQ related didn’t happen until I was 12. This is when I first heard the word gay. It’s when I learned about the old military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy where discretion made the difference of whether or not you were allowed to serve the nation. I don’t know if the policy had a hidden agenda of keeping hetero-normative regulations, but in my mind, all I got out of the policy was if I’m not straight, I don’t need to tell anyone. In my 12 year-old mind, I thought, I can’t tell anyone because if I do, something bad would happen. My young mind had the premonition of a lot of pain. I don’t have a high pain threshold.

I moved to America 6 months before my 13th birthday. The plane ride from Japan to Colorado was long, and I wasn’t excited to leave the place I had called home. Military kids can adapt. It’s something we learn to do at a young age. There’s no choice, we have to adapt. Adapting to a new culture isn’t easy though, especially because I had recently grown half a foot, my curly hair was a frizz bomb, and I didn’t speak to anybody due to severe social anxiety disorder caused by being bullied.

You can imagine my surprise when, in middle school, I had my first crush on a girl. A beautiful, funny, wonderful girl—who happened to be straight. Seventh grade was when the bullying began. From me to you reading this, I can honestly say getting beat up, having things thrown at you, and being called horrible names does create one heck of a phobia. Social anxiety wasn’t a part of my identity until middle school made it one. But I don’t resent it. Why? I’m not sure yet. Moments of clarity are far and few between for people like me. Sometimes, I think all of the bullying, physical/verbal assault, and harassment I’ve dealt with has changed me too much. I was once a really funny kid, always outgoing and quick with sarcastic rebuttals. And I’m still sarcastic, but I’m not the same.

Things calmed down after 7th grade. I ended up getting through 8th grade relatively easily. Then came high school. I went through freshmen year completely stuffed into a dark closet, but also unnoticed. Left alone. I dated my best (girl) friend for 8 months, and things were manageable. Another aspect about the military is, it doesn’t care about who you love, or how much you’ll miss living somewhere. It seemed every time I felt happy, we had to move. Two months into freshman year, I moved to what would be my final school. My dad retired, we settled down, and I again, integrated myself into a new environment—friendless. Unwilling to volunteer in class. Silent, but mostly afraid. Terrified any move I made would out me as the flamboyantly queer person I am. Freshman year passed and sophomore year came banging on my closet door. My girlfriend, from 9th grade, took her life because of depression. There was no funeral. I never got to say goodbye, and if I’m laying it all out on the table, I’d tell you her death broke me. My depression got to the point where I couldn’t go to a single class without breaking down. I was self harming, failing school, losing hope, and falling away. I didn’t talk to anyone, not even my parents. It got to the point where my mom, who had been my biggest supporter, couldn’t bring me back. She tried. Don’t misunderstand me—I might be a fighter, but there are some battles even the strongest person cannot win. I had lost so many battles, I stopped trying to fight. I eventually tried to join my girlfriend by attempting to take my own life.

Luckily, I found slam poetry my sophomore year, and I’m still here. I saved myself. I snapped out of my depression one day while I was writing. By using my pain, and letting it rest on paper, I got myself to a mindset where I could accept how much I’d been through, and let myself be happy even if my daily life was a struggle. I did not seek therapy. For me, I don’t have to let a stranger tell me I’m broken.

Photo credit Leland Francisco
Photo credit Leland Francisco

I’m turning 18, I’ve been accepted to my first choice college, and I am excelling in everything I do. I believe the best kind of therapy is throwing yourself into what you love, because you get what you give. I gave my pain to the pen in my hand, and I got opportunities and recognition. I was accepted into a council which works hand-in-hand with the Colorado state government to improve the schools to make them safer, more inclusive places for students. I have younger people looking up to me for advice, trusting me with their hurt, and letting me show them all of the crap we go through, is not for nothing. I am not the same. I am happier. I am stronger. I’m seen, heard, respected, and proud to be out of the closet. Originally, I came out as bisexual. As I’ve grown, this has begun to change. Right now, I don’t know what I am. I know I’m genderfluid, and preferred gender pronouns are awesome. I like people. I don’t feel the need to define how my heart beats because I am not defined based on how many labels I can fit onto myself. I’m lucky. I know there are stories like mine that don’t get better. But the great part about suffering is, at some point, it does get better. The cliche, the one where everyone grows up, and life improves in the real world, that one is true. I could not be more grateful for this truth to be real for me.

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Jaye Cooney
Jaye Cooney is turning 18, lives in Colorado, and is excited about attending college in the fall of 2016. Jaye, whose preferred gender pronouns are they, their, and them, loves to write and perform for all of the people who can’t raise their voices for themselves yet. Jaye is an activist with an amazing support system of family and friends.

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