Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You Can Make it Better

 [Originally posted on Imagine Today]

Today is National Coming Out Day, and I have a lot of things to say. First off, I figure today’s about as a good a day as any to come out and say it, so I will…

I’m queer! :)

For those who know me in real life this often comes as a bit of a surprise, since my relationship of three years appears, for all intents and purposes, heterosexual. For that matter, all of my past relationships have been heterosexual. So how can I be queer? It’s simple, really, I just am. This line, from an anonymous post on Feministing, does a great job of wrapping up how I feel about my sexuality in just a few short words: “I hate being in a world that defines my sexuality by the person whose hand I am holding.”

I realized about a year ago, thanks to the support of my partner, that I’m attracted to women as well as men. So, for quite some time, I was calling myself bisexual and that was fine. Until I sat down to think about it: its no secret that I don’t really believe in a binary gender system – I think people should feel free to define gender however they want! Given that, I began to wonder… how can I call myself bisexual when I don’t believe in a binary gender system? The answer was simple… I couldn’t. Luckily for me as all of this reflection came around the same time as last years National Coming Out Day. At the event one of the speakers got up and defined herself as queer because she likes people for who they are not what they are… and the light bulb went off. Queer. That’s what I am, simple as that.

Its as simple as that now… but it wasn’t always so simple to be open and proud about who I was.

Before I even started thinking about my sexuality I was teased endlessly. Junior High School was where it really became unbearable, but as early as kindergarten I can remember being picked on.

They made fun of my hairy legs, so I cried and cried until my mom let me shave them.

They made fun of my clothes, so I spent hours in front of my closet each night obsessing over what to wear.

They made fun of my weight so I started to diet, off and on. The worse it got, the more I obsessed over food.

They made fun of the things I liked so I stopped talking to people, I learned to bring a book with me everywhere so I could hide.

Eventually it got to the point where I felt like there was nothing I could do. I had changed everything I could think to change so it must not be anything I’m doing… there must be something about me that just doesn’t fit. I honestly believe that, looking back, those will be the darkest times of my life because I hated myself then. The one and only reason I got through it was because both of my parents took the time to talk to me and let me know that it would get better.

“I don’t know why people always say these are the best times of your life,” I can still remember my mother saying. “Being a teenager sucks, I hated my high school years… but you won’t be a teenager forever, and it won’t be like this forever.”

I didn’t really believe her at the time, but her words coupled with my father’s constant reminders to “be a good person” lead me to turn my ostracism into something positive. I stopped avoiding the other bullied kids, and started to make friends with them, even sticking up for them when people were mean… its not like I had anything to lose. By the time I escaped that school district to go to a private school where no one knew me I had actually made a few friends to keep in touch with. My self-esteem was rock-bottom when I left that school, but I was hopeful because I had a fresh start ahead of me.

The way I handled that fresh start is something that I am still ashamed of today. In a desperate bid to start over I distanced myself from the girls who obviously did not fit in. My self esteem was still awful but I did everything I could not to show it, to make all of the other people in my all girls school think that I was confident and popular and that I had never been anything else. I was never the most popular, but I was never made fun of as far as I knew; I was never mean to anyone’s face… but I did my fair share of talking behind people’s backs with the friends I had and for that, I am sorry.

Now I am in college. As cheesy as it sounds, somewhere along this journey I found myself and I found a group of friends that I never have to worry about impressing. I stll get crap from people for being who I am… the difference is, I don’t really care what the people who choose to make fun of me think. Now, I do everything I can not to bully people period. Not to their faces or behind their backs, because I recognize how damaging it is. I went from bullied to bully because I was afraid that if I didn’t put others down I would be the one getting made fun of. I am not unique… so many bullies were also bullied, its a vicious cycle that takes a lot of bravery to stop but it can be stopped.

My parents were right, just like Dan Savage and all of the people who have made videos for the “It Gets Better” project are right… it can get better, but it won’t get better on its own, we have to make it better. We have to make it better by being better than all of the people who fall into this vicious cycle.

We have to be strong enough to live lives openly as our true selves, and recognize that the people who don’t accept us for ourselves are the wrong ones, not us.

We have to be strong enough to find the good in everyone around us and to treat strangers with love so that we can help other bullied people grow stronger.

We have to be strong enough to see the potential for bullying in ourselves and hold it down.

We have to be strong enough to see the bullies and know that they are scared and lonely, just like the bullied, so that we can reach out to them and help them to stop hurting others.

It gets better, you can make it better… just by being you.

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