It Gets Better

I don't often weigh in on off-topic, non-baseball issues, not in this forum anyway. I use my personal Facebook page to express my opinions about non-baseball matters. But today I have to make an exception. You have been warned.

I'm having a very hard time concentrating on baseball today. My mind is on other matters. I'm thinking about the way I felt in elementary school and junior high. I'm thinking about how it felt to be an outcast. And I'm thinking about what happened in North Carolina yesterday.

I was bullied pretty severely as a child. In pre-school and early elementary school, this took the form of physical abuse from other children. As I got older, there was less physical bullying, but psychological and emotional torment continued unabated for many years. It wasn't until about 10th grade that the bullying eased up. I grew more able to defend myself, and many of my peers matured out of overt cruelty.

Going to college was liberation, and (with a few ups and downs) my life has been rich beyond all imagining for many years now, especially after I began dating Jeri in 1989. Yet those wounds I acquired in my early years are still in there, and the events of the last 24 hours have pushed some of that pain back to the surface.

When I was in seventh grade, one of the bullies started a rumor that I was gay. "Gay" wasn't the actual term used, of course. "Faggot" and "queer" were the most common terms. I was an easy target because I was a sensitive sort and not very athletic.

In reality, I've been obsessed with women from April, 1981 (when my hormones kicked in) to the present day. I'm about as straight as you can be. It certainly wasn't a "choice" I made. It's the way my body and my mind work. I was born heterosexual, just like gay people or bi people are born that way.

But once a junior high school rumor gets started, it's impossible to quash, and I might as well have been gay until I found a fresh peer group. Ironically, one of my worst tormentors turned out to be gay. I think he was picking on me partly to throw suspicions off of himself. I wonder what kind of inner agony he was going through. It was also notable that some of the biggest bullies were also "religious." I could not understand that, since I was religious too and by my understanding Christ's teachings forbid cruelty to others.

In any event, I was more or less an outcast until I got to college.

One thing the experience did was make me a very strong supporter of gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender rights. It is remarkable how much progress has been made in the last thirty years, especially in the last 15. But there is so much further to go. Anti-gay bullying, while not quite as prevalent as it once was, is still a huge problem. Teens, gay and straight, still commit suicide under bullying pressure. I considered suicide myself.

Can you imagine what it must be like for a gay kid (or adult) in North Carolina today? Can you imagine what it would be like to have a majority of voters tell you that a core part of your identity is simply wrong, and that this hatred is now enshrined in the state constitution? Can you imagine what it must be like to be told that your relationship is invalid, that the way you love is unlove, that you are an unperson? I can imagine it.

I chose to speak out today because I must. Apparently some people never do age out of bullying others, and will use the cloak of religion and tradition to do so. What happened yesterday was wrong, and similar laws that have been passed across the country are wrong. It was wrong 30 years ago, and it is wrong now.

20 years ago this month, I married Jeri Jackson, my beloved wife. The fact that gays and lesbians want to get married honors our marriage, it honors my family. Why can't people see this? All gay people want is the right to marry those they love, just like straight people.

Baseball is a conservative community and this may well cost me readers. I don't care. If one person, one lonely junior high kid somewhere, reads this and realizes that they are not alone, it is worth it.

Hold on. Survive. Keep going. It gets better.

John Sickels
Straight Ally of the Gay Community

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