The pain of a name
Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, May 1, 2019
I recently listened to a speech given by a fellow St. Ed’s resident, Charlie Donnelly, on being comfortable in our own skin and using our past to understand our present and using both to shape our future. Charlie, thank you, because it was just the wake-up call I needed.
Picture this: a third grade me, and eventually middle school me … disproportional, discovering new things and ideas and trying to figure out where he fits in the school environment and in the world. He has braces and spiky hair and still hasn’t worked off that baby weight. He is interested in art and drawing, loves attending local theater productions and is getting involved in student council. He enjoys reading and attends city council meetings. He plays more traditional sports like soccer, football, basketball and baseball. He is extremely organized, has a higher-pitched voice with lots of inflections and loves to smile. He has crazy facial expressions and lots of energy — albeit channeled into playground games with mostly girls rather than the touch football game happening a few yards away.
In addition to the above interests and traits, many students make fun of him for his last name, or for caring about things that most kids don’t care about or for having hobbies like drawing and watching theater. They say he’s too feminine and too organized for most guys. People question why most of his best friends are girls. Others make fun of him because his last name has the word “gay” in it.
Over time, bullies made me believe my last name was something inherently bad, that having a more effeminate personality was some mark of weakness. Gayheart became funny, abnormal and wrong. I did my best to ignore these bullies and jokes, but it hurt nonetheless because it was my name. It felt emblematic of a larger insult to my family. Only now have I come to realize that those peoples’ words had an extremely detrimental impact on my growth and development. They even redefined my very view of the word “gay,” somehow rendering it synonymous with the lesser.
Allowing others to make fun of my last name, and laughing along with them, reinforces a toxic culture in which the word “gay” means something funny, bad or wrong. This, in combination with toxic masculinity and regressive ideas about what it means to be a man, do great harm to young men all over the country, myself included. Additionally, being feminine or masculine is not indicative of who you are and the qualities that we should be valuing in people.
The word gay is not wrong, not funny, nor bad… it is a word that describes how some people love.
Being feminine or having other traits that are not viewed by some as “traditional” is not wrong. These things make up a personality, which is inherently deserving of respect.
Having interests that most other young men do not have — such as drawing, or theater, or non-traditional sports — is neither wrong nor abnormal.
In my freshman year at Notre Dame, I discovered new feelings that I hadn’t really noticed before (or had subconsciously suppressed without even acknowledging doing so). As these feelings became more prevalent, I was presented with an extremely large internal battle that I only recently conquered, and along the way encountered anxiety and depression. I had noticed an attraction to men, as well as women, and this terrified me. How could I succumb to the word that was so bad? A word that I had always strived to avoid, so as not to relive what I had gone through years earlier? The fear I felt at that word’s mention seemed insurmountable. This fear led me to shut the world out; I became irrationally terrified that the world and people I have grown to love would not reciprocate when I needed them most. To be gay or have any of those feelings was simply wrong in my mind, and this ultimately lent itself to a four year-long struggle from which I only recently emerged.
The bullying continued at Notre Dame. During the student body campaign last year, I had an anonymous note slid under my door indicating that if I continued to run for student body VP, everyone would learn my secret. Other times, there were homophobic jokes and slurs used in conversation. In one instance, a slur was used as I was leading a Welcome Weekend team and had my first year students nearby. To say these instances hurt would be an understatement, but they certainly made me stronger and eventually pushed me to write this.
I am bisexual. I am attracted to both men and women. It is not up to others to determine my life and define the labels that describe it. This is not bad, wrong nor funny. It’s who I am. I’m proud of that.
I am not mad at those bullies from elementary and middle school… they were, while unfortunate, a significant part of my life and taught me the importance of greater empathy and understanding. You never know what someone is going through behind a facade. To only now understand what that bullying did to me is very sad, but also very important as I am able to develop a narrative that all too often describes a gay/bi man’s journey in our country.
I am using my past to make the most out of the present. This is both freeing and exhilarating, and it has immediately lifted a weight off of my shoulders. Luckily for me, my family is supportive of me being my truest and best self, and I love them so much for it; I also realize how lucky I am to have finally found friends who, along with my family, offer me the support system I have needed. I am more privileged than most in that department. I am a bisexual Catholic man from Fairborn, Ohio who enjoys drawing and sports and theater and politics; a man that has only just now found the courage and freedom to celebrate who he is.
To my fellow students and staff, please continue to evaluate how you interact with others. Be aware that your words carry meaning and have a great impact on those around you. To the University, please examine adding sexual orientation to the non-discrimination clause of this institution. It would be the most inclusive practice to do so and signal institutional support for some of the most marginalized in our community. And to all those young men out there who are bullied because you don’t fit into a traditional mold of man, or because you like to draw or hang out with girls more than guys, do your best to ignore it and love yourself. Lean into who you are and know that you are loved, valued and important.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.