Jason, age 11
Saint Paul, Minnesota (1984)
When I look at this picture, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Laugh for the young, spirited grade school kid that found tremendous joy in wearing his Granny’s wigs. Or, cry for the young kid who grew up with little joy in his spirit.
From grade school on into high school,
it was the same four perjoratives: "girl," "sissy," "wuss" - and the dreaded "F" word. Eventually, that's what "different" meant to me.
I always made promises to myself:
If I could just have more boys as friends, then I wouldn’t feel different. If I could just stop wearing Granny’s wigs, then I wouldn’t feel different. If I could just hold my breath underwater for 20 minutes, then I wouldn’t feel different.
But I didn’t, I wouldn’t, and I still can't. Yet somehow, sometimes even still to my amazement, I carried on, knowing that someday I'd redefine my "different."
And eventually, after finally coming out, I did. My adult life as a gay individual has been filled with awakenings and wonderment. Friendship and merriment. "Different" has now translated to "special" and "unique." "Different" now means "fascinating" and "exceptional." And my spirit is filled with joy beyond measure.
I can’t imagine my life any other way.
I wish I could go back, if only for a moment, and reach out to the young version of myself. To tell him things will turn out just fine. That his sadness will be replaced with blessings exceeding his wildest dreams. That "different" was just a nine letter word that set him apart from others. That the only thing "different" now - is the difference he’ll make in other people's lives.
And more importantly, that his wigs will eventually get much more fabulous.
My message to any youngster that feels "different" is simple:
You will survive. You will rise above. You will be fantastic.
And you will redefine your "different" too!
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