I have lived in the same one traffic-light town my entire life. I grew up with the same kids, and graduated from a class of just under thirty students. The local restaurant waiters know what I’ll order, and I know all the gas station workers by name. Everybody knows everybody and everybody knows everything about everyone. Sometimes people even know things about you before you know it about yourself. The church ladies gossip, the high school moms talk about the parties their kids “didn’t attend”, and the teachers talk bad about the students almost as much as the kids do about them. I grew up in the definition of small town America.
In small town America it’s hard having a secret. It’s even harder when everyone knows your secret except you. This was true for me when I started to come out to people. It seemed as though every single person I told said they had already known; that it was obvious. Apparently, clues had always been present, like how I went to a church function and painted a rainbow on my hand with face paint.
I wasn’t a sheltered kid by any means. I grew up watching Rupaul’s Drag Race. I knew who, as my church called them, ‘the gays’ were. I heard the ‘gays will burn in hell’ speech from my church starting at a very young age. Maybe this is what deterred me from church, but the overall feeling of being different in a small town is like the feeling of being a rat trapped in a cage with a candle burning under it. There is a sense of desperation to escape, a constant need to be moving and always looking over your shoulder. I was so afraid of what people said and thought, because even if someone tried to tell you differently, people talked.
I officially came out to my parents in middle school. The first thing that came out of my mother’s mouth when I told her I liked girls was ‘No, I want grandkids.’ A few weeks later, she admitted she had always known, apparently since kindergarten. She said the way I held my friend’s hand was different than other little girls. I don’t know if you can necessarily tell if a girl is gay in kindergarten, but I think it was just my mother’s way of trying to be accepting. Yet, as I got older and began dating, things were again said between us. My first ever relationship was with a boy, and one of the first things my mom said to me when she found out was ‘You’ve got to pick because you can’t have both [boys and girls].’ Then, a few weeks later, when I was meeting my first boyfriend’s grandmother, he told me not to mention the fact I liked girls because she was very catholic. I was again forced to hide a side of me, a secret to be kept.
I later went to my sophomore year prom with a girl. While this had been done before in the history of the school, it was still a scary experience for me. It felt as though every single person in that gym was willing me to burn in hell as soon as they saw my fingers interlaced with a person of the same sex.
The worst part about living in a small town and being a lesbian is that people don’t ever say anything to you, they just stare. No one says anything when I hold my girlfriend’s hand. No one says anything when I kiss her goodbye. They simply stare and think and whisper to their friends, all because I’m different. They don’t say anything, and I guess that’s progress. However, not saying things and simply staring can be just as hurtful as saying something. You know it’s there, the disgust, the rejection, hiding just beneath the surface.
In an ever evolving world, people need to understand the pain and hurt caused by their judgmental silence. Our world would be a better place for everyone if people spoke with love instead of hate.