How I almost failed P.E. class

Years ago when I was a student in a small Christian school, our physical education teacher (who happened to live less than a block away from campus), decided to put a gym in his garage so that the 7th-12th grade boys could work out. He filled the small space with donated weight-lifting equipment and exercise machines, and most of the guys were delighted to get to show off their machismo during the last hour of school a couple of days each week.

Me and my two best friends weren’t nearly so excited about the situation. We were the skinny and awkward outsiders who were more concerned with how our hair looked than whether our muscles bulged, and we typically dreaded P.E. class. Not only was the teacher a jerk most of the time, years of being called gay slurs by the older boys hadn’t helped our self-esteem or our desire to hang around and watch them show off for each other.

During our first class at this garage/gym, most of the guys went straight for the weight-lifting equipment and ignored the stationary bikes that were sitting in a row along the back wall. That made it perfectly convenient for the three of us to leave the others to their revelry, and do something that was out of the way and, frankly, not too physically-exhausting. So, we hopped on the bikes and began our usual back-and-forth banter about popular culture.

It wasn’t long before the teacher abruptly appeared in front of us and proclaimed loudly, “When you girls are done with the bikes, some of the guys would like to use them.”

The words stung.

After experiencing years of taunts like fag, queer, homo, and sissy, we were now being humiliated in front of some of those same perpetrators by the very person who was supposed to be our protector. And at a Christian school, no less.

After that incident, I began skipping P.E. class. I would either go to another teacher and claim to not feel good (which was true, in a way), or I would simply disappear into the school library until the day ended. I wound up with a D for what should have been an easy class – which stood out significantly against all of the A’s and B’s on the remainder of my report card.

We moved on from the incident. Two of us came out after high school; one still seems to be in the closet. I can’t remember if we ever even discussed what happened, but I suspect it scarred all of us in some way.

I sometimes see Mr. Teacher around town. He works at a local home improvement store, and he even speaks when I run into him. He probably has no recollection of what he said or how he acted, and he most certainly has no idea how his words can still bother me all these years later.

Dealing with the consequences

A few months ago, I made the mistake of joining in on an online conversation about Mitt Romney. He had been tossing the word “conservative” around quite a bit around that time, and the media had pointed out how he seemed to be doing so mainly because the other candidates on the Republican side were considered more appealing to conservative voters. When I pointed out that Romney’s use of the word was probably more about being socially conservative than fiscally conservative, I opened a can of worms. Two women commenced to attacking me personally over my sexuality. While I tried to keep my responses as cordial and impersonal as possible, they did the opposite. As other users joined in the discussion and began getting nasty with the women, I bowed out.

Last night, for some unknown reason, one of these women resurrected the thread by posting the following:

Brian… YOU are a pig using such language online and TO a WOMAN… YOU can go straight to hell MAN using the F word w. and about me. Stuff your immorality up where the sun doesn’t shine. ROMNEY 2012… OBAMA SUCKS and NEEDS TO BE OUT In NOV!

Keep in mind that I never used any foul language in my comments. Another user did, but apparently the gay guy had to suffer the consequences. When the other woman jumped back in to congratulate her for her comment, she continued.

Good on YOU ANA… NO reason we have to take the filth Brian and all of his SICK and IMMORAL LIFESTYLE, virtureless (sic) lifestyle.

The second woman accused gays of causing wars, corrupting the entertainment industry, and worshiping false gods. Neither woman seemed to feel the least bit conflicted by being so hateful while claiming to be Christian.

I spent the better part of today trying to figure out how to respond to this outrageous behavior. I posted a response out of anger, but quickly deleted it before either of them responded. I posted a sarcastic response in hopes they wouldn’t think I cared what they said, but deleted it as well. Of course I cared. I finally just gave up and blocked them from being able to see my comments or profile page.

The thing that bothers me so much is that I am 38 years old and still encountering people who can bully me into silence with their pathetic, ignorant words. I “turn the other cheek” because it’s just who I am. I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings, even when they are hurting mine.

The lady who was particularly vicious had photos of her family on her profile page. Although part of me wanted to tell her where to go and what to do, I couldn’t help thinking that is someone’s grandmother. How would I feel if someone said something terrible to my mother online? But what if my mother attacked another person like that just because they are gay? Wouldn’t she deserve it?

I know, for the rest of my life, I will continue to come across people who feel it’s their responsibility to show me the error of my ways. I guess that’s just one of the consequences of living my life openly. It hurts, but hiding my true self would hurt so much more.