Growing up, I wasn’t bullied much.
I know: effeminate me, growing up in small town Iowa. Sure, there was some taunting; snickers when I said I wanted a Scary Spice doll for Christmas; a black eye from a bully who called me a “fag” on the bus. But mostly, Iowa was a very friendly, and progressive, place to grow up.
One place I wasn’t accepted, funny enough, was band. The other flautists took to me (yes, I played the flute—MAYBE that boy on the bus was right), but that was about it. I specifically remember the first trumpet seemed to have a problem with me (which also could have come from his uber-Christian girlfriend), as well as his right-hand man, N.
I never gave it much thought, especially after I dropped band halfway through my sophomore year (as second chair, thank you very much). But N did, which became evident several years ago when I got a message from him. It was odd: I really hadn’t thought about it, not once, since high school. But he felt bad for bullying me, for making me feel like I wasn’t wanted. He didn’t ask for forgiveness, or even a response—he just wanted to let me know that he was sorry.
Either N was in AA (which isn’t an acronym, just Alcoholics Anonymous) or something more was going on. And I wanted to know what it was, so I replied that it wasn’t a big deal, and thank you for apologizing, and how have you been since I last saw you?
In recent years, N realized that he was gay. BINGO. In middle school I was friends with N’s younger brother, who I suspected was gay—but I didn’t expect it from N. He told me that he came out to his single mother and twin younger siblings, who all rejected him.
You never really know a person, I thought to myself, shaking my head at my phone. But the three little dots kept dancing: He had more to say.
Recently, he didn’t feel like he belonged in the gay community; didn’t feel he was, in fact, gay. Which confused me, and I started typing a response, until he said, “I think that I’m a woman.”
I deleted my entire message, staring at the screen. N, macho N, making fun of me on the band trip to New Orleans (pre-Katrina)—a woman. I felt an odd sense of pride.
He told me that his dad had his reservations, and that his mother and siblings went from disagreeing with his lifestyle to blocking his number. But he knew he was doing the right thing.
Beaming, I told him how proud I was of him. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered: Did my coming out at 14 help him? Seeing me, a freshman, be so fat and free and unabashedly… me? I can’t know, but I like to think it did.