“Ya know, I can see it all. You and that girly little voice…You’re gonna’ grow up to be a faggot.”
I was 12, on the verge of 13, on a camping trip with my best friend, Patrick, his family, and a few other families, where it seemed that faggots were not welcome. I wasn’t exactly sure what a faggot was, but I had been called that before, so I knew it was related to why I had always felt different from the other boys. Something about the way they all behaved made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t like to rough house and they hated me for it. I was ashamed of my pubescent body and I didn’t feel comfortable going into the river and showing it to them. It seemed that everything I felt here was wrong. I didn’t match with these boyish boys who liked to boy it up.
And, well, Mike noticed. Mike was a blonde, brown-eyed white boy from the valley. No body hair yet to be ashamed of, whereas I had been seemingly born with a happy trail. Another reason I refused to take off my shirt in front of anyone anymore. Mike could smell the shame on me and he went right for it.
“You sound like a girl, you know that?” Mike said on the second day of camping, once all of the adults had gone off to do their adulty things together.
“No I don’t!” I said.
“Yeah, you do. You sound like a girly little faggot.” He laughed.
“Fuck you.” I cooly replied.
“Why don’t you do want to do anything with us?” He taunted.
I struggled for an honest answer. My head held high with false pride.
“You don’t even want to wrestle, it’s weird, man.” He prodded.
Mike had this incredible nonchalance about him. He was so casual as he held court, all the other boys on his side of the campfire that late afternoon when he decided to go in for the kill. He’d already made fun of the heavier kid for being Mexican, for being fat, and for having a slight stutter. But once he realized I was afraid of him, he turned all of his attention on me and my “girly-ness.” He made fun of my voice, my walk, and my mannerisms. He made fun of the fact that I hid in the camper and played card games with Patrick’s stepmom. Never before had I been so trapped. I didn’t have a cell phone to call my Mom. I couldn’t tell Patrick, because he was just watching it all happen and, in his own way, hiding himself.
Inevitably, Mike decided to push me into wrestling with him, so I tried to walk away.
“Where the fuck are you going?” Mike called after me as he followed in his slow, confident stride.
I turned around, staring him down. Some part of me was protecting myself by playing it cool and pretending that I had the power. But inside, I was crumbling. “What do you care?” I sneered.
“Come on. What’s wrong with you? We’re wrestling.” He gave me a shove backward. I winced at the sound of my heels scraping into the loose dirt.
“Stop!” I yelled.
“Haha. Come on.” He chuckled as he shoved me again.
“Stop!” I begged. I wouldn’t cry. My whole body tensed and I held my tears back with all the concentration I could afford.
Mike shoved me again, with ease. “Come on, fag.”
That word, man. That one word. I just couldn’t take it.
“Leave me alone!” I screamed as I hurled on top of him, and socked him in the face. I didn’t realize I was doing it, and I don’t know if I could ever do it again, but something primal had leaped out of me and onto his now cowering body.
“Leave me alone! Leave me alone!” I cried as the snot and tears streamed out of me.
There on that vast expanse of dirt, in the afternoon glow, I straddled over him, ready to land another blow. We made eye contact for only a brief moment, and then he slid out from under me and took off on his bike.
The next day he stood there, with the left side of his face stained in black and purple, hanging on to the last moments of his court, delivering me his prophecy, “Someday…you’ll find another faggot and he’ll become your faggot husband and you’ll have faggot kids and live a faggoty gay life.”
I’d thought it was over. Everyone had packed up. I was minutes away from freedom. But even after my shocking display of aggression, Mike knew he could get to me.
“Yeah, you’re gonna’ go home and cry to mommy. And she’ll know that you’re just a girly little gay boy.”
I said nothing. All I knew was that I couldn’t let him win. Whatever a faggot was, I didn’t want to be one and I couldn’t let him be right.
When I finally made it home from the trip, I rushed past my Mom and dove straight onto the floor in a corner of my room and sobbed. I really was afraid that Mike would be right. That everyone would find out that I was a girly little gay boy.
And, as it turns out, he was. He was right. I am. I am a faggot. Actually, I am a FAGGOT. And I’m glad.