This op-ed submission by senior dance major Fernando Quiñones does not reflect the views of The Temple News.
When I was 13, I attended Francis D. Raub Middle School in Allentown, Pa. I would wake up every morning and make the nearly 10-minute trek to school.
Every morning, an old man on Chew Street would be getting into his red truck. He never said, “Good morning,” as he was too busy loading all his tools into the back of his ride. If his truck wasn’t there, I knew I was late for school.
Only one block farther was a large, brown fence that hid the dog who, every morning without fail, would bark so loudly, so menacingly that my heart would stop.
I would pass by the Cohen-family home, where all seven siblings would pack into their mom’s huge SUV and make their way to the catholic school they attended.
I grew familiar with the odd porch decorations some people seemed to feel they needed to display. I memorized phone numbers for businesses I would never care to enter, just because I saw the store signs every day. I made up names for the stray cats I encountered day in and day out. My favorite was Oliver. What fur he had left was orange and mangled, and he only had one eye.
If I was late, it was just a four-minute race to homeroom. But to a 13-year-old like me – a gay 13-year-old, who didn’t fully understand what being gay meant – it felt like an eternity.
What really made my walk so long and treacherous was the constant teasing by other students walking to the same school. It was the lethal insults hurled from the lips of other children. Fire was spewing and shooting from the deepest bowels of hate and into my heart and soul. People defined me by words like “faggot,” “queer” and “c—sucker.”
School days felt like forever. Every class dragged on and on. I didn’t have to look, but I could feel the other kids whispering behind my back. I was too scared to answer the questions everyone else was too dumb to know because some jerk would hint at the effeminate inflections in my voice, and the room would erupt with laughter.
I couldn’t walk down the halls without someone yelling, “Look! He walks like a faggot.” And, after learning about STDs, it wasn’t pleasant to be told by my peers that because I was a faggot, I would be doomed to AIDS and die.
We had the same teachers, we had the same classrooms, we ate the same crap-cafeteria food. But because I was slightly different, I was their target. When the school bell rang to indicate school was out, I ran home as fast I could in hopes of dodging the soul-sucking bullets of insult.
This treatment by my peers hurt me in so many ways – not just emotionally, but psychologically as well. I constantly fought against the feelings I felt toward other boys. I kept telling myself how wrong, disgusting and horrible those feelings were. Not only did my peers turn against me, but eventually, I had come to do the same. I was at war with myself. I criticized everything I did. I couldn’t wear clothes a certain way. I had to speak in a certain tone. I had to walk with a certain gait – all in the hopes of changing who I was because I was tired of the way I was being treated. I stopped myself from trying anything new and feared being good at anything because, no matter what, I was just the “faggot boy” in their eyes. I was made to feel like I was nothing. They made me hate myself.
Even after all I endured, I was one of the lucky ones. I’m a big guy – muscular and statuesque – and I always have been. No kid dared put his hand on me even though anyone who knows me would tell you I wouldn’t hurt a fly. But I fear for those boys and girls subjected to violence who are too small to defend themselves.
I also had support from my family. My mother always told me to never give up. To hear those words from someone I could actually trust, and who I knew would love me no matter what, saved me. I could have ended my life if I wanted to. I could have lived in denial for the rest of my days. But I knew a day would eventually come when it would all get better.
There was faith inside me that all the insults I endured would cease. There was a place beyond the borders of Allentown, Pa., where I could revel in all that I am. Because my mother told me to push forth and make something of myself, I did just that.
Today, I have accepted myself for who I am. I do not let others define me with their words, such as faggot and queer. I define myself with my own words, such as “dancer,” “artist,” “lover,” “friend,” “brother,” “son,” “uncle,” “champion lip-syncer,” “fan of Netflix,” “lover of outdoor concerts” and “frequenter of Starbucks and Barnes & Noble.”
If you’ve read or watched the news lately, you know there has been a trend in gay teen suicides. They are the stories of Asher Brown, 13, of Cypress, Texas, Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, Ind., Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, Calif., Caleb Nolt, 14, of Fort Wayne, Ind., Raymond Chase, 19, of Providence, R.I., and 18-year-old Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi.
These young men must have felt there was no way out of the situations they were in, but why? Where were their support systems? Who was there to tell them to never give up? I have cried for each and every one of these boys because I know what they went through.
I know the pain of feeling like you’re a mistake. I know the emptiness and loneliness one feels when everyone seems to be against you. Every pain I felt as a 13-year-old walking to school hit me all over again, and it stung 10 times worse.
We need to send a message to today’s youth that hating another person – making someone else feel he or she is not worth respecting – is wrong, cruel and inhumane. We must instill in them the values of love and acceptance, or more young gay men and lesbians will grow up thinking they are not cherished or needed in this world.
To the gay youth of America, please know it gets better. Hold your head high, and face the day knowing one day you will graduate and those people who hurt you will never be seen again. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is happiness, success and an overwhelming amount of love waiting for you in your lives.
To experience that, you must keep going, you must push forth and you must never give up. You are needed in this world, and your experience is so valuable to us. We love you, and we support you.
-Fernando Quinones “I thought, ‘This is not constructive, this is not productive, this is only going to make matters worse.”