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My Teenage Missing Link


DesDownunder

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Like old people tend to do, I was recently aware of reminiscing about my early teenage years; in particular about my school days, and specifically, my high school nickname, 'De-link'.

Now you might actually think you can work out how I was given this name, but I'm willing to bet you'd never get it right.

As fate (and my poor study habits) would have it, I had to repeat my second of year high school. I was pissed, to say the least; another year of being bullied and tormented by both teachers and students. Here's what happened.

I walked into the class room, late, because as a repeat student I had to be reassigned to a specific class and it took time for the school dictators to work out where I would go, or perhaps which teacher would put up with me. After all, who would want to deal with a snivelling, red-headed sports-hating boy who was only good for being ridiculed, bashed and intimidated?

So I walked into my new classroom, and the teacher told me to choose a seat. I sat down at the nearest desk, which was right next to the older, bigger, hirsute boy who, unbeknownst to me, was regarded by every student in the class as the most terrifying yeti on the planet.

I didn't know any better, so ever the polite nerd, I greeted him, "Hi, I'm Des."

He looked at me with astonishment, through eyes that hid behind a tangled fringe of black hair that wanted to curl, and told me his name was Barrad. I later learned he was referred to as 'The Barbarian'.

The teacher muttered something along the lines of, "Oh, that's just great, the outcasts sitting together."

I immediately lost it. I'd had enough. I stood up, swallowed my rage, and calmly told the teacher that we were not outcasts unless he treated us like outcasts. If it had been 1975 instead of 1958, I feel certain someone in the class would have proclaimed, "The Force is strong in this one." The truth was, I'd had it with being a victim. Besides which, I was going through puberty and didn't need this 'outcast' crap to think about, along with trying to work out why some boys looked better to me than others.

The teacher just looked at me with a severe expression on his face and told me, "Don't be impudent; I'll have no delinquents in this class."

And for the next two years I was known as 'The Delinquent.' It was quickly shortened to 'Delinkie' and then to just, 'De-link'. I loved it. It was a term of respect and friendship. It changed my life. Looking back on it now, I wonder what would have happened if I had rejected the well meant intent of the friendly nickname. It's so difficult to sort out the slings and arrows of torment from the terms of teasing endearment.

The Barbarian seemed to become quite upset, over time, as I think he felt he was 'the missing link', and 'De-link' should have been his nickname. Luckily, he had his own friends in another class so I didn't need to worry about him.

Thus began the first time in my life in which I could relate to my class-mates without fear. It didn't hurt that I was nearly a year older than them. In hindsight, we had developed that link of trust so often missing amongst young teenagers, who are ever anxious about being hurt by each other.

For the next two years I lived without fear of being bullied or intimidated. I had made four great friendships which continued into my early twenties, when they all found girls to marry, and when I went out of my way to get laid as often as possible...until I became happily entangled in the bonds of love for these past forty years. And no, those high school friends were not gay, but we admitted to loving each other as we shared growing up together; teasing each other, exchanging our discoveries and wondering anew about life. I know some will think we were lucky, and I guess we were, but so often, it seems to me, we need to jump that chasm between fear and trust, the unknown and the known, instinct and intelligence, or our sophistication of thought becomes a missing link forever.

With that link to reality no longer missing, we have the means to recognise the real perils of our existence. We then can realise the rewards of sharing our lives in friendship and love, and we discover that living...well, it does get better...and I remember that even that teacher's attitude improved.

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We should celebrate your brand of impudence (maybe a national holiday). Educators should weep for joy when they encounter this kind of impudence in students. I hope that you're still impudent in this way until you draw your last breath. The impudence to stand before the mob proudly as different (no matter what the difference) is what startles and shatters the mob, and, as for you, reveals friends among the shards. You had mad skills, and I wish I had been there.

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Left or right cheek?

It has been, well, many years now, since I sat back, twice, and told people I didn't care if two different friends were gay or not, they were still my friends and could do what they liked. I am still very proud of those two cases. (And I miss both friends.)

It was about a year or two after, when a boy in one of my classes accused me, loudly in front of the teacher and the class, of being "a fag!" I denied it. (I was in denial, I was questioning, and I hadn't quite figured out if those feelings for certain boys were...what they were.)

I nearly came up out of my seat at the other boy. You'd have to understand, I was your typical mild-mannered geek. Anything that would actually piss me off enough to get me to come out of my seat at some big jerk had to be some insult. It was. To me. The teacher, a short, overweight guy who taught math and computers as well as coached, told us both to cool it, or he'd send us to the principal's office. I remember worrying, what if my parents found out? I sat back down. I believe there was some sort of growling between us two boys. (I was about 17. I would not have taken well to being called a boy, but it wouldn't have merited getting out of my seat.)

Mr. Stackhouse probably handled it the right way. But I have wondered a few times, what would've happened if I'd said yes, I was! (I wasn't sure then, but there were plenty of clues, including two rather spectacularly failed crushes.) What if I'd been sent to the principal's office? Well, it was the mid-80's. "Homosexual" or "orientation" were not in the student handbook. Non-discrimination and not fighting were, however. I never did figure out how my parents would've reacted to the news their son was gay. It might have been a disaster. It might have been just fine. I really don't know. And the 1980's are a long time ago now.

What does it say about me, that I jumped to defend friends and said I didn't care if they were gay, but I jumped to defend myself and claimed I wasn't, at around the same time, within two years of each other? I am not sure, except it says I was not yet ready. It does say that about some things, I was ready to act on instinct, without hesitation (and frankly without thinking ahead) which was unlike me most of the time. It says I did have principles and was grownup about some things. But not my own case.

If I had gone after that boy, I probably would've gotten in a punch or two and so would he. He probably would've won. But I might've been proud I'd tried. I am not saying that's a brilliant idea to solve things. In fact, probably not. Our teacher was right to stop us before we got into a fight. I'll admit that, as non-violent as I usually am, there was a part of me that wanted to fight that boy for calling me out in front of everyone, for calling me a fag. I'll also admit, well, I was gay and hadn't come to terms with it yet.

It is important that I would stand up for friends, even if I couldn't yet for myself. -- Insulting or harming a friend is still the number one quickest way to get me truly angry and get me arguing, defending them.

There are two major differences between back then and now, though.

One, we've made a little progress. It isn't quite as forbidden to admit you like guys, their brains and feelings and yes, what's in their shorts (and any other part of their anatomy). It is, or at least it seems to be, a little more OK.

Two, there was not the internet back then. A boy who was questioning couldn't simply double-click his browser and look up things in Google and Wikipedia. You know, like finding AwesomeDude or Codey's World, or discussions about what it's like to be gay, or YouTube videos by out gay guys. Or, well, things of a more unambiguous nature depicting young guys in a more natural state and perhaps together. Or, for that matter, simply being gay people living an ordinary life.

It would've been very surprising to me if I'd been able to see those things online, but that didn't exist yet. My brain and hormones would've both been highly impressed, that's for sure.

The system is not always right. Sometimes, we have to stand up and say so, in a way that does some good. Be a little impudent now and then. Be a stand up guy. Or a sit up guy. Be outspoken. Or anyway, write, communicate. Be yourself.

What's the take-away lesson? It's good to stand up for your principles. It's good to stand up for people you care about, or for complete strangers, if the cause is right. It's good to stand up for yourself. If you aren't much good in a physical fight, well, that's what brains are for. Use your words and actions. Be smart. If you can't stand up, you can still put up a good defense sitting down, even crawling. (A friend asked me that once. He was not kidding.) If you aren't much good in a fight, then use your words and speak out. Take the bully's fight away from him in a way that makes it so he can't get away with fighting you. Or wait and speak out at an appropriate time, in a way that'll do some good. What if you can't speak well, or at all? (Again, someone asked seriously.) I say, you still have a brain. You can still communicate. You can do a lot to oppose stupidity and intolerance and promote acceptance and understanding.

Most of all, accept yourself. Be proud of who you are inside. If you can't be out, if it's not safe for you at home or publicly, to be out, then wait until you can be. But meanwhile, accept yourself and be a friend to others. There will be a time and there will be friends who accept and support you as a gay or bi person.

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