Personal Perspective: Kathryn Reese

Assistant Editor-in-Chief Kathryn Reese shares her experiences with homophobia and coping with the fear to speak up.

I was called a faggot for the first time in tenth grade. I was sitting at the edge of the stands at a TPHS football game when a group of boys began spitting “faggot” and “dyke” in my face. I didn’t know these boys by name, nor could I pick them out of a lineup, but that didn’t stop them from presuming to know me. They took in my short hair and masculine clothes and made them stand in for the whole. They did not know that I’m horrible at math, that I write poetry or that I’m scared of giant sea bass but not sharks. They knew me and knew just how much they hated me from what they saw — and that justified the rest.

After that night, I was shaken up in a way I didn’t know how to fix. I only had the desperate need to remember, as if holding onto the moment would make it more real in the face of all those people nearby who did not notice their taunts, or did not care. Turning to the last page of a notebook, I drew a single tally, using the mark, rather than words, to represent the moment because I knew it wouldn’t be the last time. It’s hard to say why I did it, or why I continued to draw a tally every time I experienced homophobia in my day-to-day life — every targeted remark and fleeting joke. I only knew that it felt important to document those little moments which chipped away at my resolve — the ones that were too inconsequential to mention to anyone but, as a whole, were more harmful than the sum of their parts. That page grew heavy with the burden of hatred long ago, and I’ve since lost count.

Growing up, I was a very assertive kid. From classroom debates to playground disputes, I have never been afraid to speak my mind. But the funny thing is, all those countless tallies represent moments where I, largely, was silent — not only silent by not informing anyone of what I heard, but also by failing to call out the prejudice I so often saw being slung from casual lips. Somehow, in those moments — ones that involved something so integral to who I am — I couldn’t help but hold my tongue. But I was always watching and listening, growing more devastated by how casually homophobia was ingrained in everyday life. Most of all, I was always kicking myself for doing nothing about it. Sometimes I buckle under the weight of all the things I should have said — things I would have said if I were braver, or maybe just less tired.

These days I’m trying to be kinder to myself. I know it is important to advocate for my community, but I also know that’s a tall order for someone who is only just becoming okay with herself. I have even debated about publishing this story, worried about the implications of sharing such a candid piece. To be clear, I am not writing this in the hope of making up for those missed chances, to somehow persuade my peers to end their intolerance. I have long since accepted that there is little I can change in that regard. I only hope to tell anyone else out there who feels guilty in their silence that it’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to be exhausted by defending who you are. We did not ask to be born into an uphill battle. Nor can we blame ourselves for the hatred we inherit. However, remember that merely existing unabashedly can be an act of defiance in the face of it all. Perhaps breaking my silence here can be my first step.

Photo by Anna Opalsky/Falconer

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