I’ve always known I wasn’t straight. I thought it was completely normal to be attracted to both men and women. I guess you’d call it pansexual. It’s the person who attracts me—not the gender. I remember being taunted in elementary school and I came and talked to my grandma and told her that someone at school called me “gay.”
“Oh, you’re not gay. You don’t want to be that.” She said.
So, from then on, I thought the word was a negative. I thought being gay was a bad thing. I went from being really affectionate and hugged everyone to being distant and awkward. I got picked on a lot in school. A lot. I didn’t dress like a girl. I’ve always preferred men’s clothing. I liked animals. Those things weren’t cool and that followed me all through school. I didn’t like to party or go out. I guess I wasn’t as nice in high school as I should have been. I was more sarcastic. I did have a couple of friends, but that was it.
Looking back, I wish I had come out in high school. I mean, I was already a pariah. It’s not like it could have gotten worse. It might have even gotten better because now I find most people are cool with it. Or, if they aren’t, they aren’t so bold as to say so. There
are exceptions, though. I have a jar I keep at home. Every year, I start a new one. Every time I get called “Sir” or something masculine I drop a dollar in the jar. If it’s something worse, $5 goes in. One time, I was jogging. I was trying to get in shape. I wasn’t a block from my house, when a car full of college guys rolled down their window and yelled, “Run, faggot!”
Another time at work, an older gentleman asked me what I thought of the new President. I said, “We’ll see.” I was being polite since I didn’t really want to get into that discussion right then. He said, “I bet you don’t like him being President, you faggot.” I mean, what is up with this word?! I put $5 in the jar and I moved on.
Growing up, my mom and I weren’t close. She’s always been a workaholic taking two, sometimes three jobs. She was gone a lot, so I was closer to my dad. The only time I really saw her was at my school events or karate tournaments. I’d run into her occasionally cooking meals at home. My dad wasn’t the responsible parent. He was the fun parent. We’d come home and tell Mom we spent $50 on fireworks when we actually spent $300. We worked on cars together and stuff. We were a lot closer and I think that was just because he was there.
On January 16, 2004, when I was 13, my dad killed himself in front of my mom. She screamed, and I came running out of my bedroom just in time to see him slump over. I had to go over to my gran’s house to tell her, because I didn’t want the police to be the ones to tell her. I was the one who had to call all our friends and family. I had to take care of my mom because she was in no shape to handle any of it. They don’t tell you that you have to deal with all the blood yourself. I’d find out later that he’d been into drugs and a bunch of things went on between my parents. Apparently, they were getting a divorce and he wasn’t handling it all that well. My mom and I got closer after that. We kind of had to because we were all that was left.
My mom had always told me, “I don’t care who you’re with; male, female, black, white, green with purple polka dots, as long as they treat you right that’s all that matters.”
All that kind of went out the window, though, about five years ago when I came out to her. I was 22 and was dating a woman for the first time. Despite my feelings, I had never actually dated a woman before. I texted my mom to tell her, because I couldn’t deal with seeing disappointment on her face. I figured she’d text back that it was okay and that she loved me no matter what.
However, when she got home, it was a very different story.
She was crying and upset. She didn’t understand. She said it was fine, but it seemed like whenever we did talk we fought. She became distant. I think for a couple months we couldn’t talk normally to each other at all. I was on edge because she seemed mad and she didn’t know how to react to me or deal with this “new” situation. I would avoid talking about anything to do with women or my sexuality because it would almost always start a fight. She said some pretty horrible things during that time. That was the hardest thing I can remember going through. I think it even hit me harder than my dad’s death as strange as that sounds.
Eventually, we got to the point where I told her, “Just ask me about it. Just ask me questions without being malicious.”
Then, slowly, she started to talk to me about things and ask questions. I was able to answer things for her and things got better. I learned that she’d felt isolated because I had told her not tell anyone about it and to let me reveal it when I was ready. When she did end up telling my grandma she said, “I figured.” And that was that.
My mom got better once she was able to talk to people about the situation more and realized the stigma and the negative reactions she feared weren’t what she thought. She likes my current partner—admittedly, my past ones were maybe not the best choices—and that helps. She sees how well I am being treated, how much my partner supports me, and how happy I am. She’s still a bit uncomfortable with my openness about it, but it’s definitely getting better.
That’s one thing I’d tell anyone, though: Just ask me about it. I don’t mind talking about any of it. If there’s something you don’t understand—just ask me. I think it would solve a lot of problems.
– Megan Smith’s story as told my Jennifer Criss
Jennifer Criss has worked at Ball State University for 13 years. She joined the Marketing and Communications staff as an office coordinator in 2016. Traces of her work appear in the Alumni magazine as well as the print marketing pieces across campus.
This story originally appeared in Facing LGBTQ+ Pride in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Muncie OUTreach in Muncie, Indiana.