Living in a Rainbowland. The skies are blue and things are grand. Wouldn't it be nice to live in paradise? Where we're free to be exactly who we are. Let's all dig down deep inside. Brush the judgment and fear aside. Make wrong things right. And end the fight. 'Cause I promise ain't nobody gonna win.
-Miley Cryus & Dolly Parton, “Rainbowland”
As queer folk, many of us go through similar experiences. Like most others we are products of our past experiences, but because these experiences are unique to our community we share comparable feelings of invalidation, self-doubt, and hopelessness. However dull the future may look, we must acknowledge that our journey is everlasting and we must continue to grow into the people which we want to be.
Queer voices deserve to be heard, and our stories ought to be told. By sharing our stories other members of the community may feel comfort in shared experiences and feelings. Many times, all we have is each other. This is why I feel compelled to share my story, so that maybe someone will relate. Maybe someone will feel validated... maybe someone will feel a sense of belonging… or maybe someone will finally recognize that they are loved by an entire community which waits cheering on the sideline.
Before I begin, I find it necessary to acknowledge that my individual experiences do not represent the whole. I am not able, nor do I wish, to speak for the entire community. That said, it is still important to tell these stories so that others may find solidarity in them.
My story begins in a small town in northern Macomb, Michigan. It involves a school with a population of ninety-nine percent Caucasian students. There is one main street in the town. Residing is a gas station, a Lions Club, and two restaurants-- one a breakfast joint, and the other a family diner. Just outside of the town sits an apple orchard which is the main attraction of the town during the fall months. During the summer the annual fair, which has been going on for 149 years and counting, is responsible for bringing in revenues through tourism. There is one elementary school, one middle school, and one highschool. You could probably drive across town in less than five minutes. In short, everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows everything there is to know about everyone.
I had just transferred to the high school with the prospect of playing baseball for the varsity team. You see, the coach of the high school was the owner of my travel team, which I had been playing for about three years and he told me that if I came to ‘his’ school then he could help me get a scholarship to play college baseball, which was my goal at the time.
To put it in perspective I began playing baseball when I was little, probably around the age of four. My father taught me how to play-- even though he preferred football. We would play catch, watch baseball, and go to my games together. My time was cut short, however, as my father passed away when I was just seven years old. From then on, baseball would be my fixation and, in my later years, a way to escape from my identity which I was so terrified to acknowledge.... Now I know what you’re thinking, “yawwwnnn. This is getting very heterosexual. Where is the gay”? I know, and I promise it is coming very soon, all I ask of you is to be patient for now. Anyways, let's get back to the story.
It was hard to make friends freshman year because I was basically walking into a community that had bloodline cliques established by previous generations. I wasn’t completely alone though; some boys from my travel baseball team transferred with me so, at the very least, I had them. Even better, I made strong bonds with my English and Gym teachers. We still stay in close contact to this day. Not only that but I had baseball to look forward to, so all wasn’t too bad. Then baseball came around. I made the varsity team and I was one of two freshmen who made the varsity team that year, which at the time was a major validating accomplishment. Baseball started out great, I was playing well, splitting time with another senior and playing over the third-string catcher who was also a senior.
But I see your true colors. Shining through. I see your true colors. And that's why I love you. So don't be afraid to let them show. Your true colors. True colors are beautiful. Like a rainbow.
-Cyndi Lauper, “True Colors”
At this time I began reaching out to the only other ‘out’ queer identifying boy at the highschool. I wanted to have someone else whom I could relate and ask questions to. After texting back and forth for a while, for some reason which I have not identified to this day, he outed me to a few people-- but in particular to a girl who was known for spreading drama and knew how to do it quickly. Within a day the entire freshman grade knew about my being gay and within the next everyone else in the school knew, including boys on my team.
After a few weeks of losing newly acquired friends, because they did not want to be associated with my being gay, word was getting out to parents of the baseball team. This eventually forced me to come out to my mom, out of fear that another parent would tell her first. My coming out to my mom went as smoothly as one could hope for and I am very fortunate for my mother’s undying support. Although I was able to come out to my mom before someone else got to her first, I was not quick enough with my only other sibling- my sister. She found out because she worked at that family diner I was talking about earlier. You see, she was a waitress there and one of the cooks, who was a middle-aged man that had no connection to the high school, told her about my being gay. My sister was deeply disheartened that she found out from someone else other than me, and I think it affected our relationship for a long time. However we have since grown throughout the years and have built a stronger friendship along the way.
Freshman year came and went with relatively moderate injury. I still retained a small group of friends who liked me for me. In addition, I became great friends with the other catcher who I split time with. He was one probably the closest people I had on that team until he graduated later that same year. This would turnout to be a changing point in how I was treated at baseball practice. He stuck up for me if anyone tried to mess with me, and he was respected by the other boys on the team so harassment usually never persisted. Sophomore year, however, was a different story.
When the straight and narrow, gets a little too straight. Roll up a joint, or don't (I would). Just follow your arrow, wherever it points. Follow your arrow, wherever it points. Say what you think (Say what you think). Love who you love (Love who you love). 'Cause you just get so many trips 'round the sun. Yeah, you only, only live once.
-Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow”
Sophomore year was my worst year in highschool. My only baseball ally graduated, which meant harassment could go on unchecked. Not only did verbal harrassement get worse, but my coach finally found out about my being gay and would sometimes join in with other boys harassing me. If he didn’t join in he would be complacent in my neglect. I couldn’t rely on my travel baseball friends either for the same reasons-- if they weren’t the ones harassing me they were indifferent as to my treatment. I remember one boy telling me that he did not believe in my lifestyle, and that if we did not play baseball together he would actively avoid me because I’m gay. Now don’t get me wrong, I stuck up for myself the best I could, but I was always invalidated because I was gay therefore my opinion did not matter to the other players or my coach.
So you can understand the toxic environment I was in, and I began to resent baseball. It developed from a coping mechanism to a source of trauma. Everyday I was forced to recognize that the same boys I was supposed to feel a sense of brotherhood to, outwardly disdained my existence. Not only that, but my coach would constantly nag me about my role as the team leader and that I was not living up to his expectations. I could never understand how to juggle being a “team leader” and being the most despised player on the team. Consequently my performance dropped and I always felt the brunt of anger and disappointment. If we lost a game, it was my fault. I was screamed at mid-game and singled out. Then after the yelling he would tell me that the reason he screams is because he wants to push me for my own benefit. My mental health began to deteriorate because of all of the weight on my shoulders, and when I brought it up to him he never wanted to talk about it because he didn’t believe in anxiety, depression, or self-doubt.
Eventually all of this baggage started piling up and I decided to call a meeting between me and my coach to talk about these hang-ups. The meeting was just him and me; it was one-on-one. I told him very basically that I felt like I was being treated unfairly and that I felt singled-out. His response, which I remember to this day, and which I will never forget, went like this.
He said, “Blake, I don’t think I am any harder on you than the other boys. What you need to recognize is that throughout your whole life people are going to look at you when you mess up and attribute it to your being gay. All you have to do is work extra hard to prove them wrong.”
I have thought endlessly and tirelessly about his words since the moment they left his mouth. They haunt me for two reasons. First, I was living that truth and it was unnecessary to explain to me the hardships he expected me to go through. Second, for a kid struggling with anxiety and depression, what good does exposing this truth do? Definitely they could do no benefit. I was infuriated by his response and the conversation went on without my problems being resolved. I wanted to quit after this but I was urged by my English and Gym teachers, as well as my Mom, to at-least finish out the year and decide afterwards if I wanted to continue playing next year. So I continued through the abuse and it only got worse.
Come hell or waters high. You'll never see me cry. This is our last goodbye, it's true. I'm telling you. Now I'm strong enough. To live without you. Strong enough. And I quit crying. Long enough. Now I'm strong enough. To know. You gotta go. There's no more to say. So save your breath and. Walk away. No matter what I hear you say. I'm strong enough to know. You gotta go.
-Cher, “Strong Enough”
My Junior year came and at the last second I decided to play for fear of being harassed in school if I did not play. At this point my coach and other boys knew I was thinking about not playing, which put massive pressure on me to decide. This year another catcher was brought up from my class, and my coach started playing him more than me. This was a shock to me because I made varsity freshman year and it took this kid until his junior year to make the team, yet he was still playing over me? Even kids who disliked me from the team would tell me they were confused as to why the new catcher began to play more than me. This was the tipping point where I recognized it was necessary to remove myself from the toxic environment I was in. So one day I texted my coach during school and told him I needed to talk to him before practice. When the time came we met and slowly walked out to left field-- again, alone. I started by telling him that I resented baseball. I told him that I was in a constant state of anxiety which crippled with a fixation on imagining the impending degradation followed by manipulation and gaslighting. Everyday I dissociated into the feeling of dread I felt towards baseball. Everyday before baseball I dreaded its beginning, and when it came I longed for it to be over. It got to the point where all I could focus on was my disdain for the team, the game, and my coach. After I stated my case he asked if there was anything he could do or say to make me stay.
My response went something like, “It has gone past the point of reconciliation, if there was something you could have done the time has already passed”.
We shared a moment of silence. Then, after realizing the freedom I granted myself I walked back towards the dugout, gathered my things, and began the long walk from the baseball field to the parking lot. At that same time, the rest of the team was walking up to the field and I was forced to walk past each and every one of them. I said no words, made no utterances, nor did I give them a passing glance. What was done was done and there was no turning back.
My now ex-coach would end up telling the boys that I quit because I couldn’t handle the pressure of competitive baseball. He told them that I was an example of what it looks like when someone is too weak to persist through hardships.
It has taken me very long to realize the toxicity I went through. Many hours contemplating and reflecting. I think about that time in my life almost everyday. Sometimes I am able to divert my consciousness towards more optimistic ends, but other times I find myself sinking and returning to that period of my life. I can still feel the worn leather of my glove. I can still smell of a fresh coat of dew on the in-field dirt before an early morning practice. I can still hear my coach screaming at me from the dugout in the middle of the game when I made a mistake.
And I can still hear him coming to me afterwards and saying, “Blake, you know I’m hard on you because I love you right?”
And everytime I would mutter, “Yeah… I know you do”
For anyone who has gone through something similar to me; for anyone who is going through something similar to what I went through; for anyone who felt a connection to my story, know this: you are not alone!
As queer folk, we share similar experiences. We lose loved ones, friends, and family members for the price of our identity. At very young ages we realize that others are going to hate us for our identities. Everyday we claw and pull ourselves further, ever persisting and ever growing despite the hate that others present before us. If you made it this far I want you to know that you are valid for who you are. You are loved for who you are. The bitterness that you taste now eventually blossoms into something sweet and sentimental. If you ever need a shoulder to cry on, if you need someone to lean on, we will always be here for you. Your community awaits you with open arms filled with comfort and love. Know that there is so much more of our lives which has yet to be written. Be the author of your own story. Share your story to the world and let everyone know your truth.
You belong among the wildflowers. You belong somewhere close to me. Far away from your trouble and worries. You belong somewhere you feel free. You belong somewhere you feel free.
-Tom Petty, “Wildflowers”