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TRIGGER WARNING – mention of homophobic slurs and self-harm
“Now class, let’s talk about LGBT rights,” Mr. Brady announces. He opens a PowerPoint presentation with a photo of Ellen DeGeneres waving a pride flag on the first slide. Whispers and murmurs erupt from the back of the room.
“Would you care to tell us what’s so amusing?” Mr. Brady glares at a group of boys huddled around a single desk. They turn towards him and shake their heads.
“Okay then. Shall we continue?” The boys nod and remain silent.
At the end of the period, the bell rings and everyone races out of class. As we enter the hallway, I ask Taylor, Sarah, Rebecca and Anna if they want to grab lunch.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Sarah exclaims.
Rebecca suggests Silva’s BBQ—the most popular lunch spot for John Cabot students. Everyone agrees. We march down two flights of stairs to the lowest level that leads out to the parking lot. Silva’s sits on the other side of the lot. We meander around the parked cars and discuss Mr. Brady’s law lecture.
“What did you guys think of class today?” Rebecca asks, flipping her hair after catching a glimpse of herself in a car window. Anna shrugs.
“It’s crazy how many people are gay nowadays,” Taylor adds.
I glance at a patch of colourful flowers at the end of the parking lot. Vibrant red roses and golden sunflowers edge the weathered concrete. A Monarch butterfly lands peacefully on a yellow petal, slowly fluttering its intricate amber wings.
“You know who else is gay?” I ask.
“Who?” They say in unison.
“Me.” My cheeks feel warm. I force a hesitant grin. Everyone’s eyes widen as they turn to face me.
“No way! Really?” Taylor runs over and hugs me.
“Aw Ally, that’s cool,” Sarah says, cradling the sides of her face with her hands.
Anna nods. “How many people know?” she probes.
“Just you guys. I’m too nervous to tell anyone else. You know how grade elevens can be,” I say.
“We won’t tell a soul,” Rebecca assures me. I smile.
Three days later, I arrive at school and lug my heavy backpack to my locker on the third floor. I press my knee against the open door, place my bag on my thigh and fish out my textbooks. As I stack my English, math and chemistry books on the top shelf, I hear whispers behind me. Five grade eleven girls scoot past me, mumbling quietly to each other and poking glances at me. They look away when my eyes meet theirs. They giggle and shuffle away. I furrow my brows and continue to unpack my bag. Taylor approaches as I close the zipper.
“Hey,” she says cheerfully.
“Hey,” I utter, still looking down at my bag.
“I thought I heard some people talking about me. You didn’t tell anyone what I told you, right?”
“No, of course not.” She lays her hand on my shoulder. “I’d never.”
I nod, throw my bag onto my back and we pace to class.
After second period, the lunch bell sounds and I meet up with Sarah and Rebecca in the cafeteria. We wave to each other and claim one of the side tables. I pull out the bench from under the table, place my bag on the floor, and search for my sandwich in the front pocket. Sarah pulls out a metal thermos, untwists the lid and begins poking her leftover pasta with a fork. Rebecca grabs five dollars from her wallet and heads to the food hub. I look around for Taylor. She must still be in class.
The cafeteria quickly fills with grade tens and elevens—the first lunch period crowd. Grades nine and twelve eat during the second lunch period. Students file in wearing black dress pants and forest green sweaters on top of white polos embroidered with our school logo—a white anchor inside a ruby red heart.
A group of students brush past our table as I scan the hub line and spot Rebecca ordering at the cash register. Sarah, sitting beside me, taps my arm and gestures for me to look to my right. I notice a tiny, folded piece of lined notebook paper. That wasn’t there before. I scoop it up. Rebecca reaches our table and puts down a plate of French fries and chicken fingers.
“What’s that?” she asks, chomping on a fry.
“I don’t know,” I say, unfolding the paper. My eyes widen as I read the word DYKE in scrappy handwriting. My heart pounds.
Sarah reads it over my shoulder and gasps. “Who wrote that?” She rips the paper from my sweaty hands and gives it to Rebecca.
I drop my head into my trembling hands. “I don’t know, but someone told everyone,” I mutter.
Rebecca tears up the paper and leans in. “Could it have been Anna? She’s been a little distant since you came out to us.”
My pulse throbs in my temples. I jump up and smack my hands on the table.
“Where the fuck is she?” I scream.
I storm out of the cafeteria with a calm expression on my face in order avoid attention from the teachers on duty. Once out of their sight, I sprint up the stairs to the third floor. I peer down the hallway and spot Anna at her locker. I stomp towards her and slam her locker door shut.
“What the hell!” Anna shrieks, jumping back.
“How dare you?” I shout, inching closer towards her.
“What are you talking about?”
“I know you outed me. How could you? That wasn’t your secret to tell!”
“I thought people already knew,” she smirks.
“Ha! You know, it’s actually quite ironic. You’re so ashamed of yourself, you chose to out me instead,” I yell. Anna’s eyes widen. “We both know you’re gay too. The only difference is, I would never have betrayed you like that.”
Anna opens her mouth to argue, but I wave my hand in front of her face. I turn away as tears cloud my eyes. The hallway spins. I glide along the wall for support until I make it to the bathroom.
I enter the far stall and lock the door behind me. I lower the toilet seat, slump down and cover my face with my hands. Tears pour down my cheeks as my palms muffle the sobs.
Now everyone knows I’m gay. I’m going to be the talk of the whole school. An outcast. A reject. A joke.
“Ally?” a voice calls from the other side of the stall door. I rip off sheets of toilet paper, wrap them around my hand and pat my cheeks dry. I sniffle.
“I can hear you.” I recognize Taylor’s voice. “Sarah said you might be in here. Are you okay? I heard what happened.”
I lift my achy body off the toilet and open the stall door. Struggling to catch my breath, I look up from the floor and stare hopelessly at Taylor.
“Oh Ally,” she pouts.
The weight of my body falls forward and I collapse in her arms. I try to form words, but they come out as muffled sounds between my short, shallow breathes.
“Shh, it’s okay. Don’t say anything,” Taylor whispers, squeezing me tighter.
The bell startles us. I dab my eyes with the collar of my uniform shirt and Taylor escorts me to class.
The remainder of the school day drags on as I slouch at the back of my last two classes. Once school finishes, I head straight home, avoiding eye contact and conversation with anyone.
I speed out of the building, through the parking lot and across Burnhamthorpe Road towards my street. The driveway is empty as I hurry to the front door. Mom and Dad are still at work.
Charlie and Toby greet me at the door. They dance at my feet and lick my hands as I scratch their heads. Keeping my shoes on, I race them to the back door. I snatch a tennis ball from the plastic toy bin on the floor and follow the dogs into the backyard. I toss the ball and Toby leaps to catch it midair. Charlie wanders off, following a scent trail, while Toby trots back to me with the ball gripped tightly between his teeth.
I try to clear my mind of today’s chaos, but the sound of people’s whispers creep under my skin and the image of Anna’s smirk burns in my mind. DYKE repeats itself in bright, bold letters every time I close my eyes.
Toby drops the ball at my feet and steps back, panting as drool dribbles off his tongue. His breathing mimics the laughter from the girls in the hallway. I whip the ball to the far end of the yard and march to the side door of the garage. Trudging inside, I spot Dad’s rusty red toolbox on the top shelf beside his motorcycle. I slide around the bike and reach for the box. My hands grip both sides, lifting it off the shelf and settling it on the floor. I open the lid, stick my hand inside and move around nuts and bolts, screws and bits, and string and wire. Finally, I pull out a thumb-sized razor. The garage light reflects off the polished edge as I hold it at eye level.
Toby startles me as his nails scrape the pavement outside the door. I shove the razor in the shallow pocket of my school pants and leave the garage. I walk past Toby and his slobber-covered ball and into the house. Stumbling up the stairs, I lean on the railing for support as my head spins and my body weakens.
I shut my bedroom door and pace to my bed, pulling the razor out of my pocket. I examine the razor between my right thumb and index finger. My left thumb traces the sharp edge. I know people who have done this before. My head falls back on my pillow and I stare hollowly at the ceiling.
Homo. Dyke. Lesbian. Fag. Homo. Dyke. Lesbian. Fag. The words play on repeat in my head. My vision blurs. A tear escapes. Homo. Dyke. Lesbian. Fag. I shake my head, turn onto my side and tuck my knees into my chest. Tears soak my pillow, forming a puddle of saltwater under my cheek. Maybe just one cut, I think. It’ll help me feel better. It’ll release my anger and shame.
I sit up and hold my left arm in front of me, while holding the razor in my right. Slowly, I place the sharp corner on my skin. My heart thumps in my chest. The tears stop. I press down and begin to glide the razor back. After two shallow cuts, I stick a bandage on my arm and curl under the blanket. My heartbeat slows as I fall asleep.
I wake to the sound of high heels tapping on the hardwood floor downstairs. Mom’s home. Still in my school uniform, I rush to change into Roots sweatpants and a Nike hoodie before meeting her in the kitchen. She would wonder why I haven’t change yet.
“How was your day?” I ask, sauntering to the kitchen island. I lean against the counter as Mom puts on an apron and pours herself a glass of Chardonnay.
“Judy screwed me over again. She blamed me for an accounting error and the boss took her side, that little ass-kisser.” She swigs her wine, her face flushed. “Anyways, how was your day?”
“It was fine. Uneventful,” I mutter, picking at my nails.
“What do you want for dinner?” Mom asks. She turns her back to me as she scours the fridge for food.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Are you okay?” She closes the fridge.
“Yeah. I’m just tired. I’m going to bed.” Mom nods and I pace back to my room.
The next morning, I drag myself to school and crawl up the stairs to my locker where Taylor awaits me.
“Did you see it?” she asks as I approach her. I rub the tiredness from my eyes.
Taylor shoves her phone too close to my face.
“Hang on, I can’t read it.” I grab the phone and notice the Yik Yak app open on the screen—an application where people can post anonymous messages. I squint and read the comment at the top: Ally’s a lesbian? Gross. I changed in front of her…she must have been staring at my boobs!
“Thirty likes already?” I groan. “Ugh. Why won’t it stop?”
“It’ll die down. Someone will fall down the stairs or get an STI and no one will pay attention to this anymore,” Taylor assures me.
“I hope you’re right.” I sigh.
Whispers and giggles persist as I trudge through the day. I fold my arms around my head on the desk to block the murmurs. Teachers call on me during class, but I shake my head and refuse to participate. I eat my lunch alone in an empty math classroom.
When I get home after school, the urge to cut overcomes me and I reach for the razor again. My day ends as it did yesterday. A brief conversation with my parents, no dinner, then sleep. This pattern continues for several weeks with little change from people at school.
Two months later, Ashley Harris shows up to second period with a black sweater tied around her waist.
“That’s not part of the uniform. I’m going to have to ask you to take it off,” Mr. Brady states as Ashley walks past his desk.
Mr. Brady glares at Ashley, then at her sweater, then back at her. She unties her sweater and scoots to her desk at the front of the class. The class laughs as she walks by.
“Ashley shit herself!” Tom yells and points to Ashley’s brown-stained pants.
“I sat in chocolate!” she defends herself.
“Doesn’t smell like it!” Tom utters, waving his hand in the air and plugging his nose.
The next morning, I lean against my locker scrolling through comments on Yik Yak. Taylor hustles toward me as my thumb glides down the screen.
“I told you people would stop talking about you,” she grins.
“There are still some messages about me, but you’re right.” I smile. “Thank God.”
As the days pass, people pay less attention to me. Michael broke up with Angela, Sheila dyed her hair neon green and Mrs. Porter broke her leg after tripping over a student’s backpack during class.
On Saturday, three months after Anna outed me, Taylor and I agree to go to Starbucks. We step out of her black Honda Civic and into the newly renovated café. I order a grande caramel macchiato and Taylor orders a vanilla latte with an extra shot of espresso.
We slouch on the sofa adjacent to the cash register and wait for the barista to call our names. When I hear her shout “Ally” I wander to the counter where my macchiato steams with the sweet smell of caramel. Taylor’s order is ready moments later.
We sit back on the couch and I lean forward to put my drink on the table in front of us.
“What’s that?” Taylor points to my left arm. I quickly notice my sleeve had lifted up, exposing the cuts on my arm.
“Nothing.” I pull it down.
“Ally, let me see,” she insists.
I slowly raise my sleeve. “Please don’t judge me. I’ve had enough of that. From others and from myself.”
Taylor takes a deep breath and exhales. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.” I shrug.
“When did it start?”
“Shortly after I was outed and people started talking.” My voice quivers and my cheeks burn.
“Why?” Taylor furrows her brows and stares at me.
“I just couldn’t handle it. I was so angry. Angry at Anna for telling my secret. Angry at everyone who mocked me. Angry at myself for being gay.” I tilt my head back and brush away a tear.
Taylor hands me a Starbucks napkin. “I understand it was a lot to deal with, but hurting yourself isn’t going to change anything.”
“I know,” I stutter, turning to look out of the window behind us as another tear falls. “I just wish I wasn’t gay so none of this would’ve happened.”
Taylor scoots closer to me. She places her warm hand on my thigh. “You can’t change who you are. It’s terrible that this happened to you, but don’t be ashamed of your sexuality.”
“I wish it was that easy,” I say, rolling my eyes with a chuckle.
“But it is. Ignore what everyone else says and just be the truest version of yourself.” The corners of her mouth perk up. “You know you’ll always have me, Sarah and Rebecca. We’ll never make you feel bad about yourself.”
“You’re right,” I say confidently. “Thank you.”
“Trust me, everything will be okay.”
A week later, I ponder what Taylor told me at the café and stare at my arm full of scars. Why am I putting myself through so much pain? I draw my finger over the raised scar tissue. My sexuality is not going to change any time soon. I need to stay true to who I am and care less about what others think.
At the beginning of second period the next day, everyone piles into Mr. Brady’s law class and takes their seats. Once Mr. Brady finishes with the attendance, I raise my hand.
“Yes, Ally?” Mr. Brady says.
“I have something I’d like to say.” I pause. My chest tightens.
Mr. Brady nods and gestures for me to stand at the front of the class. The room goes silent. Everyone’s eyes fixate on me. My palms sweat and my heart pounds in my ears.
“I just wanted to say that—” I take a deep breath and gulp. “The rumours are true. I’m gay.”
“HOMO!” someone shouts from the back of the room. I lump forms in my throat.
“Yeah, you’re right,” I mutter, clearing my throat. “And I don’t give a fuck what you have to say about it.”