Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
I enjoyed writing this document, because it gave me a chance to write about a personal experience, which is not something that I get to do very often. I found it much easier to write in a casual, personal tone than I do for a more formal paper. However, it was difficult to write about such a personal experience, because I wanted to effectively convey how important the seemingly mundane event was to my life.
Most of the edits I received in my peer reviews were helpful, but some I did not follow because of the suggestions made for the structure of my paper. I wanted to keep the order of events the same, because I thought that showing what I thought of my friend’s coming out through a conversation I had with her instead of explaining what I felt in exactly that moment was a more natural way of showing those feelings.
I enjoyed writing this piece because I think that it helped me work on more informal but emotional writing. I would like to continue working on this by writing more pieces in this format, because I enjoyed it very much and think that it is a great way of giving a message to an audience.
For my assignment, I chose to write a memoir or personal essay on an experience I had in middle school when my best friend came out to me as gay and the effect that that event had on my perspective.
This document would most likely be published online on a blog or on a news site as an opinion piece. The primary audience of the piece would therefore be people who are interested in the topic of LGBTQ+ rights, so they would most likely read blogs or news sites with a liberal leaning. These would probably be mostly younger adults with a high school or college education and access to a computer and internet. They would therefore have at least a modest amount of money. However, there is a secondary audience, which is people who do not or are not sure whether they accept gay people.
The exigency of this document is that even though the United States and the rest of the world is progressing to be a more accepting place, there are still a lot of problems. Even though marriage equality is now a law in the United States, LGBTQ+ individuals still face intense discrimination in their day-to-day lives.
My goal through writing this piece is to help people be more accepting of others. To do this, I use mostly pathos by trying to connect to the reader. I use a very personal, casual tone in my writing to make it easier for the reader to connect to the writing, which will in turn make them more emotionally sympathetic to the story.
Middle school isn’t really considered the peak of anyone’s life. For me, it marked an even bigger disaster than most. Transferring from a tiny, sheltered private school to a public school where my math class had more students than my entire grade the year before wasn’t the easiest change. I made a few different groups of sort-of friends, some of which stuck, most of which didn’t. I learned a lot about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, mostly through other middle schoolers that had no idea what they were talking about. Some of this information included the fact that kissing someone naked was how you got pregnant, the convenience store down the street sold weed brownies, and rap music was the best genre out there. This misinformation led to me having a lot of very closed-minded views which I probably wouldn’t have developed if I had maybe tried googling some things for myself, and which I then had to un-learn later on down the line. Eventually, though, I figured out which people among my peers were the best suited for my friendship, because of their kindness and common interests. These people remain some of my best friends to this day. We became very close and, of course, shared everything with each other.
In seventh grade, I had a birthday slumber party with my best girl friends at my house. There were seven of us, and after we ate pizza and cake, had a dance party, put on pajamas, and watched Grease, we sat down in a circle for the obligatory game of Truth or Dare. As tends to happen in a group of twelve to thirteen-year-old girls, the big Truth question of the night was, “Who Do You Like?”
We all shared the objects of our devotion. One person liked a boy in her math class. One or two didn’t have a crush (or just didn’t want to admit it). I liked a boy from my old school, which was convenient, because nobody could tease me about it in class. Finally, we arrived at the last victim, Julia.
Julia looked uncomfortable and hesitant, but after a minute or so, she told us that she liked a boy named Dave. He was on her bus and lived in her neighborhood, and he was a year older, in eighth grade. None of us knew him, but that wasn’t particularly surprising, because it was a big school and the different grades didn’t ever interact with each other.
The game faded out after that, since every exciting secret had already been divulged. We settled down to gossiping about other people in our classes and eventually started feeling a little bit sleepy. As we all climbed into our sleeping bags, Julia burst out that she had to tell us something.
We all looked at her, but she couldn’t seem to get the words out. We spent about ten minutes trying to convince her that it was okay, she could tell us; we’re all friends here, and this is a no-judgment zone. She finally reached for her keyboard phone (which I was always jealous of, because I had a flip phone that had come free with my parents’ cell plan) and, without a word, sent out a text to all of us. As soon as she pressed send, she grabbed a blanket and threw it over her head so she couldn’t see what was going on. Most of us (some still didn’t have cell phones) opened up the text to see five words:
The meaning of this was not immediately clear to any of us. What, specifically, was a “Dave,” and how did Julia’s Dave, the cute boy on the bus that she had spoken about, differ from all other Daves?
The answer, of course, was that he was completely, one hundred percent made up. As Julia explained to us, there was no “Dave,” there was only Cassidy, who wasn’t “exactly a Dave” because she was a girl. The rest of the story was true. Cassidy was a year older and was on Julia’s bus, but the reason we didn’t know Dave was because there wasn’t any Dave for us to know.
A few years later, Julia asked me what I had been thinking in that moment when I found out. She told me that when she took the blanket off her head, the first thing she saw was my face. Apparently, she hadn’t been able to tell what I was feeling—Shock? Disgust? —and she’d wondered ever since what was going on inside my head.
The answer was not simple. The people I interacted with in my first year of public school were not all the ones that would help me learn to be the best person that I could be. One specific group had taught me all there was to know about how disgusting gay people were, how they should be avoided and, if avoiding them wasn’t possible, made fun of so that they would know to stay away. I had never met a real live gay person, so I didn’t have any reason to dispute their opinions. I listened to what they told me because I didn’t know any better.
I was the first person of the seven of us at my birthday party to discover the meaning of Julia’s message. I figured it out almost immediately, but didn’t say anything, because I couldn’t believe it. I wanted so badly to be wrong in thinking that my best friend was gay, because everything I had learned up to that point was that being gay was Bad. Yet here I was, faced with the knowledge that this terrible identity belonged to someone sitting right next to me in my own home, someone who I had hung out with so many times, so she would have had so many times to try to kiss me—or worse. I was lucky that her gay-ness hadn’t rubbed off on me!
When Julia asked me what I was thinking at that moment, I told her the truth: I was freaked out. But then, I told her, I realized something that was incredibly important in changing my entire perspective, and has continued to shape the way I think about other people around me to this day.
When I thought about it, I realized that throughout the whole time I had been friends with her, Julia had been gay. I hadn’t known it until the birthday party, and she might not even have known it the entire time I had been her friend, but she was. In that time, I had absolutely enjoyed being her friend, because she was funny, smart, kind, and interested in all the same things that I was. Looking at her face staring out at me from under her blanket, I had realized that even though I now knew something new about my friend, that didn’t mean that she had changed at all. There was no reason for me to change the way that I thought about her. It was as simple as that—in those few minutes, I changed from a classic homophobic middle school idiot to a more mature, accepting one. As unlikely as it seems, I immediately started learning about the push for equal rights for LGBTQ+ people, and even helped Julia organize participants in our grade for the next year’s Day of Silence.
Ironically, in the next few years, many more of my friends starting realizing that they weren’t quite as straight as they had thought they might have been during that birthday party. Even I, the former ignorant, had to accept, a few months after my conversation with Julia, that I had a major crush on one of our mutual female friends. I never again had even the slightest issue with accepting someone’s sexuality, because I had already resolved my feelings about it.
I have also become a much more accepting person in general because of this experience. My experience working for LGBTQ+ acceptance in my community and school was a gateway into learning more about feminism, Black Lives Matter, transgender rights, and other movements meant to progress the rights of marginalized people.
The problem with many people who do not support minority individuals is that they don’t understand them. When people don’t understand something, they often feel threatened by it. When I accepted my friend, I opened up a chance for myself to understand. I came to find out about the many different forms that sexuality, love, and gender can take, and because of this I have been able to teach others the same.
The short amount of time I spent as a homophobic individual isn’t something I’m proud of, but I wouldn’t change it. I know now that just because I may not have understood something in the past, it doesn’t mean that I can’t become more educated now. That learning experience opened my eyes, and it has sparked a desire to do the same for others. It’s easy to accept people’s differences if you have an open mind, but helping other people to see this is a whole new challenge