I was raised to hate myself.
“Did you see that guy wearing earrings?”
My father would ask this
with a note of ridicule in his voice.
“Probably a homo.”
He would say,
holding his hand out with a limp wrist
and proceeding to talk
in a high pitched falsetto.
“Your wife will love these!”
He looked at me, a tinkle in his eyes
as he waited for me to laugh.
One time my friends and I
were going to the Olive Garden.
“You know who works there?”
He asked us. We all shook our heads.
“That restaurant is full of homos.”
He told us, as if sharing some dark secret,
whispering the words the words in a hiss.
“Be careful he doesn’t touch your food. You never know where they’ve been.”
Later, at dinner, we were served by a man
who was so completely himself.
He sashayed towards our table
and after he took our order,
my friends laughed at his antics.
It was like they were laughing at me.
Each peel of laughter was like a nail in my skin,
trying to keep my secret inside.
I knew that I wasn’t like other boys,
that there was something different about me.
I was what my family laughed at,
what my friends gossiped about in school.
There was this one boy that was in a few of my classes.
I watched him transform himself,
first cutting his hair and dying it red,
then experimenting with makeup.
The more he became himself,
the fewer friends he had.
I looked at him,
blooming like a flower,
shedding the layers that were no longer him
to become what he always was underneath.
I watched him walk bravely through the school hallways,
letting the wings he had grown flow out behind him.
I wondered if anyone else could see them
and I wished that I was brave enough to be him.
Things got worse at home.
I couldn’t stop myself from being who I was,
no matter how hard I tried.
I was in this constant cycle with myself:
hate, disgust, fear, hate, loathing, fear.
I knew what I was but could never say the word out loud.
I tried desperately to keep it inside,
to stop the light shining through the pores of my skin.
I hated myself so much
but could never bring myself
to voice who I was,
what I was.
My father knew and he hated me for it.
He tried everything in his power to keep me straight,
to clip my wings so that I did not shine.
Eventually he succeeded and I felt them torn from me.
My wings lay glittering on the ground.
I mourned that part of me,
those wings that had never gotten a chance to fly.
I finally left home at sixteen,
and though I walked on legs that were
made of cracked and crumbling glass,
the hate began to fade.
The want to hurt myself for what I was
slowly went away.
In my head,
where my fathers voice had been,
it had begun to grow quieter
and my own voice began to grow stronger.
As I began to use my own voice,
I would stand in front of the mirror
and look at myself.
I would press a finger to the glass
and tell myself:
“I know what you are, and I love you.”
My wings grew a little
each time I said those words.
Now, my wings spread into the sky
and they flutter behind me as I walk.
Now, my wings are strong enough