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It gets better

A local take on the national project to save gay youth

Photo: Photos by Carlos Amoedo, License: N/A

Photos by Carlos Amoedo

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Then he hit puberty. He hit puberty on my chest. Without going into too much detail, the introduction of actual sexual desires – first from him, later from me – would set off nearly a decade of increasingly regrettable scenarios. He was the bully, scratching out Simon Le Bon’s mouth on my Duran Duran posters and scribbling ‘fag’ in with a marker. But he was also my abusive lover, creeping into my bed in the middle of the night for a handjob. I didn’t know where it was going, just that it was getting worse. He grew violent, started drinking and punching holes in the walls, and was occasionally shipped away to live with other family members. But he always came back, and when he did, things would inevitably pick up right where they left off.

I remember the pain, the aching void of when it finally crossed the line. Me with a pillow over my face sobbing through unlubricated penetration. I remember him getting up, wiping off and leaving. I remember sitting on the toilet and bleeding and crying. I remember telling myself that I would never let this happen again. At the lowest point, he broke into my bedroom through a sliding glass door. I spent the whole night trying to convince him and his drunk felicitations that it wasn’t him, it was me. But he won, and I almost died.

That was the night before my 16th birthday. The next day I was sent home from my record-store job after finally confiding in a manager the terror that had been my constitution for more than half of my life. I told my parents and they did nothing. By then, he was in the army, a hero in the making. I, meanwhile, had upset appearances and was forbidden from getting my driver’s license. It got worse. I started acting out, even seducing a pedophile radio DJ and letting him suck me off outside of a stripmall in exchange for some Duran Duran promotional materials. The wound stayed open.

Only a few years later in college would the words actually come from my mouth (and my fingers, as it were; I became a wordy soap opera star in the Florida State writing department). I met a guy one night, slept with him and we shacked up in a duplex two days later. I called my parents to finally tell them, ‘Hey, I’m gay.’ They called it a phase, told me not to ‘burn any bridges.’ In fairness, my stepbrother had just died of AIDS after having been in the closet his entire life. They were still in shock.

It didn’t really get better for a long time after that, honestly. At 28 I tried to kill myself, still heeding the screeches and howls between my late night ears, by this time amplified by drugs and alcohol. But it was that moment of self-immolation that started the rest of my life. Somehow, through all of the emotional thickets, I had managed to divine a writing career, one that continues today. And the choices I make are my choices, the words I scrape together are viscerally my own, the feelings I have are real. I don’t hide anything anymore. Now, even my worst days are miles above the small moments I used to call euphoria as a child. In 2001, I met the husband I’m still with today, in 2005 I ran for freakin’ mayor. Duran Duran? They know me. I talk to all of my family now – including that family member – and I do so as a proud survivor. You get past it, you choose your battles, you make yourself. The day you stop being a work in progress is the day you die, and nobody wants you to do that. Stick around.

Randy Stephens, 55

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