Memories of a Gay Childhood

This past weekend being Pride Weekend in San Diego, I went to the GLBTQ Center to volunteer my services. I told the two men at the reception desk that I was an author/artist/activist who mostly worked nationally, but that I wanted to do something in my own community for gay teens. "I'd like to run a writing group for teens," I said. "I can help them tell their story, harvest their experience. I can help them find the light in whatever darkness they feel." The men looked at me with a total lack of interest, as if they had forgotten their own childhood or somehow escaped the agonies one goes through as a cultural misfit. "I could also do a leadership training with them," I continued. "I have a book on thought leadership and a program designed especially for teens. I'd be happy to offer that."

I couldn't even get the men to keep eye contact with me. They were on and off their cellphones, talking to other folks in the lobby. One reminded me that they don't even allow teens in the building. I'd have to go to the teens building, he said, pointing south before he took another call. I asked the name of the contact person, and they threw a business card my way. I left, but I haven't followed up yet. I've been pondering how it happens that we lose touch with how tender life is at that age, how important it is to be seen and heard.

I've been thinking of my own early years as a queer youth: how despairing I was, how wrong I felt, how terribly unseen and unheard. Then I remembered my suicide notes, how occasionally I would write one and leave it around to be found. Step one was the note. Step two, the suicide, was never fully planned out. I wrote about it after my visit with those two men, those two men with faltering memories:

Dear Everyone

That's how I started my suicide notes

The ones I left half-crumpled

in the bathroom basket

of our one-bathroom house

or amidst the dustballs

under my bed.

Dear Everyone, I'd start...

wanting everyone

who was ever kind to me

or who didn't make fun

of the misfit girl who should have

been a boy

to know it wasn't their fault.

I didn't want them to feel bad

that I had to go.

I was just born wrong

and didn't fit in anywhere.

Not with the boys who'd turn on me

mid-game, punching and pummeling me

till I could barely walk home.

Not with the girls who were big on secrets,

planning picnics then hiding

when I came to fetch them,

a basket full of sandwiches

no one would eat.

I wasn't leaving

to be mean or punishing.

I was just made wrong

and it couldn't be fixed.

A girl on the outside but a boy within.

A freak of nature,

a mistake by God.

I was ten then, pushing back tears

as I wrote my notes

trying to be brave

and say it clearly.

I wanted to be seen

but no one could find me,

no one could know me

as I fully was

if boy or girl

were the words that defined me.

Half a century later,

my masculine and feminine

are happily married.

I thank my lucky stars

there were no razors in my house;

no drugs to swallow,

no cliffs to jump off,

or railroads to lie on.

I often wonder though

if anyone ever found my notes

No one ever asked me.

That could have mattered gravely.

--Jan Phillips, July 2014

My book Born Gay is available for free at my website store.


Need help? In the U.S., visit The Trevor Project or call them at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.