CN: brief mention of suicide attempt
We really have to talk about the adage “sticks and stones” because words can and do real harm to people, especially to those multiply marginalized.
I’m reminded of my time at a university I attended. The accessible dorm rooms happened to be on the floor where you had to sign a sobriety contract. I had no choice but to be on that floor if I wanted to live on campus. That also meant that most of my neighbors were super religious. Many were evangelical. At the time, I was Catholic.
I was not out publicly. I was living about 30 minutes from my home. It was not safe. I went to college with a lot of people from my high school, and I couldn’t be out at this time. Not when you are from a small town of 5000 or less that is super conservative in the 1990s.
One day I was hanging out with queer friends in the music dorm, and their neighbor figured out I was queer. She also happened to be the sorority sister of two girls who were my PCAs – this let me live on campus away from my abusive home. They got me out of bed, showered, etc. These PCAs got paid to care for me. One was a nursing student.
One night, a few weeks or so later, one of my PCAs was putting me to bed, and her sorority sister asked where she went. The other PCA, her roommate, told her that they worked for a ‘girl’ in a wheelchair. The neighbor from the music dorm aka sorority sister said, “oh you mean, ‘my dead name’,” and the PCA said yes, to which she replied, “oh yeah she’s a lesbian!” I was female-identified at the time, and she just assumed because I was queer.
One of my PCAs was incredibly religious, and the two roommates spoke to one another that night about how I had deceived them by not being out. They were furious and felt I had lied for protecting myself. I was confronted angrily the next morning and told repeatedly I was going to burn in hell. I was forced to have multiple talks with them, as they were putting me to bed, which is an incredibly vulnerable time if you can’t move. She could say what she wanted.
I had no other options for PCAs so I had to decide whether I wanted to go home to my even more abusive family, and commute to school, or be stuck with two people one of whom was content to spend the whole time talking about how I would be burning in hell for the rest of my existence.
Once I was done with PCA care for the day I was pretty much on my own, which would not be the case at home. I decided to suck it up because what choice did I have? At the same time, my entire floor was being told that I was queer. They knew about what was going on with my PCA because it’s a dorm. People know each other’s business, and I was outed yet again. Some of them had a floor meeting without me. Our RA never once talked to me or showed me any support. I was afraid to talk to him about it and didn’t feel safe doing so (it was a co-ed dorm with “males” on one side and “females” on the other and we shared an RA who was male).
There were a few people, particularly those who lived in the rooms across from me and next to me who were incredibly supportive and told me they weren’t going to judge me, but the entire rest of my floor decided that they would no longer speak to or acknowledge my presence. Nothing was done, and I just had to accept the exclusion.
Here I was, 18 years old, on my own for the first time, and I’m blacklisted from my dorm. I’m told that they couldn’t talk to “people like me” until I repented. To make matters worse, every time I had one on my PCAs helping, she was spewing religious indoctrination the whole time. It was when I started heading towards one of my lowest points.
I ended up being told they were no longer going to help me, so I had to try and find another PCA, which was not exactly easy. The new PCA ended up never showing up and I was forced to go home, something that led me down the path to my suicide attempt. There was a lot more than this that led me there, but this was definitely a major catalyst.
All it took was a few words. “She’s a lesbian,” to cause such harm and destruction in my life. Being outed is never okay. Being outed in this way was terrifying. It was violent. It caused great harm to my life.
So tell me again how sticks and stones may break my bones but words may never hurt me?!
This is just awful. I also come from a tiny small-minded town and went to college in the late 90’s. I’m so privileged that I didn’t have to live like this or make a decision like you were forced to make (truly between a rock and a hard place.) It was very brave of you to share your story.