The gulf between “Am I worth love?" and "I am worth love!”

To wrap up our blog series in honor of LGBTQ History Month, the Feminism blog welcomes Eric Stiles as a guest blogger. Thank you so much Eric for sharing your story of resiliency.

Growing up as a gay male in a rural community in Pennsylvania was not an easy task. Many times, I was taunted and bullied for being who I was. This happened even before I knew who I was. One day in particular sticks out in my mind. It was a warm fall day and my mother was picking me up from school. When I got in the car I turned to her and said,

“Can I ask you a question?”

My mother looked at me and said “Of course, what is it?”

“Mom what is a queer?”

As I asked this question the expression on her faced changed. I could not tell if she was angry or sad. I had never seen this look on her face before.

She thought for a second and asked “Where did you hear that word?”

Right away I felt as though I had said something wrong.

“Other kids are calling me it.”

She took a breath in and her face softened and she leaned over and hugged me and said,

“Don’t worry about what they say. It means someday someone will love you for who you are.”

This simple exchange seeped into my conscience. I may have been 11 or 12 years. At the time I felt loved, that was all that was important to me. I knew the word I was being called was supposed to be bad. It wasn’t one of the swear words I was not allowed to say, but I knew that the kids who were calling me it were bullies. My mother just diffused the word and gave me love. This conversation added a whole new level of resiliency that has served me well in life. For me, resiliency building is adding new layers of building blocks that I can return to, reshape, and rebuild with. They help me to bend but not break throughout life’s challenges. My resiliency has been built by my own accomplishments, mistakes, and by others’ support—even strangers. I know that I am worth love!

In our culture, all too often, the LGBTIQAH (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Two-Spirit, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, Allied and those affected by HIV) Communities are attacked in many ways and on many fronts. Attacks come from the cultures they grow up in, the churches they are raised in, and even the families they are born into. As we live through these attacks, the existential question “Am I worth love?” arises. With the loud voices of the world telling you that you are bad and abnormal, this question pushes at us. These messages parallel the “victim blaming” of sexual assault survivors, who may also feel that they are not worth love. What are we to do with this? How do we change the pain that our world causes?

We speak up. We take a stand. We offer support for members of these communities and help to build up their resiliency. It only takes a moment to share a kind word with someone.  We can make it better. We are part of something greater.

Eric Stiles is the Rural Project Specialist at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. His work involves addressingthe questions and training needs of rural communities as they increase their capacity to address child sexual abuse.

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