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It wasn’t anything unusual. I was filling up my car at a gas station in the middle of the day. It was warm outside, and I had big plans that evening with friends. Everything was moving just as it should have, and I didn’t have a care in the world.

Until someone pushed me from behind and I fell to the ground.

***

It’s hard being different. When you figure out at an early age that you’re not like other people, it becomes difficult. For me, being bisexual is rooted in fear, and you just want more than anything to be “normal.” It hurts when you can’t be what people expect, or who they want you to be. How I think about my sexuality has become an ebb and flow kind of thing; sometimes it takes over my entire brain and I can’t hear or see anything other than what’s wrong and that I’m wrong, and I can’t do anything but shake and cry. But sometimes I think that I’m going to be okay.

Sometimes I get an overwhelming feeling: that terrible feeling that no one knows but you because you keep it hidden inside. It keeps you awake at night, rearing its ugly, rainbow head at you, and you just can’t do anything but sit there and take it. Because you can’t tell anyone.

I grew up in a household without any LGBTQ+ members on either side. I went to Catholic school until the end of high school, where I learned from a very early age that people like me were wrong and sick. So I hid. It was so much easier to hide my sexual orientation behind a straight face. I tried to come out to my dad at the age of 13, and he told me quite harshly that I was too young to know what I was. Suddenly it just became so much easier to hide my bisexuality, because my dad didn’t believe me anyway. My mom always asked me about dating, and I could never bring myself to tell her the truth of why I didn’t want to text so-and-so. So I slipped into my role and performed throughout high school as best I could, resigning myself to a fate of hiding behind a mask.

Fast-forward four years. In college, everything changed. I’d moved from the Midwest to a school in upstate New York. I made new friends and fell into a routine of classes, socializing, parties, and just generally enjoying my existence and freedom as a college student. I joined a sorority in January and became involved in a lot of activities on campus.  I even had my own radio show. I was too busy to worry about the rainbow demon in my closet.

But as time went on, I became less happy with hiding. I felt like in this new environment, I could come out and not be judged; everyone at school seemed cool with me without knowing my sexuality. They knew about my love of watching Toddlers & Tiaras! Surely my sexuality wouldn’t change that much about our friendships. After all, we had other gay friends in our circle. So around the end of my second semester I made the decision to begin my coming-out process.

The first person I told was my friend Chris*, a traditional “frat boy,” since it seemed easier to come out to someone of the opposite sex. I expected Chris to react negatively. I was ashamed to think so little of him originally, because once the words left my mouth, he stopped me in the cold and hugged me hard, telling me that this didn’t change a thing about our friendship. My heart soared; I no longer felt like Atlas from Greek mythology, holding the world on my shoulders. I didn’t have to hold the weight of this problem alone anymore.

Over the course of the semester, I came out to a group of my best friends and everyone responded with love and support (and lots of hugs), which only served to help me become more comfortable with myself. They even asked me questions about “my type.” It felt good. We were all settling back into a routine where I was still me, but just… more me. More me than anyone had known before. They were beginning to see the real me. And it felt great.

Emboldened by this streak of good luck, I started coming out to my other friends. Most of them reacted similarly, including my good friend Emily*. Emily and I had been friends for a number of years, and I thought I could trust her with my secret. After all, she deserved to know the real me, right? So I came out to her late one night, and she hugged me like everyone else and said that she was proud of me for sharing this with her. We parted ways that night and I felt great, like I could conquer the world!

Little did I know that Emily was telling her boyfriend of a few months, Rick*, that I was gay. This didn’t sit well with him. Rick saw my coming out as a way of hitting on his girlfriend, and he hatched a plan to make sure I didn’t go near his girl ever again.

To this day, I doubt that Emily knows that what I’m about to describe happened to me. I haven’t had the heart to tell her.

A few days later, I was at a gas station, filling up my car before going out with friends that night. It was the middle of the day, and the station, which was at a busy intersection, was crowded. I was cleaning off my windows when Rick must have seen me from a corner of the intersection. I had a pretty unique car, so he must have spotted that.

While I was busy cleaning bugs off my window, he pulled into the parking lot and parked, turning off his car. He walked towards me, but my back was to him. I couldn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary.

All of a sudden, I was struck to the ground.

I dropped the wiper as my head smacked the car, hitting the ground when he shoved me off balance. I hit the gravel and my head spun. I had no idea what was going on. Was I being robbed? Then a foot appeared in my face and someone began kicking me. I was too shocked to do anything; my limbs felt frozen and time seemed to stop.

The person kept assaulting me, hitting and kicking me while I was on the ground. It wasn’t until the person started talking that I knew who it was.

Rick was shouting “queer” and “faggot” and other horrible things at me while beating on me in the crowded gas station. I couldn’t fight back; I had been caught so off guard, and everything froze. When he felt I’d had enough, he kicked gravel into my face and walked away. The whole ordeal lasted less than five minutes. My head was bruised and I have scars on my arms from gravel getting stuck in my skin.

I lay on the ground for a few minutes, trying to get myself under control. I didn’t realize I was crying until I touched my face and found tears on my cheeks. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears and my skin burned with shame. I had been queer bashed. People like me get beat up. If I weren’t different, this wouldn’t have happened to me. I have never wished harder to not be queer.

Eventually, I dragged myself up by my door handle, replaced the gas nozzle, and got into my car, sitting in it for a few minutes to calm myself down. No one in the gas station helped me or even seemed to notice that my entire world had come crashing down.

I managed to make it home without crying, and I rushed inside my room before anyone could ask questions or notice that I had been assaulted. Once I was safely tucked into my room, I texted my friends to tell them that I wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be going out that night. They all replied with promises to check on me the next day. And that’s when I finally allowed myself to break down.

The worst part wasn’t the beating or the fact that no one in the gas station came to my rescue, but the words Rick had yelled during the attack. His words were on constant repeat in my head, and nothing could shut them off. My rainbow-colored demon ripped through me, destroying any progress I had made the past year. The whole point of my coming out wasn’t to feel hopeless like this again.

I was so ashamed — ashamed that I had put myself in a position to be attacked, ashamed of my sexuality, and just ashamed of myself.  If I weren’t queer, I wouldn’t have been attacked. Because I had feelings for girls as well as boys, I was setting myself up for this. I was ashamed because I thought I deserved it.

I chose not to tell anyone about my attack or report it to the police, because I was afraid of backlash. My entire disposition changed seemingly overnight. Suddenly I was angrier and more prone to outbursts. My temper was shorter and my filter became almost nonexistent. Not only did the world return to my shoulders, but somehow it had become heavier, and I was collapsing under it.

After six months of suffering silently, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to tell someone. So I went to the group of friends I had first come out to — because I could trust them — and told them what happened. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know how I would have gotten through those months of pure torture. They were there to listen, to reassure me time and time again that being queer wasn’t something to be ashamed of. They tried to help me rekindle the confidence I once had, and for that I will always be grateful for these friends. I wish I could say their names in print, because I think they deserve so much more recognition than I could ever give.

With their help, I’ve started to move past the attack. Rick and Emily broke up shortly after the attack, but to my knowledge Emily knows nothing about it, so I haven’t told her. My coming-out process came to a complete halt after the assault, but I recently came out to my little in my sorority – and to a bunch of my sorority sisters – and some of that sunshine is starting to come back. I have yet to come out to my family, but I’m working towards it every day.

I’m now a senior in college and life has finally become good again. I’m coming to grips what it means to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community and how it affects my life, as well as how the attack affected my life. Like Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Everything will turn out all right again; you just need to have the courage to keep going.

*Names have been changed.

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