This blog entry has been a very long time coming. I was never sure if I could ever even write it. It involves something very personal, something very painful, something very humiliating.
As a child growing up, my family moved a lot. I mean, we’re talking a massive number of moves. Try thirteen different schools in twelve grades. People have childhood friends they carry with them through life. That part was always stolen from me. I was always the odd kid, trying to fit in – the misfit, the one picked on, beat up, targeted.
I tried to find ways to cope. I was a reader, I was artistic. I was gifted – I could sing, I could act. The theater was another world, a chance to be someone other than myself, so I did high school drama. But in the Seventies, for an outsider, it was also the source of whispers and taunts – fag, queer, homo. I fought the gay culture wars as much as any within the LGBT community on the front lines, getting beat up often as someone falsely accused of being that way…
In 1978, I was attending Irvine High School in Irvine, CA. Orange County, south of LA, we’d finally washed ashore. There, in high school that fall, I did a show as part of a one-act play festival. Israel Horowitz’s “The Line.” Pretty sophisticated stuff for a high school. The director, Blake Gould, the school’s drama teacher at the time, took some publicity shots using a fish-eye lens. The idea was to create grotesque images of the characters – very avant garde. I think nothing more of it.
Three months later, I am sitting in a math class waiting for the bell to ring when people start to come in, whisper and point to me. Then the giggling started. I turn around to see what’s going on.
On the bulletin board on the back wall is a mock-up of a wanted poster with the publicity photo of me from The Line – the fish-eye grotesque. “Wanted: Donald Speirs for Sexual Deviancy. If spotted, call the Irvine Poice immediately.”
I jump up and rip down the poster. But everyone in the class is looking at me.
And they start laughing.
I rush out of the room. The poster is on every bulletin board in the hall, with many more on lockers and doors as well. Whoever did this papered the school thoroughly.
I ran to the school admin office to demand an answer. I was told to calm down and leave the campus while they investigated. For “my own good” I was suspended. They never found out who was behind it, and Mr. Gould swore no one had access to his photos. I never received an apology for the assault, the embarrassment. I was just expected to take the humiliation.
It was the day I decided to leave Irvine High as far behind me as possible.
A few years ago, as we approached a milestone reunion anniversary, I became curious. Had people changed? Had time made it so perhaps they wouldn’t all laugh at someone under attack? So I opened up under Facebook and became friends with some people from Irvine High.
It seemed to be going well, until a few weeks ago, when during a discussion on the politics of the day someone connected to me via private message and sent me a picture.
It was the poster from high school.
The message was clear. We don’t think any more of you now than we did then.
I have no need for people like this in my life. I have no reason to fight these battles anymore. Perhaps I am cutting off someone who appears to be sweet and caring. But are they just trying to get close enough to hurt me worse?
The one person who failed me the worst in this is Blake Gould. He was my teacher, my mentor at the time. He let his creative work be used to cause profound psychological harm to me and showed absolute callous disregard for it. I’ve never received even the barest of apology from him to this day. The man was celebrated, and rightly so, for his accomplishments as a teacher. But he failed in this.
And he probably doesn’t even remember.