I was in grade ten, uncertain of myself, yet doing my best to look cool and indifferent and most certainly failing miserably. I sat with a group of friends in the cafeteria, enjoying the camaraderie against a backdrop of giggles, chatter and chairs scraping the floor. There were about twelve of us, including Jasmin, the group gossip. She was naturally cool, easily attractive, very popular and of course sat right in the middle of all of us. With a conspiratorial lowering of her voice, she delved into one of her stories, her head tipped to one side as she slandered another of our friends, weaving her own twist with a ‘sympathetic’ shake of her head. But when Meredith, who sat unnoticed at the end of the table and the subject of her smear, leaned forward and said, ‘Uh Jasmin, I’m sitting right here,’ her voice trickled away, the hurt inflicted by her mere words, hanging heavy on the air.
I’m not sure who was more horrified – Jasmin or Meredith or the rest of us, who stared down at our tray of fries, congealed gravy staring back up. I remember the painful silence that followed as Meredith pushed her chair from the table and slouched away, head down. And I remember the shame that heated my face.
As a child, I always felt an uncomfortable, hollow feeling low in my belly when I actively listened to gossip or after I’d spread a rumour myself. One night I overheard Mom and Dad discussing the parents of a girl I went to school with. Her mom and dad were getting a divorce. I felt sad for the girl, though I didn’t know her well. The next day I went to school and promptly told my best friend. After days of feeling sick with guilt, I told Mom what I’d done. She explained how hurt the girl would be if she heard this rumour before her parents had a chance to tell her themselves. I cried and felt horrible. I couldn’t take back what I’d done and I had no way of knowing if I’d inflicted further damage. I beat myself up for days and never forgot that horrible feeling.
~ Ziad K. Abdelnour
Rumours are started by haters, spread by fools and accepted by idiots
When I made my life-changing decision to switch teams, I inadvertently supplied local gossipmongers with some pretty juicy fodder. I have to admit, being married for twenty years to a man, only to discover I was gay at the age of forty and proceeding to marry a woman nine years younger – who I incidentally used to babysit – was some awfully good material for the chinwaggers.
One interesting rumour that made its way back to me was I’d become gay because I had a stern father. This one was puzzling. If family dynamics could determine a child’s sexuality then it would stand to reason that a nurturing and easy-going father would most assuredly have produced a straight child. Absurd? Of course. My dad had nothing to do with the struggle going on inside of me. And when he learned I was gay, he was nothing more than supportive.
Another common assumption was not only a rumour but a ‘fact’ presented to my face by well-meaning individuals who couldn’t accept my truth. Apparently, I’d become gay because my heterosexual marriage had failed, making me turn to a woman. But I was reassured I shouldn’t worry because it wasn’t really my fault. This was comforting and also intriguing to find out things about myself I hadn’t known! But the truth was my marriage had failed for lots of reasons, one painful fact being, perhaps I was gay all along.
I realized very early I couldn’t change the way I felt inside, nor could I halt the stories being spun like the intricate web of a spider. I had made a choice to finally act on how I felt and the result was my life was dissected. Some truly cared and realized if they wanted to know something about me, the best person to ask was me! Those are the people I valued above all and counted as my true friends. Others twisted facts about my life and family, actually saying more about themselves than about me.
But I knew sooner or later, someone would do something more outrageous than I had, so I rode out the storm, protecting my family the best I could and finding strength in Jess, who had been the subject of rumours longer than I had.
And in the end, I learned something very powerful. I learned not to judge others, for who was I to judge and who was I to presume to know someone else’s truth? And I learned if I wanted to know something about someone, though it may seem crazy, I should just wait for them to tell me themselves. Or better still, perhaps it was none of my business.
And finally, I learned to be thankful for the struggles I went through because without those struggles, I wouldn’t have stumbled across my own strength.