March 30, 2011

Standing on the Edge of the Crowd

[Ed. Note: So this is just really cool. Dr. Janie Long is the Director of the Duke LGBT Center, not to mention surrogate mother to Us all. Her Ph.D. is in therapy, and personally I'm not sure where I'd be without her open-door policy. Janie's been hinting that she wanted to write for This Blog for a while now, but her email this morning with this piece attached was still a pleasant surprise. Show her some love, Readers? And I think it would be interesting if We used her last paragraph as a thesis for our own stories in the comments. We weren't all born this way, so to speak.]

So here’s my story… Dar Williams sings a wonderful song entitled, When I Was a Boy, it’s a song about me. You may ask what does that mean…it means I was someone who stood on the outside…I didn’t fit…I was harassed…I was demeaned…I didn’t wear the right clothes…I didn’t play the right games…I was raped at twelve years old for being who I was. You see…they wanted me to be who they thought I should be….But wait…don’t stop reading here.

Let me back up a bit to when I entered school in first grade. This is when I first realized that I did not fit gender binaries. I LOVED to play baseball, basketball, and football, and I WAS Tarzan. I was the first girl in my elementary school to wear pants to school because girls were not allowed to wear pants to school. I remember even my teacher making fun of me because I did. In fifth grade my teacher called my mother and told her I was playing too hard at recess, my face was getting too red and she should tell me to stop playing ball and just play with the girls. Thus, I virtually stood on the sidelines when it came to being what a girl should be. It took two much older boys hurting me badly at the end of sixth grade to show me what being a girl meant to them to get me on the “right track” to becoming a girl.

Then came junior high and because the older boys felt the need to spread ugly rumors about me I spent the seventh grade being ostracized by everyone. Literally, no one talked to me when I was at school the entire year. I was even run out of the local movie theater by people throwing chunks of ice at me from their fountain drinks. I wasn’t a part of the popular crowd. I wasn’t a part of any crowd. I was awkward. I didn’t wear my hair right. I did not know how to put on make-up. My mother made many of my clothes. No one asked me to their parties…No one said I understand. I thought I was the only one. Thank the goddesses I know differently now.

I wasn’t the only one. There were others like me who felt they didn’t fit in. They fell short of the “ideal”. And most importantly…I realized that the ideal really varied from person to person and guess what….only I got to determine my ideal. Imagine that…I got to determine what was ideal for me.

I didn’t have to wear the right clothes, own the right gender identity or sexual orientation or even own the right things…I just had to be me….yes, that’s right….ME. The me who is authentic…who hurts…who has self doubts… who was almost stripped of all dignity…who finally said no, hell no, you will NOT define me….I will define me. I am strong, I am unique, I have a purpose in this universe. And once I started to see the special in me I did find friends and I no longer sat on the sidelines.

You may say but there is no one else like me. Guess again, my friend….many of us have been there…we were/are the sideline kids, the quirky ones, the geeks. You may look at me now and say but you are a leader. Privileged, yes, I know I am in my current position but was I way back in the day when I was “not a girl” oh no, I felt like these lyrics from Dar Williams:

I won't forget when Peter Pan came to my house, took my hand
I said I was a boy; I'm glad he didn't check.
I learned to fly, I learned to fight
I lived a whole life in one night
We saved each other's lives out on the pirate's deck.

When I was a boy, I scared the pants off of my mom,
Climbed what I could climb upon
And I don't know how I survived,
I guess I knew the tricks that all boys knew.

And you can walk me home, but I was a boy, too.

I was a kid that you would like, just a small boy on her bike
Riding topless, yeah, I never cared who saw.
My neighbor came outside to say, "Get your shirt,"
I said "No way, it's the last time I'm not breaking any law."

And now I'm in this clothing store, and the signs say less is more
More that's tight means more to see, more for them, not more for me
That can't help me climb a tree in ten seconds flat

When I was a boy, See that picture? That was me
Grass-stained shirt and dusty knees
And I know things have gotta change…

But I am not forgetting...that I was a boy too

I may have confidence now, but I will never forget that part of me. Every person who comes to the Center has a story. Many of those stories have been told here but many more have not. We are a varied group. Some of us are very quiet, some of us are very loud, some of us buy our clothes in thrift stores and some of us wear designer things, some of us study abroad and some of us study in von der Heyden, some of us are out to friends and family and some of us are not. Don’t just come once or twice to large gatherings where it might be difficult to connect with others. Some of us love Fab Friday and some of us do not. Come during the week between classes, get to know the staff, check out a movie and some books, take a nap on one of the couches, watch your favorite show on Hulu on our laptops. You are not alone…just ask the small boy on her bike.


  1. Oh my goshhhhhhh. Janie.

    This is so great to read. And I´m so glad you wrote this.

    I can relate to so much of this, in my own life, for sure. I remember I was talking to a woman in the Center once, and she said to me, ¨I think we all get along so well as a community, because we´re all ´been there´, and we´ve all struggled through a really difficult time in our lives, and we´ve made it out stronger. And that´s why we understand each other.¨

    Just ¨yes¨, to everything you wrote. I can absolutely remember times (plural) when I didn´t feel like I could fit in, wheter it had to do with my sexuality or not. Nobody is alone in this feeling, and thanks so much for having the courage to remind us of that.

  2. Janie,

    fantastic as always. You are a true community icon and leader.

  3. This is amazing.

    I'm so glad you wrote this.


    I literally don't have words. Just thank you, SO much for writing this. This is incredible.

  5. Janie, this is inspiring.

    Like Megan and the other commenters, I feel that I can truly relate to your story.

    It was not very many years ago that I felt weak and powerless. Not very long ago since I felt unloved and worthless. While growing up, I always had the feeling that I didn't fit in, that I was an outsider and would never truly be viewed as someone of value.

    I felt alone, scared and that felt that things would never improve. There were some very dark moments during my teenage years. So dark in fact, that the contrast to where I am now is blinding. I know now that I am someone of worth, someone unique, someone special and above all someone who deserves to live as their true self. I am authentic and like Janie said, I am me, and that is enough.

    And I am part of an amazing community, a community that goes above and beyond to look out for one another.

    Thank you for writing this Janie; I hope it will inspire all who read this blog.

  6. Very inspiring story. Thanks for sharing.

  7. To reiterate and quote Ollie:

    "a community that goes above and beyond to look out for one another."

    Yes yes yes yes yes.

    I love this community.

  8. Janie, this post is great! Reminds me a lot of what I went through...

    I remember experiencing my middle school years feeling lonely, isolated, as if very few people understood me. I was more sensitive, less athletic and more creative than most boys. As time went on, I focused my attention on school, because there I knew I could excel as one of the best.

    I remember buying clothes in the 7th grade. I used to watch all of the other boys in school wearing Hollister and Abercrombie and I desperately wanted to "look the type". I just wanted to be accepted by everyone, and if that meant hiding the quirks that made me "me" then I was happy to know that at the very least, I was accepted. I was on the soccer team and the track team, where I hoped to follow in my brother's footsteps. While most people found solidarity in these teams, I felt more isolated. Few were willing to talk to me during and after practice, and I can't remember a time I was invited to "chill with the guys".

    It wasn't until high school that I embraced what made me different, and along the way, I started making my best friends. More importantly, I started to notice that people started recognizing and respecting me more for being myself, and not pretending to be someone I wasn't. I joined the debate team and did well at conferences, I became editor of my school newspaper, I sang and competed with my high school chorale. Through all of this, I understood that there was still something missing.

    By my senior year of high school my academics took a nosedive. The weight of my sexuality brought feelings of loneliness and guilt. I had no one to talk to except for a school social worker and even then, I still felt like no one understood me. I decided at Duke that I would be out from the beginning. I knew that by being out, I took the fun out of all the rumors and the questioning. "Is he or isn't he?" was not how I wanted people to know me in college.

    My first few visits to the Center were awkward to say the least. Very few people attended Fab Friday in October 2008, and the few who did barely paid attention to me. I was shy and didn't quite know how to approach a social situation where the reason we were all there was because of our implied attraction to one another. It wasn't until I talked to Chris Purcell that I felt more comfortable engaging in conversation. Slowly, I started talking to people and while I am not the closest with everyone, some of my best friends at Duke are people I met through the LGBT community and the Center. It wasn't easy putting myself out there at first, but it was definitely worth it.

    Janie and Jess, you two do a wonderful thing for all of us. Thank you for providing a safe space where we all know that we can rely on each other. The LGBTQ community at Duke is growing, and like Janie said, not everyone needs or wants to go to the Center. I am thankful that at the very least, we have a place where we can nap, take a study break, eat our lunches, etc. Today I have forsaken my Hollister hoodies for flannel button-downs and my Nike Shocks for a pair of Doc Martens. I'm happy to have learned that by being me, I never have to apologize. Not to anyone.

  9. This is beautiful Janie! Thanks for sharing it.

  10. I'm honored to work at the same university that has Dr. Long taking such great care of people who deserve it and, sadly, are often denied it.

  11. thanks for sharing janie, olli, and ari :)

  12. I love this so much, Janie! Thanks so much for sharing. Same to Ollie and Ari. Prepare thyself for a huge hug on friday, it has been entirely too long.

  13. Janie - you are an amazing person. You are an amazing friend. And like all of us, you have an amazing story. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for being there for so many. Thank you for still being you and still be here for all of us! You are very, very loved and cherished!
    Always and Forever - Your Best Friend! xo

  14. Janie, wow! although I was already very respectful of the woman that you are and for all you do to help us in our lives and our orientation, your sharing of this experience is the ultimate in generosity and giving. I am truly and deeply moved by your spirit and am inspired to be a better person for all of us and our children. We each have our own stories and experiences and, while they are different from generation to generation, they are so important to shaping us as a community. We need to be respectful of our experiences and move forward to a better place. Thank you Janie for all that you do. Love you, Karen Terhaar

  15. Ollie and Ari, thanks for sharing your stories. I hope others will add stories from their journies of acceptance here or in posts of your own!

  16. Also! Something else I thought to add, since Janie extended the invitation to write more personal experience.

    I think for me, it's also important to say that it's not as if this feeling of difficulty being LGBTQ or unacceptance is a super-old phenomenon. For me this was as recent as my first-year at Duke, extending partly into my sophomore year, and I imagine that there are loads of people at Duke who still feel this way. At any rate, I just feel it's important to mention that this isn't some long-removed feeling or event for me- and that it's totally normal to feel this way at Duke right now, and that certainly feeling this way doesn't make you unique or alone. And that if it is happening to you right now, not only are you completely "normal", but that there is without a doubt an incredible community of friends (the LGBT Center, MCC, CRR, Women's Center, etc.) and support networks (CAPS, friends, the LGBT Center, etc.) to help you discover a way to move forward.

  17. Dear, dear, dear Janie,
    I wish we could clone you and put one of you in every school, in every business, on every governing body - everywhere in the world. I am so appreciative of the work you do. I only wish that your soul and spirit could be present everywhere.
    - A Duke mom

  18. I’ll be really curious about what you think of the pizzas then! Enjoy and keep me posted.