I was twelve years old when my family moved from small town Warrensburg, Missouri to The Woodlands, Texas. Much like Jace in Something Like Autumn, I was keen to escape to somewhere more exciting and much less sleepy. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand that I was just as uncool as the town I came from. Things were okay until that first day of school. That’s when it became clear that I didn’t fit in. Maybe it was my dopey clothes, or my lack of athletic ability. Or perhaps, on some subconscious level, the other boys could sense there was something different about me. I was out at recess one day when a group of about ten guys came up to me and started shoving me around. They pushed me down, picked me back up again by the ankles, and held me upside-down like they wanted to shake me down for change. When they were done with me, they dropped me to the ground and wandered off. Then a guy from my class sauntered over and explained he had paid them each fifty cents to do this to me. This experience pretty much set the stage for the next few years of my life.
I went to school every day with a crippling sense of dread in my stomach. I pleaded with my parents not to take me there. They did the best they could, taking to teachers and such, but every kid knows how ineffective this is. My response was to lose myself in books. I’d always been crazy about reading, but now I escaped into fantasy realms with a vengeance. The lady who ran the local used bookstore felt like my only friend. Or my dealer. Things got a little better as the years went by. I fought back a few times, which helped a little, but I remained a frequent target. By the time I reached high school, I freaked out. I indulged in destructive behavior, vandalizing and other terrible things because I felt like I would go insane otherwise. If you’ve read Kamikaze Boys, this is probably starting to sound familiar. You also have a good idea of how it all played out. Like David in that story, I eventually found my way to a better place, both mentally and physically. The journey wasn’t easy, but I survived.Today I woke up to the news that Kamikaze Boys won a prestigious Lambda Literary Award. Unfortunately, Andreas and I couldn’t make the trip to the awards ceremony in New York this year. Had we gone, I can only imagine what my acceptance speech would have been like. It would have been made up on the spot, because I never expected to win. As I tried to imagine myself on stage giving an impromptu speech, I considered who I would thank. Andreas, of course, and all of you readers, but then I thought of all those bullies. Weren’t they the most responsible for this book being written? The idea of thanking the people who made my life hell is laughable. My heart isn’t that generous. But winning this award does go a long way toward healing old wounds.
I’ve often fantasized about travelling back in time, showing up on that playground and protecting my younger self from that gang of bullies. But now, maybe I’d show up after the fact. My younger self would consider this a betrayal, but I’d explain to him that this is the way it has to be. Those bullies shaped who I was, put me through a number of trials that—as painful as they were—make it possible for me to write about such experiences today. Hopefully, others going through similar situations can take refuge in the pages of my books, just as I once hid in the pages of so many novels. Of course my younger self would probably hate this explanation and kick me in the shin. Then I’d have to wipe his memory to prevent a paradox. Come to think of it, I could probably beat those bullies up and then wipe their memories too!
Looks like I need to power up my time machine. Before I do, I’d like to say thank you to the Lambda Literary Foundation for working so hard to support and celebrate gay literature. As for anyone out there that might be going through a rough time as I once did, all I can tell you is to keep on fighting. Don’t let the bullies win. Survive long enough to build yourself a wonderful life full of laughter and love. That is the best revenge.