I am a graduate of Marshfield High School in Missouri. My family has deep pre-Civil War roots in the Marshfield area to which I moved to from Pleasant Hope in 1978 beginning in the fall semester. Within days of my freshman year the harassment began, first in the form of comments, then name calling which quickly progressed to violence and beatings. It seems another transfer who was from the Boys Town in Pleasant Hope had told students that he thought I was gay. For four years I was attacked in the hallways, beaten between buildings, kicked, knocked over, had students sitting behind me in classes repeating “faggot” “faggot” “faggot” over and over again, I was spit on, had spitballs smeared on me, had “faggot” written on my books in the locker and pasted on the door. Any resistance was met with more violence by the gang of rednecks that was allowed to run the hallways of the time.
It was not just a few students, many students, both boys and girls participated in one form or another in the name calling and those that didn’t avoided me in the hopes of not being harassed or called names themselves. I grew my hair long and walked around bent over to avoid as much attention as possible, it took me a decade to walk upright again.
There seemed to be no one to turn to, upon arrival at MHS I was given no handbook, introduced to none of the councilors, given no information on who to turn to in case of problems, harassment, depression, thoughts of suicide, abuse at home.
My junior year, in the evening waiting to be picked up by a parent I accidentally ended up outside a Future Farmers of America (FFA) meeting that was just letting out. I was spotted, attacked, punched by one student after another, beaten to the ground surrounded by more than 20 students that kicked, yelled “faggot” and hit me until I finally managed to escape. No one at the school mentioned the bruises though surely they were visible.
In no way do I feel I deserve the way I was treated in MHS but let me make a few points clear: I never said I liked men in any way, never touched anyone, in fact I would go for days without speaking to anyone at all, had no friends or even people that would associate with me. At my former school in Junior High I had taken shop classes in welding and woodworking, something I continued at home during those years in Marshfield. In the summers I had participated in sports: racquetball and swimming. I was strong, and spent much time on our family ranch feeding cattle, shoveling out barns and raking, hauling hay in the summers. Now, there was no type of shop, sports or physical activity arranged by the school that I could now participate in as those areas were dominated by students who were directly the most violent to me and faculty that had witnessed harassment and done nothing.
Sometimes, I would sit in the back of the library and stare at the word “homosexual” in the Webster’s dictionary and think that if there was a definition for it there must surely be someone else out there like me, I just had to survive this awful place.
I want to mention two more things that happened while I was at Marshfield: Two upperclassmen that were dating and had gotten rather hot and heavy one night deciding to try to use cellophane wrap as a contraceptive (a prophylactic was something you could not buy in the evening in Marshfield at the time). She had gotten pregnant and had no idea what to do.
Then in my Senior year another student had died of hepatitis. It seems from rumors that my mother repeated he was gay and had been going down to a park in the nearest medium sized city Springfield, having unprotected sex. He had been a popular student but he just disappeared from classes. The only mention of his death was at the First Baptist Church where we both attended, the preacher telling the parishioners to “pray for the family that had lost their son.” Not for the dead son mind you.
Marshfield High School participated by not mentioning his death in any way, where the year before my arrival when a student had died in a car accident students were given a day off to deal with the grief. The message was clear: he had died a shameful death and should be quickly forgotten. Yet in both of these cases a very basic health class that explained contraception and disease prevention surely would have prevented one unwanted pregnancy, and one death. I might have been able to eventually even figure out that I was not entirely alone at the school.
Given all that happened and the lack of any support or protection you surely can understand why I graduated from MHS and left Marshfield without nary a look in the rearview mirror. I went on to obtain my Bachelors of Arts as far away as my parents would let me study and then eventually my Masters degree in Belgium. For most of the last 25 years I’ve lived in Asia, Korea, Taiwan and for the last 15 in China, my Mandarin is fluent, I’m a producer of advertisements, movies, television shows and documentaries. Along with my production house I also own a coffee shop and gallery. You’ve surely seen episodes of the Amazing Race, National Geographic documentaries or print advertisements that I have produced for. Also I am constantly arranging study trips and exchanges to China for students from my own college, the Association or Colleges of the South and even for the US State Department. I’ve even won a medal for my contributions to international understanding.
I’m not ashamed of being gay in fact it’s one of the first things I mention to people now so I don’t have to worry about it later. I work not just in China but around the world including Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand, Europe, Mongolia, India and am considered one of the best location managers in Mainland China. I only mention this to point out that in all the world I have never been treated in such a way as within the hallways at Marshfield High School, Missouri.
Goodbye, good riddance.
Yet I feel prompted to write today for several reasons:
In the international news and papers I see that in Missouri things are finally changing, for the worse. You would think that in 20, 30 years something would have improved but now the state legislature is actually voting to have any discussion, or materials that mention sexuality removed from the school. Why not wipe out the mention of Jews, Gypsies, Rightists and Tutsi at the same time? And it would seem to force the school to remove that “offensive” Webster’s Dictionary from their shelves, just about the only thing that kept me going through those years at MHS.
Another graduate of MHS, a decade later than myself has written an “I’m from Driftwood” story of his own treatment. There was suddenly proof that the same thing, ten years after my own experience, almost to the detail, had happened to another and there must be a whole string of accepted abuse at the school that had lasted for at least that decade. Turning to the school’s website I can find no proof that it is not the same place today, with no indication that abuse of diverse students is not the accepted norm.
Having done nothing myself to try to change what happened to me why had I expected it to have changed on its own accord?