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By January 12, 2012 Labels Lie 9 Comments

By Sonny Lemmons:

It was one of the first times that I knew I needed thicker skin. Because to cry would just add fuel to their fire.

Growing up, I always had adults remark about what a “sweet” or “caring” boy I was. I was one of those kids who was quiet, introspective, and kept to himself in elementary school. But carrying the label of “quiet” into my next phase of education brought its own set of problems with it. While the concrete jungle of the elementary school playground can be vicious enough, the transition to middle and high school is pretty much sink-or-swim in terms of social survival. Add into the mix that this “sweet,” “caring,” and “quiet” kid also showed an interest in and aptitude for choir and the theater, and that he had a number of female friends…

And suddenly, I was “gay.” I had to be “some kind of a faggot.”

Long before I cognitively understood what a slur was, I knew in my heart what one felt like. Every time I was harassed by my peers for befriending — but not trying to “get with” — one of my female friends, I was made to feel like less of a person, as if my burgeoning manhood was dependent upon how many bras I had unhooked. Why couldn’t I just care for someone without caring to cop a feel? So what if I had no talent, ability or real interest in sports? Why was what I was interested in considered un-manly?

I was made to feel like there was something wrong with me for being myself.

And so, I tried. I tried to fake toughness. That their words didn’t phase me. And while despite their taunts I knew I was heterosexual, whatever pain I may have felt was undoubtedly doubled for my friends who were struggling with questions of their orientation. For them to hear this term used out of context as a label reflecting something considered intrinsically broken or wrong with a person caused this lie to wound more than just its intended victim. To use this word – or any other descriptor of race, gender or ability – as a pejorative label takes an entire group of people and reduces them to an insult to make someone feel incompetent, stupid, or emasculated.

Psalm 139:14 promises me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. If my wonderfuness happens to come wrapped in a musical number, so be it. Romans 12:6 (NLT) assures me “God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.” I Peter 3:9 (NLT) convicts me to not “retaliate with insults when people insult you.”

Today, I try to continue illustrating and living out compassion and having a heart for others. Christ’s sensitivity for others and compassion towards the weak and disenfranchised might have brought on the same taunts in school.

And I not-so-ironically, take a small amount of pride in that.


  • Eileen says:

    Great post, Sonny!  Thank you for sharing your story.  I can relate to being labeled the quiet one in school.  Still amazed at how deeply these labels stick with us and shape how we relate with others and how insecure they make us. 

  • Margaret says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Sonny!  I appreciate the way you recognize the added turmoil that young people face who truly are struggling with their sexual orientation.  Kudos to you for making different choices and using your experience to enlighten others.

    Once again – the stories this week are helping me learn better how to shepherd my son…the 9 year old who likes musical theatre shows, cares about his appearance – he has a well-developed fashion sense of his own – and gets excited over piano lessons and ballroom dance class. 

    I applaud your ability to stay true to yourself!

  • Actionfiguretrish says:

    not like, Love. as always, sonny. your messages are quietly loud and oh so very clear. 

  • Amy Hunt says:

    My son also loves his piano, thoroughly enjoys playing “dress up”, sings, and would love to do hip-hop and theater. But, our society is also so conditioned to sports and though he participates and says he loves it, a part of my heart hurts for him and wonders if he’d prefer the more creative, less aggressive, less *expected” way of living. And, he’s only 7. I’ve had a fear that God has questioned me on since I even found out I was having a son. I’ve faced that fear and many a times tosseled with whether I’d accept my son or be embarrassed if he were to be gay. “How to shepherd” my son without expecting or fearing or labeling…that’s so important! 

  • Love it. So glad you’re you, friend.

  • mohan37 says:

    Great post Sonny! Thank you for sharing your story…its obviously hit home for so many :)

  • Steve Terrones says:

    Thanks Sonny! Unlike some whose story resonates with yours because they were also quiet or might have a child with a similar disposition, I initially related to your story a bit differently, but quickly realized not much differently than others at all. I quite embarrassingly admit I was a bully. I was gifted with the ability for sports so I hung out with the jocks. I’m not exactly sure what made us feel we were better than others or some how in the grand scheme of things more special than our school mates, but we did. We often made fun of who we called “band nerds or geeks” and God forbid if you were in drama and hung out with the girls for reasons other than the reasons me and my friends thought would qualify you to be like us and cool. Well that was many, many years ago and I now have children of my own. Wow! Unbelievable on how differently I think now as a parent. I have four boys one of which is a musician and never really liked sports and another who has always been kinda quiet yet still very popular. Popular while home back in California but not so much here in Nevada where we moved 6 years ago. Ultimately I learned by Gods Grace that everyone of the kids I messed with was someones child and more importantly now possibly a parent. I can’t tell you how sorry I am and also how Thankful that I am that you were and continue to be strong, stronger than i ever was, sharing your story to love, help, support and encourage parents and others who may have encountered “my” ignorance in their lives. ThankIng God for his unconditional love and Grace as a parent!

  • mohan37 says:

    Steve, email me at mohan at potsc.com if you’re interested in sharing more of your story!

  • Hey, I just snuck in the back door and read this great post. Have you ever watched the movie ‘Dead Poets Society’. I highly recommend it for anyone struggling with being labeled. I was angry with the mother and father at first, but have since learned to look at them with eyes of grace. Thanks for being real and helping the rest of us who are struggling to feel grace.

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