Volume 30, Number 3

Thoughts on a Gay Suicide, Age 9

for Jamel Myles

Were we nine the first time
someone called us faggot
gay homo queer too femme
for school?
Did our classmates
have the epithets then?
Could we understand what
they meant, cower from their
power? Could they smell it
on us or hear it in
the melody of our
voices, see it in the
way we threw a baseball?
Did we stare too long at
the other boys, crushes
killed before they could start?
We knew the words to all
of Madonna’s songs, and
we could sing them in tune.

Torn between cartoons and
the worldliness that was
thrust upon us. Trusted
around china since we
were gentle. Invited 
to tea parties where we
combed ratty unkempt hair 
of neglected Barbies.
We had to listen to
problems because children
adults thought we were wise,
preternatural when
we were just trying to
drown in appropriate
boy concerns, but others
locked the gate to us so
Bugs Bunny style we dug
underneath convention
and tried lipstick for Fudd.
Each day, innocently,
we drew a line between
us and them, deepening
during puberty. Lives
shrunk to a muttered word.

At fourteen, a good day
involved not being called
faggot, always sounded
like ribbit in the croaked
voice of a surly teen,
scrawniness covered in
sweats and Starter jackets,
puffing out unformed chests
always about to jump
us but scared under the
front. By eighteen, we cared
less or endured more. Hate
was internalized not
as common but present
when guys smirked under trees
as we walked by alone,
minds so alert to threats,
we could never daydream.

Could we have been saved by
a butch jock stance as our
fathers thought sport stats would
make the other boys warm
to us? No room for the
theatrical ones in
the ‘80s. Had to learn
to unlike the girl things,
throw out Miss Piggy and
fancy stickers, claim our
favorite book was Tom
 not Wizard of
Tried to be manly,
but the growth spurts never
came so we stayed slender,
small targets in size eights.

Bullies can follow us
into the bedroom now,
screens not streets away. It
took only four days to
kill Jamel age nine who
learned how cruel the world is
early when he still liked
sugary cereal,
drew shaky figures in
crayon with an untrained
hand, was still under five
feet tall. We are told it
gets better, but where is
the proof. Policies shield
schools from consequences
as a child is hounded
to death. We ask you to
imagine yourself at
nine. Was suicidal
ideation even
a possibility?
If so, this poem is
dedicated to you.

—Sean Hanrahan