This is an open
letter to my sixth-grade gym teacher, which I mailed on
Sept. 3. I believe as gays and lesbians we should
confront — when we can and when it is safe — those who
harmed us for being different in our childhood. This
letter is one way to do it. If we don't do this, we
carry the shame of others as our own, and we sometimes
take our trauma or anger out on others. I have not heard
back from the gym teacher, and I may never receive a
response. However, writing the letter and sending it has
empowered me and removed the shame I had been carrying
from that incident. I offer an adapted version of that
letter here, for others who might share similar moments.
Dear Mr. ________
I read an article about you in today's newspaper. I have
never forgotten you, because you were my gym teacher in
sixth grade, from 1975 to 1976, when I was 12 years old.
The memory of you that stands out is of my walking into
gym class late with my best friend. The other students
burst out laughing from something you'd said to them
just before we walked in. Later, a number of my
classmates told me that you anticipated that my friend
and I would walk in together and that we were probably
"fags." It became a running joke toward me for the rest
of my junior high school years. It was so traumatic that
I remember it like yesterday. My body numbs as I recall
the event as it did then when I felt scared and
Among my peers, you could not have humiliated me more.
In my judgment, what you did was cruel, insensitive and
immature. You were an adult, an authority figure who
should have been encouraging and coaching me, not
hurting me publicly — or privately for that matter.
In fact, Mr. _____, I was and am a gay male. Back then,
I was probably in love with my best friend but didn't
realize it. I didn't yet know what being in love was,
and I certainly wouldn't have known or understood what
it meant to be gay.
In the newspaper article, I noted that you are now
retired. I'm relieved to know that young boys are no
longer under your care and won't have to suffer at your
hands the same pain that I did, during such an important
and difficult time of my life.
Either you're the same man today that you were then and
will just laugh off this letter. Or else, you'll feel
some remorse for something you did to two of your
students who didn't deserve to be ridiculed by a guy
like you. You didn't even pick on someone your own size.
The shame I felt from what you did to me really belongs
to you, the perpetrator — and I gladly give it back to
you with this letter.
Joe Kort, MSW
10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Find Real Love
is in bookstores. It is available
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