“Growing up, I never knew what the word Queer meant. I had heard it on TV and I heard it by walking through the streets of my neighborhood. People were shouting, ‘Hey, there’s a queer, just look at the way he walks! to me while I was walking around trying to find someone to play with. That’s truly all I really wanted – was someone to understand me and accept me for who I was.
I spent so many nights crying myself to sleep, and asking myself, ‘What is wrong with me, why do I feel this way? Why am I literally alone in this world?’ These are not thoughts an 8-year-old should be having, right? Looking at myself in the mirror each morning wondering how I could change myself to fit into ‘societal norms’ was a constant. I kept thinking, ‘Would this world be better off without me? Would my parents care if I died?,’ and over and over again, I kept getting the same response, maybe.
I came out ‘jokingly’ as bisexual in the 8th grade. I had a girlfriend at the time. She told me, ‘Why do you feel that way, knowing that no one is going to accept you?’ My response back to her was, ‘How do you know that no one will accept me if they never find out, because I am only telling you?’ Little did I know shortly after that, I wasn’t only telling her, I was telling everyone else, because someone overheard me talking to her about feeling ‘different.’ She was right, no one accepted me. Some boys in the hallway would look at me like, ‘Who is this person walking around our school thinking that he can be some kind of a queer?’ In my mind, I was normal, to everyone else though – I was a freak.
Physical Education was the worst class I could have ever taken. I was never allowed to participate in the ‘boys’ sports so I was forced to sit out during most of the physical activity. I felt isolated from other students. I tried out for soccer, but I didn’t make the team because I was too ‘girly,’ as some of the other boys on the team would say. When we would run laps around the gym during our exercises, the other students would laugh and point at me. I went and talked to the teacher and I remember the exact words she told me. ‘You are you, and if they cannot accept that, then that is on them and not you. I accept you and I appreciate your honesty of living your truth.’ Those words stuck with me and I will never be able to thank her enough for saying those words to me.
I was slower at reading books and doing homework than others my age. I would take my time going over every single letter of the words, trying to understand the purpose behind it. My teachers expressed their concerns to my parents during parent-teacher conferences. Then I started to feel horrible about myself because of what the teachers would say to me, talking to my parents like I was not even standing there. They mentioned to my parents how I act around boys and that I was always hanging around the girls and talking about boys.
Middle school was ending and it was the summer before my first year at high school and I still had no idea who I was. I knew I would like to try and kiss a boy, but what would my parents think about that? I sat down and jotted down different ways of telling my parents I was bisexual. I became severely isolated and depressed as it started getting closer to me going to high school. My parents knew something was wrong but they never asked, they just assumed that it was because I was getting ready to go to high school and I was feeling anxious, when in reality – I was feeling suicidal. I wrote a 5 and a half page note, back to back, and handed it to my mom as I was getting ready to go outside to hang out with a friend. My note mentioned how restless I was at night, how I was having visions and thoughts about hurting myself and dying. When my friend came over, I immediately started crying and shaking. He did everything he could to calm me down, but unfortunately, it was too late. I had a knife in my pocket and I was ready to put an end to my pain. My friend ran into my house and told my mom, ‘Call 911, Zach is outside trying to kill himself. Please do something, quick!’ The windows in the house were completely open and I could hear everything that was said as I was standing right by the window where my mom was standing dialing 911.
I remember the sound of the sirens getting closer and closer and eventually, I was in the back of the ambulance. I remember the words this very nice police officer said to me. ‘You are going to be just fine, do me a favor and continue focusing on your breathing and clearing your mind. I won’t put these handcuffs on you as long as you promise not to try and hurt me or the paramedic.’ I told him, ‘I won’t hurt you as long as you don’t hurt me.’ We got to the ER and I was placed on a psych hold. I was sent to a psychiatric facility with my parent’s consent. When I arrived at the psych facility, I knew immediately I was going to once again be the outcast, but fortunately – I was not. There was a gay kid that was going through the same thing I was, and we immediately became friends and shared our experiences.
The other kid was telling me about his parents wanting to send him to ‘conversion therapy.’ I remember thinking, ‘What the hell is conversion therapy?’ I asked one of the staff members. He told me, ‘It is an absolutely great thing for someone to go through with unwanted feelings of being a homosexual. Why, are you looking at getting into it? I know a great person that is accepting new people.’ I told him I still didn’t understand what it was, but if it would get rid of these feelings I had, I knew I had to do it.
A few more days went by and I was being released and heading back home. When my parents arrived, they told me, ‘We need to talk about the letter you wrote to us when we get home. And we would appreciate your honesty.’ I told them everything, about liking boys and having the urges to kiss a boy just to see what it would feel like. They told me, ‘We love you regardless, and we may not understand your feelings, but we will be here to listen to you if you need us to be there.’
It felt great to hear them say those words to me, but I still felt like I didn’t belong. My first day of high school came. I was getting ready to walk into my class when this very attractive boy looked over at me as he was talking to his girlfriend. He came over to me and said, ‘Hi, you must be Zach.’ I answered him and said, ‘Yes, I am Zach and who are you?’ He told me it didn’t matter what his name was and to follow him into the bathroom, so I did.
When we got into the bathroom, there were 4 other boys in there. I was pushed up against the wall. He started to kiss me all over. I heard the other boys saying, ‘Oh my God, everywhere we go, there are fags in this school. They all just need to die.’ I tried to push him off of me but he was much more masculine than I was and he took complete control over me. He turned me around and pulled my pants down and forced himself onto me. I just stood there in pain while he was doing whatever he wanted to do to me. The bell rang, and he hurried off to his class and acted like I didn’t even exist whenever I would see him in the hallway again.
I met a girl in one of my classes and she invited me to go to church with her. I never knew anything about religion. I never went to church a day in my life other than to attend a funeral. I agreed to go to church with her and she introduced me to ‘Pastor Jake’ telling me he was going to ‘take good care of me.’ Pastor Jake and I walked into a room with four white walls, a projector, a screen and a couple of candles that were already lit and flickering, like he already knew I was going to come into the room with him. I immediately wanted to leave. He sat me down, looked right at me and said, ‘I heard you need some reprogramming of your life.’ I asked him what he meant and he told me, ‘You do know that Homosexuality is a sin, and you will go to hell if you continue to sin.’ I shrugged my shoulders and he continued to tell me about how he is an ‘ex-gay,’ and this therapy was a ‘God sent’ intervention. He told me to take my shirt off and he would attach these things to different parts of my body, which included putting some of them on my chest.
After he was finished placing the ‘electrodes’ on my body, he turned on the projector. He showed me ‘homoerotica’ images, and if I became ‘excited,’ it would send a shock throughout my entire body. He did it repeatedly until I passed out. Once I woke up, I became extremely nauseous and felt very light headed. My chest was pounding like an elephant was using my chest as a trampoline. I looked at the screen and became aroused again and it was the process all over again. After a few times of this same pattern, he would show a straight couple engaged in a sexual act. I didn’t feel anything and I would once again go through the pattern again and again until I could look at the gay scenes and not feel attraction.
We would sit across from each other and he would tell me to read certain excerpts from the Bible and if I stuttered or didn’t say it correctly, he would repeatedly tell me, ‘Remember you will go to hell if you do not recite this back to me in the correct way it was written.’ He continued telling me this over and over again each time we read Bible verses that specifically talked about homosexuality being a ‘sin.’ It was like a reccurring nightmare. I wasn’t allowed to participate in the youth group activities because he didn’t want me ‘spreading falsified information about your homosexual lifestyle choice’ to the other youth that was in the group, so I had to sit in the same room as him for 4 hours every single Wednesday and Sunday. This went on for about 2 years. I asked him if he was going to tell my parents everything he was doing. He told me he ‘didn’t need permission from parents’ because he was doing what ‘God would want me to do.’ I never said a word otherwise to my parents. This was exactly what that boy in the psych hospital was talking about. I could hear him in my mind telling me to run away as far and as fast as I could so I wouldn’t have to endure any more of this.
Since removing myself from Conversion Therapy, I have achieved many great accomplishments. I won an award from Nickelodeon called the ‘HALO Effect’ award for my activism with creating a safer space for all students at my high school. This was during my senior year. It was the first time of actually feeling like I accomplished something with my life.
I advocated for the passing of the Safe Schools Improvement Act with GLSEN in Washington DC and was very vocal about spreading awareness of bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
It wasn’t until about 2 years after I stopped going to that church that I told my parents what had happened. My mom was crying when I told her what he did to me, and what he would tell me to do. My mom looked at me and said, ‘I would never in a million years ever put you through that absolute torture. You are my only child and I want to see you live your life the way you were born to live it. I know that you have many choices in your life – but being bisexual is not a choice, it is a purpose of why you are here.’
I knew my parents didn’t agree with everything I have done in my life, but I do know they would never have put me through that ‘practice’ and instead, would have encouraged me to live my life the way I wanted to live it, regardless of what others thought.
Through all of it, I remained strong. I fought to get to where I am today. I am proud to be me, and I am proud to share my story in hopes of inspiring others. I am a true believer when someone says, ‘Live your life authentically and to the best of your ability.’ Those words are my motivation and inspiration to keep moving forward. I hope by sharing my story, I am able to reach others who have gone through similar situations and we can work together to create a kinder, safer and more accepting world that we want to see. That’s what I would like to see the most.
I finished up my two-year term as a Human Rights Campaign National Youth Ambassador and it felt great to attend the annual Time to THRIVE conference and speak about what I am doing to raise awareness about suicide prevention and to take care of your mental health just like you would your physical health. I am sharing my story, not for sympathy for what I have been through, but to raise awareness about the issues within and outside of the LGBTQ+ community.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Zachary Daniel Mallory, 22, of Kansas City, Missouri. You can follow his journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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