I’m at the bus stop, leaning against the wall of the shelter. Two boys are sitting side by side on the bench, all shaved heads and tank tops – a couple of aspiring gym buffs. They’re conversing loudly.
“Me an’ Ryan saw that fag at the gym again on Thursday,” the left one says.
They’re talking about me.
“Oh yeah?” The other boy turns around and glances at me for a second. He saw me walk over here, noticed my garb, the way my hair is cut. Their conversation continues anyway.
“Yeah. He came in to the showers just after the two of us went in, and I say to Ryan – so that the guy can hear us – that we better make sure we don’t use the stall with the broken curtain hook or we’ll see an eye peeping through while we’re trying to scrub.” He brays like a donkey and hammers his pal with his elbow until his pal starts braying too. I’m still on their radar.
The bus arrives and we get on. I make sure I’ll get a seat behind them, still alert to their conversation. Thankfully, they’ve gotten bored of me.
They get off a few stops before mine and relax. Had we reached my stop and them still sitting there laughing, I wouldn’t have gotten off. I wouldn’t want them to know where I live.
My parents talk about me all the time. Even when I’m sitting right there with them at the kitchen table. They know what they’re doing.
“I have no problem with it,” my mum says. “Obviously. It’s only that I also believe that Christian schools do have a right to teach their ethos to their students. It’s part of their duty of care,” she says while forking food into her mouth.
Their duty of care should include educating everyone, I don’t say, not touching my food.
Nobody’s objecting, so she continues blissfully: “The students’ parents should know what they’re signing up for if they send that type of child to a Christian school anyway. People pay good money for a private, religious education, and their children shouldn’t have to deal with these people pushing their own agenda.” She possibly isn’t aware of her hypocrisy.
“I don’t think it matters which schools they go to,” my uncle chimes in. A voice of reason, John, I think to myself. But then he adds: “They all end up worthless anyway.”
Is that really what he thinks of me? What they all think of me? My eyes are getting sore, threatening to give me away and let everyone know that, for me, this is more than your average dinner debate. It is my life.
“You’re not eating? Don’t you like it?” Mum asks. I look up and they’re all staring at me.
“It’s great mum,” I say.
It’s my aunties birthday and we’ve gone out to a restaurant. I’m full of good food and having a good night – and we haven’t even had dessert yet.
We’re standing by the bar ordering drinks and two girls stroll past, arms wrapped around shoulders, huddled together giggling, probably a little tipsy. One leans over and kisses the other on the nose. They smile at each other and I smile to myself, for them. I’m happy that they’re happy.
They speak to me, rather than about me.
I feel a bit like a creep, standing here at the bar staring, so I turn back around and the smile drops off my face.
My cousin is staring at them with her eyebrows raised, scowling. She didn’t even need to open her mouth to talk about me. She can’t even see me, yet she’s looking right at me.
I’m a hard worker and respected by my colleagues, but they still talk about me.
‘It’s not that I don’t think they should have rights,’ says a girl who I’ve worked with for three years now. She trained me when I was new. I always thought she was sweet.
‘I just worry about what kind of world my children might grow up in, you know?’
I’m supposed to smile and nod but something inside of me doesn’t feel right; I snap at her. ‘Yeah, would be terrible. Imagine a world where children grow up knowing they can be themselves.’
She stares at me and I think for a moment that she’s taking me in, but then she scrunches up her face and walks away.
My heart’s beating fast. I shouldn’t have said anything, but it annoyed me how she tried to pretend that she did care.
It’s the same as saying “no offence” right before saying something clearly offensive.
No offence, but I don’t think you should feel like you deserve to live like the rest is us.
We don’t talk much more on shift. I wonder if she realised, I knew she was talking about me and got embarrassed.
Maybe she’s just worried about what I might do to the world.
I just want it to stop. I want everyone to stop talking about me like I’m not in the room. Like I’m not real. Like I can’t hear the things they’re saying. Like I don’t have feelings and dreams and hopes and individuality.
Like I can’t be scared.
Besides, I don’t need them to talk about me. I still have a long way to go, but I’m learning to speak for myself.
E. S. Sibbald is a young, queer, aspiring author. They are currently training to work in the library industry while working on an endless number of writing projects in stolen moments of time. They live in Sydney, Australia. They are also on Twitter.