By Ethan Malzberg ’19
I grew up with a life-size band-aid covering wounds it never healed.
Though the expanse of years has erased much from my memory, I’ve never forgotten any of the comments on my gay voice. The first was in fifth grade. I beat him in a game of War, to which he responded, “At least I don’t have a gay voice!” It was a word still foreign to me, only heard on commercials for Modern Family, but it has altered the way I view myself even to this day. In a term I learned from Dr. Rodney Glasgow at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, it was cognitive dissonance — an “identity bump” — with one comment completely changing my own perception of my identity in a way I had never considered before.
I ran home to my mom that day, impatient to tell her what that boy said. After a brief pause, she delivered the normal parental recourse for when your kid is bullied: “You’re not gay, he’s just trying to insult you because he’s jealous. Don’t let him bring you down!” It was a relief to hear this from my mother at the time: I was not the unfamiliar word with which he described my voice because my mom said so. It was a little band-aid to shield an enormous insecurity that has stalked me since.
It was also a relief to hear my guidance counselor repeat the same sentiment the following day. “You’re not gay, he’s just trying to insult you because he’s jealous. Don’t let him bring you down!” It was the perfect recipe for repression; I could now ignore his comment for the foreseeable future because my mom and guidance counselor said so. That is, of course, until the next “your voice is gay” would come just two months later at camp. Although the band-aid’s effect was fleeting, it was just what I needed at the time.
Years later, I discovered an email chain between my mother and my guidance counselor about the incident. “[Redacted] called Ethan’s voice ‘gay’ today,” my mother explained to the guidance counselor. “Of course, Ethan is not gay, but he was very hurt,” she finished. As I observe that exchange today, I gawk at how the situation was handled. “You’re not gay”: not then, but now I am. “He’s just trying to insult you”: how is it an insult? “Don’t let him bring you down”: you just did! The truth is my voice is higher pitched than the average male. It always has been and it always will be; I recognize there is nothing wrong with this but my lasting insecurity tells me otherwise.
Instead of addressing reality, adults put a band-aid of denial over this wound. People commented on my voice throughout the entirety of my childhood — even the rabbi at my own Bar Mitzvah joked that it was “angelic” and “womanly” during his sermon, and the panacea has always been, “That’s not true! Your voice is normal.” Every time a band-aid was put on me, it was promptly ripped off, reapplied, ripped off, reapplied. An interminable cycle that all but begged the wound to fester.
I don’t blame my mom or my guidance counselor at all — or any adult for that matter, since the same situation arose more times than I can count and touched all areas of my being. Shifting societal attitudes over the past eight years have changed the conversation on how to raise LGBTQ+ kids and I believe that email exchange would have been very different today. Regardless, every adult who recoursed the bullying I endured had the best intentions to make me feel better.
This Band-Aid Culture extends much further than my situation. It reminds me of the trophy debate: should every kid on every team be awarded a trophy? We subliminally tell the youth that everyone is the best even if they aren’t. In principle, this guards children from an unwarranted inferiority complex. In reality, we raise children to believe that the sole point of a game is to win. We prescribe trophies as band-aids to the losers, telling them “you are not a loser” instead of “it’s okay to lose, there is a greater purpose to the game than winning.” Though not a perfect analogy to my situation, like trophies, adults slapped on a band-aid to my troubles, telling me “you are not gay” instead of “love yourself no matter who you are.” Using band-aids, we shield kids from pain at the expense of growth. The wound never heals; instead, it festers until it reaches its nadir, and eventually, it must be treated properly. We need to eliminate the band-aids and start handling issues at the onset.