May 21, 1992. I was 13 years old and in the 8th grade. That night the original Real World debuted on MTV. For many season I never missed a single episode. Back then it was more "real" than it is these days. I was at the age where I was developing my own opinions, discovering new things, seeing the more harsh aspects of our world, making my first efforts and discovering who "R****" was. (They were big on that on the Real World ... "you don't KNOW yourself." blah blah blah). I think being a very dedicated fan of the Real World at that time of my life was actually a good thing. Before it was all about sex and drinking they dealt with real issues of race, abortion, homosexuality, struggling to start a career, violence, AIDS, and much more.
I started realizing almost immediately upon entering junior high in 1990 that I wasn't sharing the same opinions as my classmates. The Oregon Citizens Alliance was all about hate (in my eyes). They were going after everyone that didn't fit their ideals. One of their targets were the gay citizens of Oregon. I remember being at my locker and hearing the boy next to me say how gay people are disgusting and should be killed. Obviously it really bothered me if I am remembering it nearly 20 years later. Because I wasn't popular and still trying to figure out this whole junior high thing, I didn't say anything. I stared in my locker in complete shock and disgust. My parents never talked to me about not being a bigot. I guess they just demonstrated through their actions that hate is not a good thing. I actually remember being in grade school, watching a James Bond movie in a hotel room on the coast, and I said "I hate that man" - about the villain. My dad said to me "you shouldn't say 'hate'. That means you want that person dead." To this day I very much reserve that word for only very extreme instances. Just because someone is different than me doesn't mean I should hate them or want them dead -- like this classmate said of gays and lesbians.
Pedro Zamora is the most important person to ever be on the Real World. He was able to put a friendly, albeit attractive, face to homosexuality and AIDS. He taught my generation that you can be "a person living with AIDS." He taught us about safe sex. He showed integrity. He stood up to the bullies. He died on November 11, 1994. The night before I had just watched the final episode of his season of the Real World. When I heard of his death that day it almost felt like losing a friend. Someone that I actually knew and had learned from. I was a junior in high school and had just turned 16. (A year later I would be stuck listening to classmates in our health class laughing at the fact that he died. I was too sad to even tell them to stop.)
It was then that I was really getting my own opinions, but was easily intimidated by people. I got my license and was slowly becoming more independent. But I still was too shy to speak my mind on issues that I felt were important. I realize now that I was surrounded by negative people. People that put me down to boost their own self-esteem. People that didn't know how to be happy, and therefore couldn't just let me be a happy person. I felt shoved into stereotypes that I didn't feel I belonged in. I was the 'band geek' - yet nobody even cared to notice that I actually didn't enjoy being in band. I was in it because I was good at it and wanted to be a professional musician. To this day I still have nightmares about being in that smelly band room. Classmates not in band would hardly give me a chance. Now I don't care though. If they were that shallow to not even find me worthy of a hello, then they weren't cool enough to be my friends anyway.
In college I experienced first hand the racism that existed in people. Freshman year my friends weren't white. I came back to my dorm room multiple times to find horrible things written on my door about my friends. And the girls that did this didn't even care that those people they were insulting ... lived on our floor!! Why you would pick a fight with the football team, I'll never know! Yet I still didn't say anything. I just erased the messages and let these girls continually put me down.
It wasn't until sophomore year in 1997 when I went to work in Florida that I started finding courage to say more. I was still super quiet about things. During WWIII in our apartment, I just stayed locked in my room. But I was seeing other people interact. I was seeing how people handle issues. I was exposed to people from all over the world. I finally got to see more than just Roseburg High School.
I went back to college, changed majors, got new friends, and life started to change and get better. I finally found people that were accepting of my views on things. I watched a friendship come to an end. It was a good thing. This girl I had been friends with for so long wasn't a TRUE friend. I was her friend when it was convenient for her. She dumped me to the side when "something better" would come along. She'd make comments to put me down on my appearance, my interests, my school work... everything. I couldn't take it anymore and finally found courage to just stop being her friend. I was scared to end the friendship because she really was a mean girl. When things didn't go her way I saw the meanness come out. I was scared I would lose all of my friends by ending this bad friendship. But I found courage to do it --- and I got to keep those important friends that mattered.
From that point (in 1999) to now, I've become a much stronger person. I've had people come and go, and I always learn something - even from the bad things. The bad things have only made me stronger and learn to stand up for myself. I feel like if my friends from high school and early college met the R**** that exists in 2009, well, I like to think they'd be pleasantly surprised and how she's changed.
I've finally found confidence. I'm not as shy now. If I want something, I don't always just sit and wait for it to not happen. I speak my mind when the time is right. If 2009 R**** was at that Fremont locker listening to the guy wish death upon gays, well, she would probably have a very eloquent speech flow out of her mouth and put him in his homophobic place. Now when friendships are negative, R**** doesn't let them continue. If you tell her she is too fat, if you insult her friends, if you make her feel bad when you should be creative positive things, '09 R**** has no problem setting you free .... and she'll do it with a smile.
I'm not afraid to stand up for and defend my friends now. I won't sit back and hear people make remarks like I used to. I am no longer a door mat. And I am a much happier person for it!