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South Carolina Honors College

A Queer Child's Lullaby

by Lily Heiner

I was eleven years old when I made a promise to kill myself.

At the time, my mom and I had been having a conversation about homosexuality. All I knew was that the gays were sinners, perverts, and every other foul term that the adults around me had let seep into the malleable minds of their children. In that moment, I made myself a promise. If I ever turned out gay, I would take my own life, and that was that. I thought to myself, “Mom would surely prefer a dead child over a queer one.”

It didn’t bother me much at the time, I suppose. After all, I was a good person. There was no way I would turn out to be such an abomination. And so, of course, the attraction to girls I found myself experiencing later was met with a boatload of denial and self-loathing. At thirteen years old, I looked at a girl and wished she was a boy so that I could kiss her. These feelings gave me such hatred towards myself that I cried myself to sleep, whispering that I didn’t want to be this way.

The school system and adults around me did nothing to negate these feelings – sometimes they even solidified them. I had to go on the journey of self-acceptance entirely on my own, and I was one of the few queer children lucky enough to avoid the bottomless pit that is the pull of suicide. I mean, why would my people want to live when they are shamed for merely existing?

Coming out as queer was a bit like pulling a tooth as a child, really. That terror of just pulling the tooth and ceasing to deny myself... until it was yanked out, and I thought that the hard part was over, only to be met with raw, pitted flesh and the taste of iron in my mouth. Instead of a dentist, though, the tooth was torn out by a cacophony of people who wanted me to be something I’m not, never minding the ache they left behind. That ache is how it feels to be queer: a puckered gum and a bloody smile while being screamed at to just die. People have asked me, “Are gay people really treated poorly? Isn’t it just extremists that fight against you, now?” I wish I could say yes, sincerely I do. But that isn’t the truth, and it never has been. This festering hatred is all around us, filling even the great state of South Carolina.

I see anti-hate policies fail on a daily basis, simply because nobody cares. I see doors decorated with rainbow flags and signs of acceptance, only for them to be torn to shreds by students that day – students who think they’re doing the world a favor. I see students call each other gay as an insult, as if who I am is the worst of offenses. I see teachers shake their heads and ignore these behaviors every single time. Silently, I feel as though some of those teachers agree with them. It makes me feel like insects are crawling under my skin, like my identity is something to be clawed off and disposed of with a bitter, burning sense of shame. But most of all, it makes me angry.

I feel angry that queer children are crushed underneath this system’s feet like roaches. Angry that such cruelty is tolerated at best, encouraged at worst. Angry that queer children are told to kill themselves and are then called weak or scoffed at when they do it. I feel angry that I am just like you, all of you reading this, and yet I am treated as subhuman by so many.

Queer children are all sung the same tune – the screams of a brutal congregation. It strives for our destruction; it is a living burn. It intends to crush us in our youth so that our authentic selves never see the light of day, while we do nothing and simply fall asleep to its melody. The lullaby sung to us by the world will not stop until it paints the walls with our blood.

I was only a child when I made that pact to kill myself, and I am still only a child. Our South Carolina is a state full of wonderful people, so we must all agree to stop driving our children to death simply for existing as themselves. We must stop singing the queer child’s lullaby before we wind up writing the queer child’s eulogy. 

Lily Heiner

About Lily Heiner, honorable mention

Lily Heiner is a junior at Blythewood High School, where Erin Zehner is her English teacher. The daughter of Jessica and Michael Heiner, Lily hopes to be an author and archaeologist, and enjoys writing fantasy and about her experiences as a queer young person.

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