I replaced my traditional Catholic school uniform with a shirt that read: “Some dudes marry dudes. Get over it.” It was the monthly tag day when students are not required to wear uniforms. Once I arrived at school, I immediately noticed the stares and heard not-so-subtle whispers from passers-by. Walking to a special Spirit Day breakfast, one of the school’s toughest teachers stopped me: “That shirt is not allowed. Do you have a sweatshirt or jacket you can put on?” “Yes,” I obeyed without putting up a fight. I changed into a Union Catholic sweatshirt. Somehow, later in the school day, I mustered up the courage to take it off. Yet I carried the sweatshirt around with me just to be safe in case I ran into any strict teachers.
I did not encounter any more problems that day, but I was angry with myself for not standing up for my beliefs. I had subconsciously become that little girl again — the girl who was afraid to speak up, the girl who did not have a voice at school. At the age of five, I was diagnosed with Selective Mutism, an anxiety disorder in which a child who is normally capable of speech is unable to speak in certain situations, or to certain people. I was comfortable talking to members of my immediate family and close friends. Yet at school, I did not talk to anyone.
I remember the first day of first grade. I sat down at a table and a little boy introduced himself to me, “Hi I’m Devin. What’s your name?” I waved at him, and remained silent. He was waiting for a reply, but he never got one. His face was filled with confusion. He asked me “Why aren’t you talking?” That was just another question unanswered. A girl sitting across from us jumped in: “She isn’t going to talk to you. That’s the girl that doesn’t talk.”