“Eccentric, but in a very good way”

An LGBT teenager’s journey with identity


Photo used with permission of Carolyn Wagner

Joey Nemec, junior Spectrum leader, talks to the Spectrum club during a weekly Tuesday meeting after school. “I see the LGBT community that we’re all people who are born this way and we can’t change that,” Nemec said. “I just think we should all accept each other because [the LGBTQ+ community is] not hurting anyone. Love is love.”

By Sasha Kek, Lake Zurich High School

90% of LGBTQ+ students report being bullied, according to a recent study by bullyingstatistics.org. In a class of 30 students, if all 30 were part of the LGBTQ+ community, 27 would suffer bullying.

“I was pushed out of the closet [and] pushed more towards gay because that’s just how people saw me, so that’s the way I felt for a long time,” said Joey Nemec, junior pansexual student and Spectrum leader, who uses they/them pronouns. “People would ask me [about my sexuality] and I didn’t really have a great way to define it because I knew I wasn’t 100 percent attracted to guys, so after thinking about it for a bit, I started identifying as pansexual.”

When Nemec discovered they were pansexual, they had not personally accepted themselves because “when we’re young, the words ‘gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans,’ we usually hear with a very negative connotation,” Nemec said. For those who identify as part of the community, “you start to have a bad opinion of yourself and you push it down just because of the negative connotation,” Nemec said.

“I started to hate that part of me and I blocked it out of me entirely,” Nemec said. “I got to a point where there was no denial. I was like, ‘Okay, you know this about yourself [and] you can’t block it, [and] you can’t get rid of it.’ I was ashamed and in the closet for a long time until the point where I wasn’t,” they said with a laugh.

And this shame does not only apply to them but can be experienced by anyone who tries to hide a part of themselves, according to Nemec.

“When you try to hide that and you start seeing someone else that is so comfortable with who they are and so free with themselves, it makes you hate them a little bit because you’re like, ‘Wow, I hate this part about me and you’re totally fine with it, and you’re able to do whatever you want,” Nemec said. “It’s sort of like you’re mad at the freedom they have. Even if it’s somewhat your choice, you feel like it’s not.”

One choice Nemec never had was whether they could be able to live free from bullying. They couldn’t.

“I go into every experience [thinking bullying is] possible. If I go out or if I’m going to an event where there’s going to be people that I don’t know, then it’s always on my mind,” Nemec said, “[but] nothing really affects me that much anymore because I’ve been through worse.”

Nemec was bullied in high school when their gym clothes were vandalized, which caused them to not want to go to PE.

“When I heard about [the vandalism], I just got really sad and I didn’t know what to do,” Nemec said. “I was just enjoying my day and I was told about it and I was like, ‘Wow, why would somebody do something like that?’ And it was about me, so I could barely process it.”

After hearing about the incident during a Spectrum meeting, Ellie Anderson, sophomore Spectrum leader, was “definitely shocked” about the situation and said, “obviously that’s mean, but that’s so extra.”

“I get that there are obviously people that are religious and they think their religion goes against [the LGBTQ+ community], but there’s a difference between saying, ‘My religion’s against that,’ and being very, very actively anti-LGBT,” Anderson said. “You can’t just be stomping on our rights because something you believe in is against us. I feel like we all still live on this planet, so why can’t we just live in peace?”

Nemec says the reason for the bullying was “people seeing me change that much,” in terms of sexuality and self-representation, which “I guess just makes people feel uncomfortable,” Nemec said.

“The way I used to present myself when I was in the closet was a very typical, straight guy, and now I’m very effeminate, queer, and pansexual,” Nemec said. “People not understanding something or not seeing something a lot of, like with sexuality or the way somebody expresses themselves, it confuses them [and] it makes them uncomfortable, and that’s why they judge.”

Grace Lambertsen, senior, says it is “ridiculous that people still get so caught up over it.”

“Get over it, honestly, just get over it,” Lambertsen said. “It doesn’t affect you at all, even a little bit, so just leave them alone. If it makes you uncomfortable, fine, whatever, that’s your right to be uncomfortable, but just shut up. You don’t have to share [your discomfort] with everyone, [so] just keep it to yourself.”

Although Nemec’s peers forced them to come out, they say they would never have been comfortable enough to do so on their own.

“I wouldn’t have had the courage to come out,” Nemec said with a laugh. “That sounds bad because it’s obviously not great being pushed out of the closet. I just wish I would have been more comfortable with myself at the time, but I don’t know when that would have ever been. I like to think about how this bad situation brought me to a good place.”

This story was originally published on Bear Facts on December 13, 2019.