In middle school, I was the awkward kid with two friends who never really talked to anyone. I was ugly, nerdy, and at a level of awkward that exceeds possibilities. But truthfully, I didn’t mind it at all. I wasn’t bullied or depressed, I was simply unpopular. I had a couple good friends, and that was all that I needed. In middle school, it’s not necessarily important to be “popular.” A lot of people are immature in middle school – no parties, no competitiveness in grades, and all the “relationships” that take place burn out of after a week. There’s not too much pressure.
Then came high school.
High school is a class system. At the top are the jocks and pretty girls, below them are the kids sitting comfortably between cool and uncool, below them are the nerdy weird kids, and below them are the immature kids who haven’t quite hit puberty yet. By the time I entered high school, I didn’t know where I fit – I had gained a few more friends, all in different groups. And no matter how cool it may be to “not fit the mold,” you have to belong somewhere in high school or it was going to be a long four years. Truthfully, I was still the awkward kid who didn’t know where to go. It got to a point where I finally had enough of being quiet and unliked, so I decided to get off my ass and actually do something about it. I wanted to go from the awkward quiet kid to the popular fun guy that everyone wanted to be around. And most importantly, this transition had to be calculated.
Most people simply fall into whatever “category” that they fit into simply by chance or personality. But I’ve always been self-aware, so instead of going with the flow (which got me nowhere), I studied and observed everything that went on in my small high school that consists of about 110 students, and I decided to become a high school Renaissance man. A Benaissance, if you will. (My name’s Ben, by the way. I swear I’m funny.)
I slowly started to appeal to everyone. I sat down at different lunch tables, uninvited. I talked to different people in between classes. I changed my wardrobe and my appearance. And suddenly, as I began to force myself down people’s throats, everyone began to really love me. They got my sense of humor and began to mimic it. I may not have showed up at any parties (because I didn’t want to) or make it on to any sports teams (because I hate sports), but I didn’t have to. I was simply Ben Lewis. Not a jock. Not a nerd. Not a pothead. Not a weirdo. Just Ben. And people were living for it. After I had risen to exactly where I wanted to be, I knew there was something that I had to do. Something I had been avoiding for a long time. I had to come out of the closet as gay.
Living in an area that’s relatively Christian and redneck, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy letting the cat out of the bag. I originally intended to tell only my close friends, but when everybody else started to question me, my best friends were interrogated by everyone in else in my school. With a student body of about 400 in grades K-12, everybody pretty much knew each other. As the first gay person to come out in our school’s 50 year history while in attendance, I was becoming the hot topic. Sick and tired of people asking my friends instead of me about who I was, I took to Twitter and told it as it was: “The only thing straight about me is the A’s on my report card.” I sent the tweet during my second class, and by my fourth class the entire school was in a state of frenzy, with phones being passed around and screenshots of my tweet being sent to everyone (yet I still only got one favorite on it. Assholes.) After that, I realized I was exactly what my old-fashioned redneck school needed. If I could create a school-wide meltdown with such a simple thing, then these kids desperately needed something to talk about. Immediately people began taking sides as I continued to tweet things alluding to my sexuality. Soon my Twitter page was being checked more than Instagram at school. Everyone wanted to know what I was going to do next. I continued the Ben Lewis Show with dirty karaoke performances that all the kids at my school saw, shocking tweets, crazy appearances on other people’s Snapchats, and delivering speeches at school functions full of dirty humor that made the students gasp and the teachers horrified. Over the course of the next few months, I snagged up awards, achievements, and had won over everyone’s vote on practically every single thing we voted on.
So the next year, I decided to change things up. Because I had displayed a level of over-the-top that no one even wanted to achieve, I was asked to write and star in a web series to promote the school library. The premise was simple: each “episode,” me and one of my friends were supposed to get into some sort of funny situation and in the end, help bring attention to the library. It seems like an incredibly nerdy thing to do, and truthfully that’s exactly why I did it. The ostentatious, dirty-mouthed, provocative guy that even the high schoolers thought was way too inappropriate was now the guy that kindergartners were running up to and hugging, saying “You’re the guy from the library show! I love you!” Teachers began to show it in classrooms, little kids became fans, everyone began to watch the videos, and everywhere I went people were talking about me – again. It was juvenile, and of course there were a couple people making fun of it, but I knew the reactions I would get. And if 1 person out of 25 disliked me or what I did, it meant that I had 24 other people advocating for me and promoting the hell out of what I created. I’ve always been aware of how people were going to react to what I put out in the world, and it helped make me the person I am.
At school, I eventually became less of a person and more of a concept. I was a political and social argument and everyone was taking sides on me. High school became a game of how much I could get people to talk about me, and I was playing it well. I still have a number of tricks and shocks up my sleeve, too.
I’m not trying to go on a narcissistic rant. What I’m doing is trying to make a point. I went from an awkward, antisocial guy to what was practically a celebrity at my high school. I’ve been unpopular and popular, and it all changed within a year. If you aren’t happy with where you are, or you feel left out, there’s always a way to put yourself out there. All you have to do is try. And there’s another point I’m trying to make here, too. There’s no need to be at the top of the totem pole. Once I get out of school, I might have made an imprint on the school and given people exciting things to talk about, but I didn’t profit off of it. It didn’t make me a better person. It gave me more opportunity, confidence, and definitely made me comfortable, but those are things I could have learned later on in life. It’s all so unnecessary, having a place to fit in during high school. It’s pointless. You can be the guy making everyone talk and laugh, or you can be the guy sitting alone at lunch with no one to talk to. And that’s ok. Because it’s freaking high school. Just make good grades and and get the hell out of there.
If you truly aren’t happy with where you are socially, there are things you can do. You don’t have to take things as they are all the time – you can take the initiative to change people’s opinions about you. I’m still not 100 percent happy with my life. But with all of the quality friends that I’ve made and all of the people who love me and can’t wait to see what I cook up next, I’m more than content with where I am.