Justin Torres: my parents put me in a mental institution | The Long Good Read


They took me to a special emergency room for mental cases. The waiting area was typically inhumane, drenched in fluorescence, with fibreglass chairs bolted to the floor. A hardened soul behind a double glass window passed intake forms through a slot to my mother. My father and brother flanked me like a couple of goons, making sure I would not bolt. We sat, four of us in a pathetic row.

Yes, I had been depressed. Seriously depressed. Not surprisingly, at 17, I did not want to be a faggot. This was the late 90s in a very rural, very conservative part of New York state, five hours and many cultural decades from New York City. Two fags had come out in my high school and both had been hounded, tormented, beaten, until they dropped out. Everyone watched this with participatory glee or resigned disgust, but there was no righteous indignation. Least of all from me. I knew those boys, and if not for pervasive, scalding shame, I could have loved them. But I kept my distance. I wrote sickly, sad stories; I drew, painted and sculpted emaciated figures, boys and girls crucified, covering up bloody genitals, pregnant, cut. The hip and compassionate high-school art teacher, fluent in teenage angst, encouraged these hacky attempts at art, told me I radiated artistic spirit. He made a show of my work in a glass case in the school hallway. Outraged staff complained and forced me to cover up nipples and crotches and certain offending words with strips of black paper, and teachers I had never spoken to before pulled me aside in the hallway and let me know that my work was trash, that I was immoral, and that I ought to be ashamed.

They needn’t have worried.



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