To all the people feeling shock and anger over the five suicides by bullied gay youth, I ask, “What took you so long?”
I also wonder where you have been. You’ve been thinking about other things. The media hasn’t reported on suicides like this before, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been happening. Talk to a well-adjusted adult gay person and you’re probably talking to someone who, at some point in their adolescence, considered suicide. Perhaps he or she didn’t act on the thoughts. Perhaps he or she made attempts, gestures, warnings. Perhaps he or she had close friends, trusted family members in whom he or she could confide these thoughts, fears, feelings. Likely not.
It seems like it should have been more likely in another decade. In the 1960s, when gay people appeared in a film, they experienced only torture and anguish until they, too, took their own lives. This didn’t really change until Making Love appeared in the early 80s. But by then we had HIV/AIDS and everyone had new reasons to hate gay people, to want them quarantined in camps or simply exterminated.
Even as a (fairly) well-adjusted adult, it’s unnerving to sit in my living room, zip onto the Internet, and encounter major news outlets engaging in debate over whether or not I deserve the same rights and privileges as people who are otherwise just like me.
Once, when I was about 13, my dad told a really offensive gay joke at dinner. A debate ensued in which he claimed homosexuality was wrong and that it said so in the Bible. I had never before seen my dad even glance at a religious text, much less read the Bible. And even then I knew that something about me was different. I let that night convince me that difference was wrong. Years later, my father would no longer resemble that man at dinner. He has blossomed into an amazing parent of a gay child.
Only because I afforded him that opportunity. Which I nearly didn’t.
Now that I’ve reconnected with 90% of my high school on Facebook, I realize that the majority of people who knew me then have no idea the impact the constant bullying and teasing I suffered had on me. In fact, probably no one knew.
I spent my entire freshman year of high school looking for a place where people wouldn’t find me. Every day when I sat in band, the kids behind me taunted me and taunted me to no end. I used to pray they would skip class. I used to pray no one else would point out it was happening. I had to ensure–every single day–that I was never alone, because as soon as I was cut off from everyone else, they would descend upon me and I knew I would be pushed deeper and deeper into hating myself. It was like being the captain of the Titanic, running around, trying to convince everyone else a disaster was certainly not afoot.
For a long time I resented everyone I grew up with. But I realized, after quite a long time, that nobody really knew the impact they were having on me. They were all going through their own shit, probably hoping nobody was seeing them suffer. I don’t know what they were going through because I was hiding amid my own fear and shame.
Ask yourself now how many teenage suicides might be linked to this problem. Last month, more than five teenagers killed themselves because they were afraid they were gay or, worse, afraid someone would find out. America is doing this to its own children. And while the majority of Americans–I’m looking at you 50 Cent and Andrew Shervill–who hate gay people really only hate gay adults, we certainly can’t bring ourselves to hate our gay children.
The funny thing is, you can’t get to being me until you’ve been him.