Tuesday, October 5, 2010

You Don't Have to Die

I read about the suicides this week of Tyler Clementi and Asher Brown in the SF Chronicle, but it took the Larry King Live show this week with Wanda Sykes, Kathy Griffin and Tim Gunn, for me to realize that there had actually been five altogether within a week.

Anytime I hear of a teen suicide, for whatever reason, something inside me rips a little. A girl who thinks she's too fat, or a boy who didn't make the baseball team, takes the final step to end their suffering and never has the chance to experience what could have been.

When I hear about a child who takes his or her own life because they thought that they could not face living as a queer youth, the rip is more like a shred.

Hearing about five similar stories in a short amount of time is beyond painful. Paying attention to each individual story is just too much to bear.

The sad truth however is that although we are fortunate to have a heightened awareness that lgbtq youth still suffer and are more likely to take their own lives because of it, there are thousands more stories that did not make the paper or the media and the real reasons behind the suicide were never explored.

When I was 13, I knew that I found other boys attractive.

One day as a hormone-driven early teen, while looking up any topic that related to sex in the family Encyclopedia Britannica, I found the word "homosexual" and my mind virtually exploded. As I carefully read the words explaining the term, it so deeply resonated that I literally shook. Before that moment, I had no idea that there was a word to describe what I felt.

More importantly though, in that instant, I knew there must be others like me out there.

I did, however, know that I had to hide this reality and that everyone in my little world at the time would view me as horrible and disgusting if they knew. How I knew this, I have no idea since I have no memory of any discussions about gay people prior to that moment.

So, I did what I could to hide this emerging part of me by acting like people wanted me to act. I pretended I liked girls. I attended the fundamentalist church of my parents and I said nothing to anyone. I prayed to God to take these feelings away and to make me "normal". I called my gay self "disgusting" and told him to "shut up" and I was afraid and lonely and frustrated.

Back then, there was no internet. There were no books about it in our local libraries. There were no TV characters or role models.

At 17, I met someone older who told me he loved me.

I fell fast and hard, and I finally understood what my straight friends were talking about when they talked about romance and tingling naughty parts and fireworks.

And then, my parents found out.

After four years of suppressing and hiding and emotionally self-mulitating, I could not hide it any longer so I admitted to them how I felt.

They were not happy. In fact, they were livid. They said things that parents should never say to a child. I remember them like they happened yesterday.

In small fundamentalist Southern towns in the late 1970's, gay people were not welcome. What I had been able to find out about homosexuals at the time was not good. They were mentally ill to many people and sinners to the others. For rednecks, they made good punching bags. For scientists, candidates for "treatment."

For months, my super-religious parents made my life hell. They took away my freedom, removing my driving and phone privileges and blasting me with Bible verses. Anita Bryant, anti-gay crusader of the moment, was on TV regularly, and my mother often turned up the volume loud enough for me to hear every hate-filled word. At breakfast, she would leave readings from her right wing religious propaganda on my plate for me to find when I arrived at the table.

I had no place to go, no one to talk to, and no other options, so I spent many hours locked in my room, so angry and lonely that I begged Jesus to take my life.

After several months, my parents arrived at a possible solution and I was given three choices, namely, to begin meeting with the fundamentalist preacher at the church, to see a mental health professional or to get out of their house.

Because I knew that praying had not been the answer thus far, and I had no resources with which to support myself if I left, I chose the shrink, who after two evaluation sessions, ended up telling my parents that I seemed to be a perfectly well-adjusted gay person. He went on to tell them that if they were having trouble accepting me, they should consider coming in for some sessions.

In the flash of that instant, my life changed.

For the first time in my life, an adult in a position of authority told me that I was ok and that society was the problem.

It was a moment that I will never forget.

Since then, I have spent much of my time trying to live authentically and sorting out the messages in our society that makes sense and those that are based on fear, hatred and evil.

I have learned that being gay does not make you unworthy of love.

Being gay is a normal part of life.

You love better when you love honestly.

The bad times will pass.

There are more of us out there who will understand you and love you and support you.

Do NOT listen to the hate messages from your family, your religious institution or your government. They are wrong and sad and corrupt.

Choose to live and be strong.

You have a choice and you have options.

There will be a day when you look back and be grateful that you survived. I never thought this day would come, but it did and now I am truly free and happy. You can be too.

If you think you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans, and you are alone and afraid, take the first step by calling the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.

There's a whole lot of love out there waiting for you.

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