Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hate: If You Give a Gay a Gun...

Signing online this morning, I was hit with not one but two blows on the GLBT front. Yesterday I read the story of a gay college student who was secretly filmed by his roommate while having a sexual encounter, then the roommate broadcast the video online. The roommate and an accomplice were charged with invasion of privacy for filming without consent and broadcasting the content. Today it was confirmed that as a result of this incident, the student, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide. As shocking and as horrifying as this story is, I was dismayed, but not thrown into despair. However, the second blow came when I signed onto Huffington Post and found that a 13 year old, Seth Walsh, had died nine days after hanging himself from a tree in what soon became a successful suicide attempt. He too killed himself due to being excessively taunted for his homosexuality. This was the moment the tears blurred my vision.

The pain of taunting and fears of being rejected is nothing new to me, and high school was one of the most difficult times of my life. I achieved a vague understanding of my sexuality when I was 14, but still believed I was attracted to men to some extent, either because I truly didn't know or because I was clinging to some semblance of normalcy. I even forced myself to hang posters of the latest teen heartthrobs on my walls because I knew it was the normal thing to do, whether I liked them or not. To this day I still don't see why JTT was so cute to everyone else.

In a house where homosexuality was not accepted, because "God hates gays" and I was "going to Hell", I thought I could be myself a little more at school. Though I wasn't a total dyke, I had pictures of attractive women on folders and maybe a few in bikinis inside, and those few classmates who were more intuitive figured it out, proceeding to make my life hell. A girl who came to the conclusion that I liked her constantly whispered and pointed me out to friends every time our paths crossed, an encounter always followed by disgusted looks and cruel laughter. A classmate once leaned across the aisle and whispered homophobic insults into my ear, forcing me to jump up from my desk and leave the classroom, running to a favorite teacher's room and I broke down crying on her desk. I even had a teacher who, having seen a bikini photo in my binder, informed my mother on Parent Teacher Conference night that I had inappropriate pictures of women in my folder that needed to be removed; a curve ball I had never seen coming, a complaint that was never brought to my attention beforehand. The evening concluded with an angry and embarrassed rant from my mother, driving me to tears, and souring our already bitter relationship even more.

My issues with my sexuality were just a few of many stemming from my childhood and current situation, but I know it was one of the issues in the front of my mind when I swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills one night at the age of 15. The despair of never feeling normal, never feeling right, and never being accepted tore through me. When so many other things set me apart from my peers, why did I have to be gay too? Luckily, I became ill and vomited most of the pills up, the rest just made me sleepy as I stumbled back into Hell the next morning for classes. But the taunting didn't stop, and it didn't stop at me.

I witnessed one of my friends, still very much in denial but obvious to everyone else, being repeatedly gay-bashed, beaten with hockey sticks in PE and called names. My heart broke when he was humiliated in front of the class as the same teacher who outed me to my mother on conference night told him to "stop dancing like a stupid little gay man" during one of his more cheerful moments. Others were smarter, more discreet. It wasn't until after high school, thanks to Facebook and MySpace, when you found out who was truly gay, because everyone else knew coming out in that environment could drive you to your death.

My senior year, I began the tentative process of coming out to friends and a few family members that I thought would be supportive. The reactions were mixed. Writing letters because I was fearful of facing the rejection head on, some were surprisingly supportive, even getting angry at my assumption that my sexuality would change anything between us. Others were hostile and refused to speak to me again. Many said they would pray for me, as though I had some horrible disease only divine intervention could resolve. Being that I was so close to leaving high school, I wasn't so concerned about losing some friends, but still hurt by the ones who left, wondering if I should have said anything at all, if I should have waited a few more years for maturity to set in (two weeks ago, I ran into the girl who had mocked me to her friends; she hugged me and chatted me up like an old friend).

But there's nothing that says coming out after high school is coming out safely. Obviously, as demonstrated by Tyler, college isn't safe either, nor is anything after that. Many I've known have lost jobs, lost friends, been asked to leave their churches, been asked to leave their personal lives out of the office, and worst of all, lost family over their sexuality. I still don't come out to people until I gauge their viewpoints on homosexuality (the Prop 8 issue makes this a lot easier). I still haven't come out to many family members for fear of rejection (though I'm aware of the risk of writing this online, I kind of want to just get it over with). And, in working at a therapeutic treatment facility with predominantly Christian people who don't hide their devotion to their faith, I live with the fear of being found out, not knowing what their reactions would be or if I would be asked to leave (this anxiety has especially increased since I accidentally sent a link of this blog to one of my co-workers, praying she didn't see it).

The anti-gay plague affecting today's youth is growing stronger. Despite my earlier blog that today's generation is more open-minded, there are still many who are tainted by their parents, tainted by their religions, who are raised to be hateful, teachings that they can't rise above, as evidenced by the four** GLBT suicides this month. Even in death, anti-gay comments have been left on Tyler's memorial pages. And our government is not helping issues. While some states have taken the positive steps to validate the existence of the GLBT community in legalizing marriage and gay adoption, many other states are fighting marriage, Congress can't agree on DADT and continue to fail with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. What are we showing our kids? As my favorite lesbian blogger, Ms. Snarker tweeted, "when a government says it's OK to discriminate, youth thinks it's OK to hate".

These tragedies need to stop. This hate needs to stop. There's no reason for 13 yr olds to be hanging themselves, no reason for people to have to choose between living in fear or living a lie. To those hurting now, I can say from experience, it gets better. It's not perfect, but you can choose to live the life you're given and find the light through the darkness, or you can bury yourself in it. I was given a second chance and I'm grateful for it every single day. I still face rejection, I still face loss, but I still have enough love in my life to get me through. I hope you can find it too.

Much love and thanks to the family and friends who never left.

If you or someone you know is struggling with homosexuality, there is hope. Visit: It Gets Better on YouTube, or call 1-866-4-U-Trevor for a suicide hotline at The Trevor Project.

**UPDATE: The day after the publication of this blog, a fifth GLBT college student, Raymond Chase committed suicide...condolences, thoughts, prayers, love to the families of all the victims.


E. B. Klassen said...

Hi! Found your post through the video on the It Gets Better Project channel--loved the video, BTW. Strong, focused, clear message. Very well done.
Your post was more of the same; a great piece of writing that brought me to the edge of tears.
As a father, the acceptance of this kind of bullying is beyond me. I never figured out how to stop it at my kid's schools (nor did the administrators; the kids knew what they were supposed to do for conflict resolution on the school grounds, but the minute they were off the school grounds, old-school violence and bullying took over), but not knowing how, or being able to, change it, did not make it acceptable. Instead, we surrounded our kids with intelligent people who liked them and were also artists, actors, writers, gay, straight, celibate, tribadists, and so on. Thankfully, they both seemed to understand that It Gets Better.
I've seen some incredible journeys over the last thirty years--like an uncle who couldn't acknowledge that his brother was gay ten years ago standing up as his brother's best man three years ago when his brother married his long-time partner. So it's difficult to despair. When I see Fred Phelps and his lunatic Westboro congregation, I know that his son found a safe and welcoming home up here in Canada, and that makes me happy. So I always encourage gay people, smart people, progressives, and the like to consider a trip North. Because the more of Us there are, the harder it is for hate to become entrenched.
Stay strong. Know that you are loved and supported even by random strangers (even some crazy guy living out on the west coast of Canada). The world isn't all hate, and it can change.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm kind of Christian agnostic (it's possible)and my family is 'strongly' christian. I've been having questions about my sexual orientation and I thought it was bad to be bisexual. However, I go to a Christian school and my Vocations 12 teacher (a deacon) taught us that it's okay to be homosexual or bisexual. It's just who you are and God made you that way. he only thing the Bible teaches against is gay intercourse. Other than that, it's okay. Nice article. To Write Love On Her Arms ( a good site to check out. :)