Saturday, October 2, 2010
It Gets Better...My Love Letter To Anyone Coming out
September has been a month of tragedies. It seems that each passing day brought another report of a young man who had taken his own life because of bullying and the homophobic actions of others. To me, this month has felt like one long funeral. Among those we lost were:
Justin Aaberg- 15 years old...Anoka, Minnesota
Billy Lucas- 15 years old...Greensburg, Indiana
Asher Brown- 13 years old...Harris, Texas
Seth Walsh- 13 years old...Tehachapi, California
Tyler Clementi- 18 years old...Ridgewood, New Jersey
Raymond Chase- 19 years old...Providence, Rhode Island
Even though this may seem like alot to some, what I can't help but think when I see this list is how many more gay teens committed suicide who we may never hear about...perhaps because they didn't want anyone to know or because their families hid the information. There's always a reason. Only one thing is for sure...the young men above are the short list of those who fell to Loneliness and the intimidation of others.
In response to the wave of deaths and hoping to foster the survival of gay teens, Dan Savage and his partner began the awesome "It Gets Better Project", a Youtube page in which those of us who made it past those years of loneliness and isolation share how our lives have changed....that it does get better in just a couple of short years. To date, the project has collected nearly 120 testimonies...including Jays and mine.
I left the experience of making that video feeling like I had so much more to say. So, I'm writing today's post as a letter to gay teens who are feeling that suicide is the only way to end that sense of shame and isolation....also to those of us coming out later in life...and also to my 18 year old self. Please read on...
Dear hurting soul,
You don't know me....but I know you. I may not know your name, or where you live, or what your favorite color is...but I know you. That's because I have been you. I know that you have been suffering in silence and alone for so long that you don't believe that anyone could possibly understand the way you feel...but I promise you from the bottom of my heart that, that is not true.
You might be staring at the stars over your home and wondering why God made you this way. You may be sitting in the dark, as I used to do, and blaming it all on the devil and wondering why your not strong enough to fight off the temptation....trust me you haven't failed anyone.Maybe your cheeks are burning with shame as you try to ignore the guys sitting behind you in class who are laughing..you can feel everyones eyes and know its at you. You hear them say fag, queer, dyke, homo and wonder if they know about you or if they got lucky. No matter which...every time seems to remind you that you don't belong. So you bury it down inside...but there's so much of it in there now that it threatens to drown you.
You hear the pastor on Sunday talk about how homosexuals are sinners who have turned their back on God and instead chosen a life of sexual perversion...that they have no place in heaven...and you silently die inside as you ask yourself, "Is that me? It can't be me. It's impossible. I will not let it be me..."
Your Dad makes comments about how all c*cksuckers and queers should die and that he'll never let his kids become one. Your mom shakes her head and says she's sorry for those sick sad people who have chosen to live that way...she goes on about her coworker who is alone and alcoholic and that she suspects he has AIDs...and then you know...you will never be able to tell them about you and you die a little bit more. "Mom and Dad I love you...but I can never tell you about this because I know you will not understand how hard I fought it...how hard I wished to be different...and how it never changed. You are too important to me to lose....so I will continue to hide it."
Most of us can remember what it feels like to know that your different and to be utterly alone with that knowledge. We remember what it was like to see others falling in love, holding hands, kissing. In the hallways at school, on the walk home from school, behind the bleachers, seeing the pictures of the "power couples" in the year book and wondering when It will be my turn. "Who can I love that will love me back like that?" Maybe that friend you secretly love...but can never tell because you don't know if he/she is gay and telling them is just too much risk. So you date someone of the opposite sex...because that's what your supposed to do...and you hide the truth...from your family, from your friends, and sometimes...your self.
Perhaps you are lucky enough to admit to yourself that you are gay. Though I know taking that great leap does not mean that you can share that with anybody. Maybe you can tell a friend...or one of your parents...but that does not take away from the soul scouring loneliness you live with everyday at school and elsewhere, as you live with the knowledge that telling others about yourself could mean total rejection and possibly violence. That no place will be safe for you.
I lived most of the examples I wrote above. As did many of us who grew up gay and made it into adulthood. We can remember with ease the burn of shame from each taunt. We can remember the pain of loneliness that promised to never go away...it did. We can remember waking up to the knowledge that we were different from everyone in our family and all of our friends and how it was like a knife twisting in our gut everyday. Those are feelings and times that so many of us have had to come through that we will never forget them.
We made the plans...found the pills...made a few cuts...wrote the notes...stood on the edge of countless bridges, knowing to the core of our souls that dying was the only way out....it was not. Some of us carried through with our decisions only to fail...others stayed the act because something in side us said "maybe tomorrow..but not yet". Without surviving those dark times, we would not know what we do today...
We would not know what our love looks like as she's sleeping. We would not know we would one day be a husband to someone we can not imagine life without. We would not know how much that one kiss can feel like taking your first breath. We would not know how the sun could shine in our daughters and sons eyes. We would not know how much these people would need us...and us them. How beautiful the world can look when we are not in pain....and how many adventures we were going to have because the road seems so long getting to those times.
All you have to do to get there...is show up.
The jocks at the back of the class who call you a fag? They leave high school and quickly figure out that they are not the top of the food chain anymore. The mean girls who made your life a living hell because she thought she owned the world?...the same for her. I remember seeing those people again many years after I left high school....the jocks had gotten fat...the pretty girls had faded into the crowd of pregnant moms. and I realized in those moments that we were all the same.
I won't kid you...life will hold lots of amazing moments for you...but it will also kick you in the teeth too. It wont be easy and some days it may be a fight. You will find love..and maybe lose it a few times. You will fight through that feeling of being alone against the world many more times...and the world knows how to make you hurt.
but in the end...for all the scars...all the lines of care you will get on your face...each gray hair...you will have soooo many moments and memories that you will treasure. And for myself...as much pain as I have experienced...and as much as I had at times wished that I was someone else, or that I could go back in time and change things...I don't wish those things anymore. I know that without them I could not be here...and here is a pretty good place to be. I used to wish I was blonde haired and blue eyed like the guy everyone loved in my fifth grade class....or that everyone would live me if I could dance. I used to wish I could get back to a day before everything in my life went wrong. Sometimes I still feel that pull...but I could never give up the love of my husband and children for that. I realise now that all the stuff I have gone through has brought me to them and I will not trade that for anything.
all I had to do was show up. Keep getting out of bed everyday. Keep being just who I was. Life took care of the rest.
So if you are feeling that you are alone, that no one will understand the torment that you live with day in and day out...that you will lose everyone you love if your secret is known..that you are suffering the bullying of others because you are out...or merely suspected of being gay...please know that you are not alone. So many of us have walked this road and we are waiting on the other side for you to get here. Your life will change too...sometimes suddenly...other days, only by degrees...sometimes so strangely that you will wonder at lifes strange sense of humor...but it will change and often in amazing ways....and all you have to do is...show up.
From all of us who have been there,
and me --->Bryan