I’ve struggled greatly with how and whether to write this. I’m still not entirely sure what to say. And I’m truly, if unrealistically concerned that somehow, this will be the post that I write that will be seen by more than the 6 or 8 people who usually read my blog and that somehow my words will be misconstrued as something more than they are.
By now we all know about the number of teens who have committed suicide recently after having been torturously bullied by their classmates for being, or being perceived to be, gay. Most of you are probably aware of the “It Gets Better” campaign and the numerous videos that have been made of people, some in a position to know, some not, telling the youth of this world that life gets better and that they have so much to look forward to and that if they’ll just stick it out until they graduate they can have the life they want, free from bullying and torment, free to live openly and proudly and freely as who or what they determine for themselves that they are.
To that I say, “Don’t bet on it!”
My story is about more than just being a gay kid. Hell, I didn’t even know I was a gay kid! Nevertheless, I was bullied and beaten and name-called; abused by my classmates with words I prefer not to use, even as an example. I didn’t know why they would call me that and I wondered what they thought they saw in me that I didn’t think I saw in myself that would prompt them to be so hurtful.
But it was more. I wasn’t just called names because they perceived me to be gay. I was tormented for many reasons. And when I went home after school into what was supposed to be a safe place of refuge, I was tormented for entirely different reasons in new and terrible ways. I was raised by a single mother. While she was at work, I was at home alone with my older siblings, a brother five years older and a sister three years older. My brother was abusive; he once broke my nose over the use of an alarm clock… MY alarm clock, that I bought, with MY own money. That was the worst, but he abused me often, physically and emotionally.
What my mother did was worse. In the case of all three of her children she “disciplined” us into submission so that long before hitting our teens, or even our “tweens” to use a modern term, there was no longer a need for “discipline.” So instead of physical abuse, I suffered emotional abuse; bullying of its own kind. I wanted to be close to her, she told me I was “in the way”. I wanted to talk to her, she turned up the volume on the television. I told her I was horribly depressed, she told me I wasn’t and “never say that again.” I told her I didn’t have any friends and I was miserable, she told me “Well that’s your problem, isn’t it?”
I was raised in the “Bible Belt” of America where there’s a church on every street corner and if you’re politics aren’t ultra-conservative, you’re a sinner who will burn in hell, or so I was led to believe. In the Bible Belt… where Christianity, acceptance and God’s perfect love abound, right?
I’d be lying if I said I never had feelings and urges I didn’t understand. If I said I never felt desires that I was ashamed of. I was embarrassed by my body and just plain scared of sexuality in general, fearful that I would cross some boundary into sinfulness; more fearful that I’d discover something about myself that I couldn’t handle.
When I was 12, I spent the night at a friend’s house and while he was using the bathroom, with the door open, he asked me if I was in puberty yet. He told me that he had a hair and then he wanted me to come see it. I didn’t want to because I would have to look at his penis to see it.
When I was 17, I was hopelessly in love with my best friend, I just didn’t know it then. I spent the night at his house one time, and more than once during that night, I wished something would “accidentally” happen before immediately catching myself and feeling ashamed, embarrassed to look him in the eye over something he didn’t even know.
My mother told me repeatedly throughout my life that being gay was a sin, it wasn’t something that I could accept about myself. And that belief was only reinforced every Sunday and Wednesday night at church. And do you think that bullying and hateful speech was limited to school? It wasn’t! I got it at church too. At church! Children and teenagers running around a very highly reputed, internationally respected institution yelling “F____t!” at the top of their lungs and aimed at one specific person. Me. Yeah, this was a safe and loving, welcoming environment.
In every circle of my life I was reminded almost daily that to be a Christian, to be acceptable in the eyes of God and man, I had to be straight. I had to grow up and fall in love, and get married (to a woman) and have 2.5 children with a dog and a white picket fence. I could never admit to anyone that I didn’t want any of that.
I was miserable every minute of every day. I wanted to be out of that situation at every turn. I went to bed every night and prayed I would wake up as someone else. I drifted off to sleep at night begging God to let me off the hook and take me in my sleep. I never cried; it wasn’t safe to do so. I still don’t cry.
And if I’m to be completely honest, I tried to kill myself, more than once. I was terrified of pain, and completely unsure of where I believed my soul would go if I killed myself so, no, I didn’t try very hard. I buried my face in my pillow and hoped I’d “accidentally” suffocate in my sleep. I don’t suppose I ever really believed it would work and maybe on some level deep down, I didn’t want it to, but I was sincere in my attempts nonetheless.
The one thing that kept me going, the one hope, the one belief that got me out of bed everyday and kept me moving in my life was that one day life would get better. I would move on from this place. I would live on my own, in my own place with my own feelings and beliefs and the real world of an adult would be a better place. I would be OK. I believed that because I had to believe something would change.
Twelve years ago, I moved to arguably the most liberal, inclusive, welcoming, accepting place in this country. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area ever since. I have worked the last eight and a half years for a company with a sterling reputation for diversity, inclusiveness, acceptance and equality. We rate 100% on the Human Rights Campaign’s Buying for Equality Guide which means we have full domestic partner benefits, nondiscrimination practices in hiring and, as a corporation, actively supports public equality. And still “we” are not perfect.
Despite the community in which I live, this is still a nation of in-equality. We are still a discriminating people. Our institutions still bully. Though things are still in a state of flux, as of this moment, I can not get married. Even if I could, I couldn’t reap the federal financial benefits of being married. Up until a week ago, I could serve in the armed forces if I wanted, but I couldn’t tell anybody the truth about myself while I did it. My status as a homosexual man isn’t recognized as a protected minority even though, statistically, the proof is irrefutable, and as such I am not entitled to the protections afforded to minority populations. You can call it what you like; I call it bullying.
Oh sure, some of the circumstances have changed, but many of them have not. I still don’t feel safe to reveal myself to the people around me. I still don’t have the confidence to be open and free in the world I live. Every day there are stories in the news of discrimination in the world.
It’s not fair to say that I’m in this place because I’m gay. And it’s not fair to say that gay teenagers today have everything in their favor except that they happen to be gay. My story is not unique.
So when I hear these messages, telling kids “It Gets Better“, I have to ask: Does it? Really?
I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. I know it’s not suicide!
I also know it’s not false hope and unreliable promises of a better tomorrow.