As you might already know, there have been five gay teenagers who have committed suicide in the last three weeks. The most prominently reported is below:
As you know, I am bisexual. As I’ve discussed before, it was incredibly difficult for me to come to terms with this fact. I dealt with a lot of childish bullying at the time. A lot of people who, up until that point, had been my friends suddenly had a different view of me. They’ll say it was my attitude or that I somehow misrepresented myself or that I hurt their feelings in some way. I’m sure in some cases, those statements would be true. But I will also say that a lot of the bullying came from immaturity. It came from being scared of something you don’t know anything about. It came from people trying to make sense of something they don’t have experience with. It also, I’m sure, came from the sophomoric impulse to take someone else down a peg. (By the way, many people don’t grow out of this impulse.) I don’t have any ill will towards any of these people at all, we were all still learning.
Those were, however, some of the darkest days of my life. Any kid has a number of stressors on them: job, school, family, friends, identity. I had all of those problems and then some. But those problems don’t take a backseat when you are struggling with your sexuality. They are just as front and center as anyone else’s problems are combined with a crushing feeling of loneliness. If you have no one to talk to or to support you, I can see how that loneliness and “otherness” could translate into suicidal thoughts.
I’ve never seriously considered suicide. I’ve had moments where I’ve wanted everything to stop. I catch myself mumbling about wanting to kill myself all day long but that’s honestly my dramatic nature. If I were ever to have committed suicide though, it would surely have been during those days. I hope I never know that kind of low again in my life.
The only reason I have never considered suicide as an option is because a good friend of mine committed suicide when I was a teenager. She had good reason to be depressed but even then it struck me how almost silly it was. Here was a vivacious girl, life of the party, all the boys wanted to date her, all of the girls wanted to be her best friend. Least likely person to do such a thing if you didn’t know what she was up against in other areas of her life. And I didn’t know. Not until recently did I find out the actual circumstances of her life and subsequent death. Only recently have I been able to make peace with this loss.
So that makes me kind of lucky in a weird way. I’m not lucky to have lost my friend but to have learned the lesson. I’d give ten years or more off of my own life to give her hers back. I love her so much and it was devastating at the time to find out that she felt like there was nothing left for her in this world. She was fifteen.
Some of you also know that I have been intimately acquainted with two other suicides. Six years ago, me, Kristyn, my sister and her friend rented an apartment together. We were there for a month and just unpacked when Labor Day came around. We went out to a bar on Friday night and had some people over afterwards. In the morning, we were woken up to find paramedics, police and detectives all over the place. Our landlord had attempted to kill himself with carbon monoxide in the garage and then succeeded by slitting his wrists. He had a last minute change of heart but it was too late. He was 45.*
In 2008, we got a call from Kristyn’s Dad (who was our landlord at the time), to rush home. The tenant above us had not showed up to work and wasn’t answering the phone or his door. His family were afraid he’d hurt himself. They called the police and Kristyn gave them the spare key we had (in case anyone got locked out). He was found hanging by his belt. He was 32.*
I tell you these horrible stories because I am forced to think about them all the time. How senseless and unnecessary. How much hurt and confusion spreads from an event like that. Hurts everyone it touches. And I can’t even begin to imagine the pain you have to endure to make that decision. This is going to sound like a put-on but whenever it is a particularly nice day or something incredible happens, I think about how much they’re missing out on and how I’ll never do that to myself. If nothing else, their deaths have made me realize how precious my own is. And THAT is what drives me to want a better life for myself and the people around me.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that it gets so much better if you give life a chance. During my darkest days I could never have imagined my life as it is now. We are struggling right now with money but every day I still feel so lucky. I’m lucky to wake up. I’m lucky for my health, Kristyn, for being in LA (a lifelong dream come true), for my cats, my family, that I have good friends, that I have food, that I have shelter, that I have more cameras than exciting events to take pictures of, of being able to work in the entertainment industry with such consistently good people (another huge dream realized), that I have the ability to laugh at myself, that I know how to enjoy my life…the list goes on and on and on. He point is: It got SO much better.
Dan Savage is an out advice and sex columnist who, with his boyfriend Terry, decided to start something called the “It Gets Better Project”. The idea is for adults to make videos for teens about the bullying they’d endured, either because they are gay or considered different. The project is aimed at gay teens but can really be for anyone who has ever been bullied for any reason. They tell their stories of bullying, how it made them feel at the time and how/when their lives improved. Take a couple of minutes and watch their video, it’s sweet, funny and intelligent.
Also, Ellen DeGeneres made a video about the suicides that should also be watched because she knows firsthand what it is to be bullied for your sexual orientation:
As I have stated in the past, I believe that sexuality is like a ruler. You have straight people on one end, gay on the other and all the measurements in between. There are only two small ends to a ruler and a TON of middle. This means that most everyone’s sexuality falls somewhere in between those two extremes, whether or not you acknowledge it (or have the opportunity to *wink*). I know for a fact that many people (straight AND gay) struggle with this idea because people like to put comfortable labels on things. The point is that people have come to me with questions about my sexuality or their own, either out of curiosity or bc they’re struggling. If any of you reading this have anything you want to talk about, PLEASE email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (or at my regular email address or FB if you have it). Even contact me anonymously if you want to. Whether the questions are about me or about you (or a “friend”), I swear to God I will never repeat what you said to anyone and I will never, ever, ever judge you. As long as your questions about me don’t violate anyone else’s privacy, you will get a straight answer from me. I know how hard this can be. Just don’t EVER feel like suicide is an option. It will ALWAYS get better.
And with regards to “what other people think”, I have a few opinions and I’ll bullet point them:
* It is not an LGBTQ person’s duty to inform you of their LGBTQ status just as it is not your duty to inform them of your douchebag status (to clarify straight doesn’t = douchebag, douchebag = douchebag). If an LGBTQ person doesn’t tell you, they have their own reasons like anything in life.
* Many LGBTQ people are not out at work (like me typically). Again, everyone has their own reasons. In my case, I’ve seen Kristyn get discriminated at her last two jobs in NJ bc of it.
* Bigotry is alive and well. Read any of the articles about the teen suicides and you’ll see people defending the bullies in the comments section. (Which, in a way, is also appropriate bc these bullies are just kids too. I think of boneheaded things I’ve said and done as a kid and cringe. People grow up but these kids will do it in jail and one won’t grow up at all. Something needs to be done. They need to be appropriately punished for their hand in this kids’ death and we need stiffer penalties for online and in-person bullying.) Someone just commented on my sister’s FB page that they’re against hate crime legislation because it’s not fair that those crimes are treated more seriously than other crimes. Yes. He permanently wrote those words on the Internet. Idiot.
* I’ve personally heard people talking about how disgusting “faggots” and “dykes” are. They don’t know how ignorant they sound or how hurtful those words are.
So yeah. If you are worried about what other people think, just remember that there are a lot of asshats and idiots in the world who just don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t assume they know better (like I did). Just last week, a girl I was working with thoughtlessly said the word “faggot” in front of me and a gay guy. Later on that girl said to me, “Do you think that gay guy heard me say faggot?” I said, “No I don’t think he did.” But I did.
But also the point is that, just like everything else, people don’t know something until they know it. Practice as much tolerance as you want back. Don’t tolerate bullying but realize that everyone knows a gay person but some people don’t realize it. I like letting people meet me and know me for me before telling people that I’m gay. This way, even if someone is intolerant/scared, they now have a gay friend without realizing they’d made one. And people are much less scared by what they know and therefore much more understanding.
Also, family and friends come around. Everyone has intolerant people in their lives. You know what? That’s their own business. Don’t even discuss it with them then! Why start an argument over something you can’t change? Let them come to terms with their own lack of knowledge. Live your life well and let them do their own processing. People will tell you that it’s unfair of you to not “confess” but really, everyone just wants the latest scoop on a slow day. They’ll talk whether you do or not. Let them and do you. Don’t let anyone else fit you into their box.
And I do apologize for the heavy-handedness of this post. No. Actually, nevermind I don’t.
If you or someone you know is struggling with your sexuality and/or considering suicide, talk to your friends and family (or me, even if you do it anonymously!). If you are uncomfortable doing that, please go to:
The Trevor Project
They have useful info online as well as hotlines that you can call for help or just to talk.
It gets better. How do I know?
Ten years of experience.
* For anyone who read about the above-listed suicides when they actually happened, you will probably remember me varying between anger at the person and joking about it. I have an inherited Gallow’s Humor from my RN Mom and am quick to make a joke in a crazy situation like this. My whole family is like this. It’s laugh or cry right? That doesn’t mean I wasn’t sad for them or in general. Suicide is powerful and kind of settles on everyone in it’s periphery. It was and is sad and I wanted to clarify that for anyone who got the impression that I don’t take those events seriously. I have more to say on this subject but it’s bedtime, g’night!