It Gets Better.
That's what we tell gay kids these days. After nine suicides by gay teenagers who were relentlessly bullied in school, people started to talk about bullying. Specifically, being bullied because you are "different" (what they really mean is, being gay or lesbian or transgendered). This has spawned everything from Ellen Degeneres tearfully giving a plea for tolerance, to Dan Savage launching his web site, "It Gets Better Project".
I'm not putting any of this down, but I think it's time to have a dose of brutal honesty about this problem. I introduce another dead gay teenager...
This was Eric James Borges. He was only 19 years old. In his words, "I was physically, mentally, emotionally and verbally assaulted on a day-to-day basis for my perceived sexual orientation. I was stalked, spit on, ostracized and physically assaulted."
Yet, he made videos about how it gets better, and to hold on to hope because in a few years your life will get better. All of this after the bullying, being kicked out of his home by his Christian parents last September, and an exorcism that his mother attempted. Even after all of this, he said,
I'm giving you this condensed history of my background to tell you this: it gets better. Now, I am a supplemental instructor of sexuality, a freelance guest speaker, a published writer and I work for the Trevor Project, the world's largest organization focused on suicide and crisis prevention among LGBTQ youth. I have met and befriended the most incredible and authentic people since I've come out.
There's a bigger issue involved here. The fact of the matter is, it doesn't really get better. It gets different. After high school, the bullying usually does stop. It did for me. But then, other things come in to take its place. As you enter the work force, you can be faced with all kinds of new problems. Is your new boss homophobic? How about your coworkers? How about your workplace in general? For that matter, what about the state you are living in? Does the state have a law on the books preventing that employer for firing you merely on the grounds of being gay? Many states allow this. On a personal level, I can't tell you over the years how many homophobic jokes I've heard in the workplace, and I've been with the same company for 24 years. Hell, I was even blackmailed once. The latest one occurred eight months ago when a gay joke was stated right in front of me. I sat, listened, and said nothing. Why bother? It's a battle I will not win. And, if I make trouble, there's other ways to get rid of people at work. I'll play their game.
People wonder why I'm always harping on gay marriage. It's actually not marriage per se that I'm interested in. It's the denial of marriage that puts us in a state of separation. It is a vehicle for the likes of Rick Santorum to spread the concept that they (the queers) aren't like us (regular Christian folks). Putting us in a separate category is the impetus of practically every bad thing that has happened to us. Even before marriage equality caught on, we were separate. You find out that someone was gay say in the 60's or 70's, and they were instantly a "queer" (other terms apply). Today, in more and more places, it's not so cool to call people those names, at least in public, outside of school. This has happened over time, and today, marriage is the last hope that people like Eric Borges has at being part of the larger community of mankind.
Last night, I watched the new episode of Bill Maher. As a guest, he interview Herman Cain. Cain is no friend to gay rights, but I did find something he said quite compelling. He said in essence, that what is tearing America apart is the use of labels. He said that you can be physically free of slavery, but mentally, you can be a slave of the labels that are put upon you. I doubt that he would apply that principle to gay people (we deserve it after all), but I think his concept is solid.
Perhaps Eric Borges could see what life would be like, and simply didn't like what he saw. There was certainly a time that I was right with him on his decision. I chose to live, but it still goes on. Everyday at work, I still wonder what people think of me. And the only reason they are silent is because they are so down about the economy that they don't know what their own future will be. I've grown used to it, and, I've accepted that this is what life as a gay man is, at this point in time. I have been able to marry the love of my life, and I'm very thankful for that, but outside of my life in the real world, it hasn't changed anything. We stay in Connecticut because our marriage is valid here. We still don't have full equality, and couples in other states can't even get married.
It's all about labels and the bucket that you are put into. Until we get rid of these buckets and labels, there will be many more suicides as young people come to realize what they are up against, and there's very little they can do about it.
I wish I could say "it gets better". The best I can say is that if you surround yourself with real friends, you can hold on to life, and it's not that bad. I've tried to do just that.