The media has recently focused a great deal of energy on the issue of LGBT youth suicide. To be honest, I am not sure why. That isn’t to say that I don’t think the problem isn’t both enormous and heart-rending, because I do (see: “Our Kids Are Dying”- Barking Shaman 9/29/10). However, according to The Trevor Project, suicide completions are not notably up in our community, the media has just suddenly taken notice.
One response, and a response that I support, is Dan Savage’s “It Get’s Better Project.” Not a solution, or even a band-aid, his project ideally brings a small bit of hope to folk who don’t have any. But that hope is generally tempered with the reality that for kids already in crisis, their situation will remain poor until they can get out of their home and school environments and start a new life. This misses out on an essential point in my opinion:
It’s already better. Not for everyone I’ll be the first to admit, and I think we’re working on that, but things are changing.
I came out as gay (I now identify as “queer”) at fourteen in 1994; I had been attracted to boys my whole life. The following was my “coming out” conversation “Mom, what would you say if I told you I was gay?” To which she replied “Are you?” I said “Yes,” she hugged me, a little misty eyed, and told me she loved me and didn’t care who I brought home as long as they were Jewish. When I left my milk religion several years later it was far more tumultuous than when I came out as queer, which, as you can see, wasn’t really tumultuous at all.
I am thirty now, and my experiences coming out and growing up in my queer identity have been quite different than those of someone who is forty or fifty.
I recently went on a date with a twenty year old, born ten years to the day after me. When I asked him what it was like being out as gay in rural New Hampshire he replied “Well it was hard in elementary school because I was the only out gay kid so I felt pretty alone, but by middle and high school it was fine.”
At that moment I realized that his experience was, in its way, as different from mine as mine was from the generation before me. He had never known a time when the Plague stalked our community bringing swift and brutal death (I was too young to be an active part of the community, but I certainly remember), he’d always had out queer people on television, and for him it was a given that by the time he’d ready to be married he would have the right to do so (in my opinion a naïve view). I don’t think he has ever known anyone who has been disowned by their family for being LGBT.
I am not trying to say for a moment that people in our community, are not suffering. Especially our children, the most vulnerable and hardest for us to reach. But let us not loose sight of how damn far we’ve come and how steady our progress continues to be.
Every few months the LGBT, or sometimes the mainstream media, runs a story about a parent who beats a young child to try to make him “straighter” or more “manly.” This is tragic and as a culture we need to have a discussion around the issue. But that discussion is incomplete without the other side. Let me tell you about one of my favorite childhood memories:
When I was ten years old, my parents picked me up from religious school one Saturday morning and drove us into Boston. I don’t remember the reason they gave, other than that it was ill defined and I didn’t care because I had MegaMan on my Gameboy. As we rounded the corner to Tremont St. my mother pointed out the sign for the Wang Theater which had a prominent sign advertising that the touring production of “A Chorus Line” was currently playing there. I was a little slow on the uptake, and my dad had to spell out that that was where we were going, at which point by all accounts I went crazy in a ten-year-old sort of way.
“Chorus Line” was my whole life at ten, I danced around the house to it, sang along to the tape until I wore it out and had to buy another copy, and I’ll freely admit, a good bit of it went over my head. Seeing the show was a highlight of my childhood.
For every story of a parent beating their non-conforming child to death, where are the stories of parents surprising their non-conforming kids with third row seats to the show of their dreams?
As we move forward in the discussion around how to make things better for people who are struggling on our community, it is vital that we not loose sight of how much progress we have made, of how much better things already are.