Reach Out to Gay Teens

It all started when Chris didn’t go out for the football team.

Chris, now 42, grew up in northern Michigan and had no idea his decision not to do battle on the gridiron would be the start of the biggest fight of his life. Because from that day on, all the other kids in school called him a faggot and made his life a living hell via daily emotional, physical and verbal abuse. And after a couple of years of being called a homo, Chris eventually realized his tormentors were right. He was gay.

Coming out of the closet can be a life-changing, liberating moment for many gay teens. But only under the right circumstances and with a solid support system in place.

Chris didn’t have that. His family snubbed him and the final straw was when all of his co-workers told him they hated him because he was gay. So after years of bullying because of his sexual orientation combined with everyone in his life turning their backs on him just for being gay, Chris decided he didn’t want to live anymore and swallowed six bottles of pills.

Luckily, Chris lived. But others have not been so lucky.

Chris was one of 200 people on Saturday night who attended a candlelight vigil in Provincetown. The event was put together to remember the five gay teens from across the country who committed suicide last month because of bullying.

As a reporter it’s my job to observe. To describe what I see and accurately convey that to the reader. But what I witnessed was pain the likes of which I can’t possibly fathom. Their faces, reflected in the flickering candlelight, were contorted not only with the horror of kids committing suicide but no doubt many of them were reliving their own childhood traumas as well.

As a white, straight middle class kid from the suburbs I realize I have no way to truly understand what gay teens must go through. But think about it:

Maybe you’re in a small school in a small town in a part of the country where small minds simply don’t grasp the concept of diversity and acceptance. And you’re different. You’re gay. Now you’re called a faggot every single day. People constantly make fun of you and tease you. They make jokes about being a cocksucker and how you take it in the ass. The occasional physical beatings you endure are actually a welcome reprieve from the mental and emotional anguish.

You have no friends because no one wants to associate with a fag, and anyone who does stick up for you will probably be beaten and bullied as well. Your family, the people who should love you no matter what, have turned their backs on you as well. You are alone. Totally and hopelessly alone. And eventually your situation becomes too bleak to keep going, and without a light at the end of the tunnel you make a split decision to end it all. Because death can’t possibly be worse than hell on Earth.

Most of the 200 people at the vigil, the vast majority of whom were gay, knew that pain. Some of them cried uncontrollably. Others held each other and did their best to provide comfort. Most of the people I talked to said there isn’t much advice they can give to gay teens who don’t have any support, except to hang on.

Can you imagine?  Hang on and gut out the next few years. I’m not sure if I could take a month of that, nevermind years. Years of isolation, bullying, discrimination and abuse all because someone is gay. Not because they’re a bad person or because they’ve done anything wrong mind you, but just because they’re different.

I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, for gay marriage or against it. That’s not what this is about. This is about human decency. It’s about civility and tolerance. It’s about respecting people enough to just leave them the fuck alone if you disagree with their lifestyle, which is none of your damn business anyway. If you’re against gays no one will change your mind about that, but at the very least practice some compassion. Leave these confused, scared teenagers the hell alone so they can figure things out. And please stop torturing them to the point that they’re killing themselves. It’s the most unnecessary waste of life I can imagine.

Now before anyone goes accusing me of being on a high horse, I will admit that I’m not entirely innocent here. I use the term faggot when I’m around friends (including gay friends but it’s used in a joking manner) and sometimes I describe things as being “gay” when I’m giving something a negative connotation. The fact that I don’t mean these things as a slur doesn’t change the fact that that’s what they are. It’s something I’m working on but far from mastering.

And as a father I have preconceived notions of what Will is going to be like when he gets older. I fully admit I envision him having girlfriends and eventually marrying a woman. I think about one day giving him girl advice and talking about chicks we find attractive. Never in my hypothetical situations have I pictured him bringing his life partner Blaine home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and watching them hold hands and kiss.

Like most parents, I’ve wondered how I’ll handle it if Will comes to me one day and tells me that he’s gay. I’d like to say my response would automatically be positive. I should be able tell you with absolute certainty that I would say “I don’t care son. As long as you’re happy and true to yourself that’s all I care about.” But there was always lingering doubt for me because it would be such a shock and so contrary to what I envisioned for him.

But not anymore.

After reading the news accounts of these gay teenagers and seeing first-hand what happens when people aren’t supportive, I can say without a shadow of a doubt I would be in his corner. I will hug him, kiss him and tell him that I love him no matter what and I’ll have his back at all costs. Anything less than that would mean falling short of being a real father. Of being a good person.

I think of the parents who weren’t supportive, and as a result, may have contributed to their kid’s suicide. And I want to ask them which is worse: having a gay kid or a dead kid?

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20 thoughts on “Reach Out to Gay Teens

  1. Thank you.

    I grew up in a small town in Tennessee, went to a small school, and had the standard Tennessean conservative Southern Baptist parents. Coming out in that situation was rough, to say the least. I had a small group of friends, but the rest of the kids in my school could be ruthless. Guys would make obscene gestures while saying things like “I can fix you.” and girls would act like they were horrified of me and say that they were “just scared I was going to rape them or something.” yeah. Not pretty. Hell, we even had the KKK show up at our campus when we tried to organize a day of silence a couple years ago.

    Being a gay teen in an unaccepting environment is hard. And even though it does get better, it’s next to impossible to make the teens going through it to realize. At that point, nothing anyone can say will help. It seems like it will never end, never get better, and never turn out okay.

    But one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that it does.

    (sorry for the scatteredness. I have the flu and nyquil is not friendly to thinking through posts.)

  2. This is a great post Aaron thanks for sharing indeed. It is funny you& I must be on the same page because in my blog that is still a work in progress teachingisforme.blogspot.com I was just about to write about this. My twin sister is gay, and she is so strong it makes me proud while at the same time a little angry she shouldn’t have to be so strong just because of her sexual orientation.

  3. KUDOS! #assslap and well fucking said my friend. I love this post….this topic, the way you told it…perfect! I wish there were more posts like this…more stories for teens (gay or straight) to read, relate to and *feel*. Society seems to loose that sense of how does it *feel* to be in that persons shoes and I for one, am all for bringing THAT back. I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect…we are who and what we are and we respect each other enough to agree and/or disagree. If I could make everyone *feel* what it’s like to walk in another persons shoes, i would….since I am not in control of the world, I will do what I can to raise my child to know that *feeling*. The PIT is only 8 and is one of the most caring and compassionate people you’ll ever meet.
    Keep up the great work sir….you’re kids (and mine) will thank you one day for being so friggin awesome~

  4. Thank you for sharing this. It brought tears to my eyes just thinking about what you witnessed and what each of those in attendance endured. They are much stronger than I am, that’s for sure.

    Your son is lucky to have you.

  5. NPR had a story about a guy that started a youtube channel to reach out to gay teens who are drowning in negativity. He came up with the idea when he heard about one of the latest suicides. He said he wished he could have talked to the kid before he made that decision.

  6. Thanks for articulating thoughts rolling around the back of my head. I hope I can be a good father and person, no matter what kind of love my little guy springs on me.

    The person JEE mentioned is Dan Savage. The last letter in this week’s column has more information (Dan puts the serious stuff last)about the project and how to help. Support http://makeitbetterproject.org/ now so it’s a non-issue when our little kids get big.

  7. Aw, shucks, I was hoping to be the first to talk about Dan Savage’s movement toward making it better… oh well, as long as the info’s out there. I will say (as Spencer didn’t mention) that Dan’s column can be a bit rough (it’s a sex advice column, and just about anything goes), so if sexual deviance bothers you, you might want to skip to the end, where he puts all his social or political messages.

    Then again, if sexual deviance bothers you, you’re probably not supporting homosexual teens, either.

    While I wasn’t bullied for being gay in high school, there was plenty else that I was bullied about, and I hovered close to suicide for a while, absolutely sure that nobody would miss me. I can’t begin to describe how I came out of the depression, but I can say that I can identify with the homosexual teens who are being pushed to this extreme. I applaud Mr. Savage’s movement, and hope that the message can get out to any teen who is being bullied that it does get better.

  8. We recently found out that our second baby is probably a boy – I say probably because they still can’t give us anywhere near 100%, and I guess really in life you don’t GET 100% garuantee’s on anything, but I digress… While I realize how totally blessed we are that we’re pregnant with a healthy baby, I was a little bummed to learn I was having a second boy – not in the boy itself, but in the dreams I had attached to having a girl.

    What does this have to do with gay teens? Well, like you said, I want a girl because I have dreams of her marrying and being the mother of the bride, being with her as she delivers her first child, ect. And then I realized, again, nothing is promised to us. I may have my girl, and she may never want to marry, be a lesbian, or not want children. Who knows? I don’t.

    My husband and I were talking the other day, and I think honestly I would have more of a problem if my son announced that he was a vegetarian than if he were gay. I love my child – no matter what. Gay, straight, and yes – even a vegetarian I will love him, and I could not imagine EVER turning my back on him for ANYTHING.

    Like you said, I don’t understand why people have such a problem just letting others be. It kills me too that so many gay bashers tend to hide behind the bible and religion, when most religions seems to preach the same thing – to love one another, and to judge not lest ye be judged. You DON’T have to agree with it, you DON’T have to like it, but you also DON’T have to go out of your way to make other’s feel like shit.

  9. Hello. I’m reading your blog for the first time…followed the link from your comment on the Yale hazing article. (I won’t comment on your comment here…this isn’t the place…but, dude, you’re a reporter?! Hmmm…time to brush up on “free speech” the First Amendment.)
    Anyway, I have to give my two cents about one of your points in this otherwise great post. I keep hearing/reading similar statements all the time lately and I’m nonplussed! You write: “I use the term faggot when I’m around friends (including gay friends but it’s used in a joking manner) and sometimes I describe things as being “gay” when I’m giving something a negative connotation.” Seriously? Maybe MA gays are more chill than NY gays, but if ANY of my straight friends used the word “faggot” in front of me — jokingly or not — he or she wouldn’t be my friend for long. (By the way, do you use the word “nigger” around your black friends? Maybe you say “kike” in front of your Jewish friends and “spic” in front of your Latino friends . . . and they just laugh and laugh because, you know, you’re just joking around.)
    Do yourself — and your gay friends — a favor: ask them individually if they mind you using the word “faggot” around them. I think you’ll be surprised at their answers.

  10. I don’t need to brush up on free speech at all David, I’m involved in it on a daily basis. But thanks anyways.

    I have discussed it with my gay friends. We’ve actually had long conversations about it. One of them didn’t like it, so I never say it around him. The others (male and female), did not have a problem with it when used in the manner I described. Not to mention they use the word 10 times more than I do.

    I currently don’t have many black friends since leaving school, on account of living in a blindingly white section of the state. But they tried to actually ban that word in New York a few years ago, a move with which I vehemently disagree. Not because I use the word nigger, but because I hate censorship and banning a word suddenly gives it even more power and allure.

    I do have plenty of Jewish friends though, and I don’t call them kikes. Instead I joke about how cheap they are and I call them Christ Killers. The same way I make fun of my drunken Irish friends, my dumb Polish friends, my greasy Italian friends and my fat ass friends. And, in turn, I get the same treatment back my way. Tenfold. And I love it.

    Because none of it is malicious and I think everyone is fair game if you’re friends. Granted, my group of friends enjoys tearing each other apart over everything. Maybe we’re not the norm, but we all love each other and we have a blast. We’re not incredibly uptight and PC.

    George Carlin is my favorite comedian for a reason: he made fun of everyone equally. That’s how I am and I surround myself with like-minded friends. I don’t feel bad about that one bit.

  11. Just wanted to say thanks. I’m the mom of 4 kids, one of whom is gay. He got bullied in high school (especially so because he was in a DOD (Department of Defense) dependent school overseas. But he had a lot of support from us and his siblings, and he’s a happy, in-a-long-term-relationship guy now.

    The saddest thing about the bullying of the kids in the schools is that the kids are bullied because they’re a bit different .. they may not even BE gay, but that’s the worst thing the bullies can think of to call them, in that environment. :\

  12. Firstly, Thank you! I’m gay and while I don’t live in America, I was incredibly saddened by all the gay suicides. I help run a Queer youth group in New Zealand (Queer is encompassing gay, lesbian, bi, trans, genderqueer etc) and we had a big discussion on the suicides in America, and what our kids wanted out of our group etc. We also talked about what our members have gone through in terms of discrimination and bullying, and it’s shocking how much stuff they’ve gone through at 15, 16, 17 years old, and told them that we’re always here to talk to, and if things get tough to come talk to us, or someone else.
    Secondly to David, I have no issue with my friends (even the straight ones) jokingly saying faggot or dyke to me. Most of my gay friends call each other fags, faggots, homos or dykes, because none of us mine. A couple of them don’t like one word so we won’t call them that but we all can joke around about it. I don’t like people using the word ‘gay’ as meaning stupid, lame etc. but as Aaron said, he’s working on it which I can understand and am happy that he’s trying.
    And Aaron, should your son come to you and tell you he’s gay many years into the future, it’s alright to be shocked, but tell him that. Tell him that while you’re shocked, you still love him and will always support him. Just explain to him you’re shocked because you’ll worry about him etc, although hopefully you won’t need to worry about him. Hopefully in 15 years it’ll be completely accepted in society, with no fear or being bullied, teased or discriminated against!

  13. I applaud you for this. I have a girlfriend, when my mom found out (by snooping around my room and reading a diary) i was 14. she forbid me from even being friends with my girlfriend anymore. so i told her that i would do what she asked, and my girlfriend and i kept it a secret for years. i am 22 now, and happy to say i am still dating my amazing girlfriend, and last year i told my mom i was still with her. my mom doesn’t agree with it but she didn’t disown me either so i guess she thinks that is enough. it’s not. i see my 19 yr old sister able to sit and snuggle with her boyfriend (of a whole three or four months vs my almost 8 yrs!!!) in front of my mom and it hurts me a lot, because i can’t even say “i love you” on the phone to my girlfriend while my mom is around. she might as well have disowned half of me. and my girlfriend’s family is wonderful, and for the most part totally accepting of me. i wish my family was that way for her. i haven’t told dad yet- even mom says he’ll probably disown me, she once told me to “have your bags packed before you tell him.” how’s that for supportive? i cannot begin to portray how much it will mean to your son, if he is gay, to have you hug him and ask him, “so when do i get to meet your boyfriend?” because i’d give anything to just hug my girlfriend in front of my mom and have it not be a big deal.

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