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?