Friday, October 15, 2010

I'm Coming Out

*This post was inspired by the It Gets Better Project. Check it out, and if you live under a rock and don't know who Dan Savage is, check him out too, because he's awesome.* 

When news of Tyler Clementi's suicide broke, my heart did too, for a couple of reasons.

Now that I'm a parent, the idea of losing a child after 18 short years on this earth is too painful to think about for long. Actually having it happen would be a fucking nightmare.

Long before I was a parent, though, I was a misfit high school kid with lots of misfit high school friends. More than a few of these friends came out during those years - at least, they came out to people they thought they could trust. I was one of them in a few instances. Most of the time, at least to the people to whom the kid was coming out, it was A. not really much of a surprise and B. not really a big deal.

But to those kids, who had been struggling with thier identities and thier sexuality for a long time before summoning up the courage to say it out loud, it was a huge deal. It was terrifying. I clearly remember one friend, who told myself and another friend at the same time. He was shaking, there were tears in his eyes. At the time, we made light of it, saying "no shit" and laughing. We made sure he knew we were in his court, we still loved him, and joked about how he was going to break it to his girlfriend (she already knew). And it seemed fine. And I wondered why he had been so scared.

It didn't take long to find out. My friend lost tons of his friends in one fell swoop. All it took was confirmation of his gayness and people retreated. I was surprised. Until that point, I had thought that our merry band of misfits were all open minded, that we were all in it together for the long haul. After all, we were all "different" in one way or another. I didn't realize that being different - being from a broken home, being artistic/intelligent/geeky/wierd -  didn't neccessarily grant a person freedom from homophobia.

I started hearing the words "fag" and "dyke" used when describing my friends. These, once again, from people that I had at one time thought to be open minded. I started hearing about fears that a person would be construed as gay if they hung out with these kids too much.

 I witnessed friends of the "fags" and "dykes" begin to be harrassed for hanging out with them. I was one of those friends. I was labelled a "fag hag", a "dyke", a "loser", and, interestingly, a "skank", because I hung out with the gay kids. I lost tons of friends too - people who figured I had to chose. I couldn't possibly be friends with them and with gay people at the same time. Which was fine. I'm not really down with people who think you can catch the gay the same way you catch a cold. Fuck.

I'm still friends with a lot of people from those tumultuous years. Many of us, gay and straight, have gone on to live interesting and successful lives. We are designers, musicians, writers, artists. We are teachers, mechanics, entrepreneurs. We are parents and lovers and friends.

We are also survivors. The lucky ones.

A lot of us didn't make it. Isolated from our peers, lacking support from our families, too shy or scared to reach out to people who would care, we found solace in drugs and alcohol. Found ourselves in abusive relationships,  or in the wrong place at the wrong time. We OD'd, were beaten to death, or figured that it was all just too much to take, and ended our own lives. 

There are too many of these stories in my past. There are too many of these stories period. Too many young people who didn't or don't realize that things change, that life is long, and that it does, indeed, get better. That's why I'm coming out as a straight ally for Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Transgendered youth or anyone who feels they don't fit in. I took the pledge to stand by these kids, to let them know that they are valued regardless of how or who they love. I took the pledge to be there for my own children if they ever feel isolated, and to be straight with them about bullying, sexuality, and homophobia. I hope you will too.

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