Happy National Coming Out Day!
A couple of days ago as I was following the rabbit trails that lead from one blog to another, I stumbled across this posting about Jamey Rodemeyer, the boy from upstate New York who killed himself after enduring anti-gay bullying. What stuck with me was this comment to the post:
I, too, am upset by this kid’s death.
I want to make it clear, however, that there are hundreds of gay kids committing suicide across this nation who are not cute. Who don’t have sexy voices.
These are the pimply, fat, obnoxious gay kids. The ones who ugly faces, or pear-shaped bodies, or heavy glasses, or frankly unattractive personalities.
That description could have been me during my junior high and high school days.
Fat and timid, with terminal acne, I lacked the social skills to navigate the waters of teenage society and because of that I was an easy target for bullies. From 7th grade until the day I graduated, I don’t think a day went by that I didn’t get called a fag or was made to feel inferior in some way. There were days when even the thought of going to school made me physically ill.
I didn’t want to have to face the other guys in gym class, or the bully in band class who took every opportunity to tell me and everyone else who was listening what a fag I was. (Are you out there Erik O’Conner? I hope you’re living in some suburban hell.) For most of my teen years, I felt isolated and alone.
Not to say that there were not bright spots along the way. I had a small group of friends, people who made it tolerable to face the day-to-day terror of being a young gay kid in a homophobic southeast Michigan hell. But the small voice inside my head still whispered “They wouldn’t really like you if they knew you were “that way”.
I found the most solace in the theater. In school plays or in the community theater at the Croswell Opera House, I found an escape. The make up (Max Factor Tan #2) the acne went away, even if only for an hour or two. The opportunity to be anyone other me for a couple of hours on stage gave me something to look forward to, something to hold on to. Being involved with theater also introduced be to other gay people, and helped me see that I wasn’t the “only gay in the village”. The theater saved my life.
But even in my young adult life, the experiences of my teenage years made life difficult. I was shy, hesitant to put myself into situations where I might look foolish and call attention to myself. My lack of social skills, which most have an opportunity to practice during their early years, held me back both personally and professionally. It wasn’t until my late 20s that I started to feel comfortable in social situations, and not until my early 30s that I felt that I had finally shed the fear and timidity that had followed me for most of my young life.
So yes, it got better. But it took a while. It’s not an overnight thing for everyone.
This is why it’s important for everyone who can safely do so to come out. All of those gay kids in high school need to know that there are people out there just like them. They need to know that there are as many types of gay adults as there are gay teenagers. They need to know that even if they are pimply, fat and obnoxious, that they are valued and that they will have the opportunity to live life on their terms.