Wednesday, September 29, 2010

School is Hell: Gay Kids Growing Up

In response to the alarming rates of suicide among gay and lesbian teens and children, Dan Savage and his husband Terry started this project:




They're right. It really does get better once high school is behind you. At least, that was true in my case. It was also true for Michael. School was hell for both of us. My response was to put my head down and get through it and get out, which I did. I didn't look back. I went from being a sub-mediocre student and pariah to being a dean's list student in community college, and later in art school. Part of that was not only finishing school, but leaving home and leaving my home town and home state behind. That turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I probably decided upon that course as early as age 14, and the thought of it got me through a lot of despair and loneliness.
Michael had an even worse experience. He was bullied constantly throughout school. His response was to defy the assholes. He began dying his hair at 13, partly out of adolescent rebellion, and partly as a way to say "piss off!" to his enemies. He changed his hair color every time Cindi Lauper changed hers. This one high school champion bothered him so much one day that Michael grabbed him and rammed his head down a toilet in the boys' room. It took a coach and an assistant principal to pull Michael off, and to keep him from drowning the asshole like a rat. Michael seriously contemplated dropping out of school, he was so miserable. Holy Mother Church didn't make things any easier either. Michael regularly found himself suspended from catechism class, and finally dropped out of it.

But we both survived. Life now is no bed of roses, but it's a hell of a lot better than what we went through growing up.

When you're a kid and everything seems so new and terrible and insurmountable, it's hard to believe that patience has its reward. I'm not sure I would have believed it. But, try we must. Shining a spotlight on bullying hostile communities and negligent administrators is a big step in the right direction. Gay kids need to hear the message that there's nothing wrong with them, but that there's plenty wrong with the people who torment them.


ADDENDUM:

A lot of people appear to be responding to the alarm bells from our young ones. There is this remarkable posting here.


And here's more from It Gets Better:










I'd be very surprised if there is anyone under 40 who reads this blog, but just in case someone stumbles upon it who's gay and thinks your alone, you have lots of friends out there just waiting. There's a big world out there full of possibility beyond the bullies and the assholes, and you will get past them.

Bill Ghrist provides us with this link to the Southern Poverty Law Center who are making available a free film and instructional kit on the issue of bullying and suicide in school.

18 comments:

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Yes, it was hard. There was also something that really got to me when growing up...there were ongoing situations when a friend, not always the same friend, wanted to have sex with me...sex like kids have...I was very worried they wouldn´t like me if I agreed and got intimate...I guarded myself (carefully/mostly) so I wouldn´t be embarrassed or shamed...odd thing about all of that was I started drinking, in College, because the shame was embedded in me and I wanted to set myself free...the drinking worked and I was fairly *wild* until alcohol didn´t work anymore and at age 35 I got sober, I didn´t know how to not drink...then I discovered it was ok to be me..what a relief...I didn´t know that before, I only tried to deliver whatever it was that I thought would make *them* like me and when that failed I steamrolled my way to whatever it I thought I must have...it was me that didn´t like me, it was me that was filled with shame but I got to the ¨it gets better¨ part eventually.

People like us are heros, unknown heros who are eventually awarded medals for tenacity. Hugs for Michael...my Gay hero for today.

JCF said...

Well, you'd like to think that "once out of high school" everything's OK.

...and then I saw THIS story

Cyber-bullying (esp. in the age of webcams) takes things to a whole other level. Lord have mercy.

Bill Dilworth said...

JCF, that story just makes me sick.

I came out in high school, and it sucked. I was still bullied, but maybe a little less than if I'd been in the closet.

Counterlight said...

Most of us find the courage to go on. We have to find some way to share it with those who can't.

Counterlight said...

One thing I've always found striking. Gay kids put up with far worse abuse than straight kids, but all the school mass murderers are straight boys. Those events are always described as revenge attacks, when in fact the reasons usually turn out to be plain paranoid insanity or an equally insane urge to be famous (as in the case of the Columbine duo).

Gay kids mostly turn the violence in on themselves. They hear the message constantly in everything from locker-room jokes to sermons that there's nothing worse in this world than being gay.
I suppose for those of us who survived all that, somewhere along the line, our bullshit detectors suddenly screamed the alarm, and we realized that we weren't the problem. The problem was the assholes tormenting us, both the kids and adults. We decided that our best option was to leave and shake the dust off our feet.
I've also noticed over the years that it's sometimes the gay kids that left years ago who end up being the only sane person in insane families. They bail siblings out of jail and put alcoholic uncles on the wagon while taking care of the parents that everyone else is too messed up to manage.

I suppose some messed up straight boys resort to extreme violence out of a kind of threatened masculinity or privilege. The world owes them, so they decide to blow it away when it doesn't deliver.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

How about a blog that addresses only this issue? A sharing of real life experience in the first person for anyone to see (some kind of declaration of what the blog is about that states ANY abuse/flaming/ex-Gay promoters against LGBTI people will be deleted)...perhaps a closed anonymous group of some with group appointed ¨trusted servants¨ who answer to the group and guard privacy on the members list? Just thinking, there must be a way to have a LGBTI Group, closed, safe, non-hook-up, where members can share their actual, if not specific, experience, strength and hope like...¨what happened, what it was like and what it´s like now¨ (that´s the suggested way of sharing at anonymously attended 12 Steps groups and they do very well online). The key is first person sharing and not lecturing or giving unsolicited advice...real experience is helpful, lofty idealism is not. Standing along side others is different than trying to ¨fix¨ them...that would be dangerous.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Love this film! It's fun, it's moving and it's real!

Counterlight said...

Leo,

It seems that a lot of people are getting the same brilliant idea:

http://www.truthwinsout.org/blog/2010/09/11589/

Which, of course, doesn't preclude other similar ventures to encourage the young, brutalized, and discouraged.

JCF said...

all the school mass murderers are straight boys

I'm not sure about that. I'd hate to get into stereotypes---who's to say that ANY high school kid (or younger) knows for sure (their sexual/gender identity)?

Grandmère Mimi said...

Doug, I'm not under 40. I can't even tell my gay story. I linked to Chris at "The Verge of Jordan", who tells his story of growing up gay and who also also lists online helps that approach anti-gay bigotry and suicide prevention from different angles. I also linked to "It Gets Better". The videos are powerful. I linked to your post, too.

Anything that might help is worth trying.

Bill Ghrist said...

You should also check out this new project from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"In response to mounting reports of vicious anti-gay bullying and student suicides, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project is making a new documentary film and educational kit available – free of charge – to every school in the country."

David G. said...

I survived the 70's/early 80's, in grade school I was teased and beat up, ... but since I lived across the street from the school I could get away quick from a beating. In jr.high & high school it wasn't so bad, since I lived in a rural school district that combined grades 4 thru 12. I had my crushes, but I kept them to myself, ..although I did have a problem in the locker room once, ..but it was easily fixed with lies about some girl.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Doug, I'm not under 40. I can't even tell my gay story. GM

Oh, but you do tell your ¨Gay Story¨ it´s a great story about fresh rethinking (and beliving)...one doesn´t have to be ¨Gay¨ to give testimony to the ¨Gay Experience¨ and how it has impacted everyone around us and their lives...thank you Mimi for ¨coming to see¨ the reality of people like us...thanks for being a great friend and loved one.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Leonardo, thank you. You brought a tear to my eye - seriously.

Counterlight said...

I don't think it matters how old or how young you are to tell your story. I'm mostly concerned that these stories reach the under 25 crowd that is most vulnerable. I'm reasonably sure that few to none of them read this blog, though I do get the occasional email from students who use my postings on art for assignments.
I also think it would be a great idea to have our hetero friends participate in such a project and tell their stories.

Counterlight said...

JCF,

I remember speculation at the time about the Columbine duo being more than just pals. No evidence has ever emerged to support such speculation, and I think the motivations behind the rumors were far from disinterested. Some people have a vested interest in identifying homosexuality with violent crime (the same rumors persist about Hitler, even though the evidence suggests that he was too busy with world conquest to have much interest in sex or in Eva Braun, and that he loathed homosexuality and homosexuals).

In the case of the Virginia Tech massacre, the perpetrator apparently formed excessive fixations on women who rejected him.
I've seen nothing to indicate, apart from not-exactly-disinterested rumors, that any of the school rampagers had any doubts about their sexuality.

Counterlight said...

I think our transgendered friends might have the best and most instructive stories to tell.

JCF said...

I'm not talking about "speculation about perpetrator's sexuality" Doug.

I'm talking about NOT boxing-in the sexual/gender identity of a child [One of those school shooters was in MIDDLE school, after all. NO child should be labeled (by others) that young. Not straight, not gay, not bi. Don't label!]

Of course, the very fact that I give-a-damn about the perpetrators---as human beings---will make me forever execrable among the (vengeful)law&order types...