Monday, May 23, 2011

The Ordeal of Gay Adolescence

The NY Times is running a remarkable multimedia series on gay teenagers telling about their experiences in their own words. Here is one sample, a young man in the Bronx named John Albuquerque.

I said in previous posts that things are improving for gay folk, always more slowly than we would like, but improving. I still stand by that. This series is testament to that improvement. When I was a gay teenager, the NY Times refused to use the word "gay" in print. In the early 1970s, they certainly did not see the experiences of adolescent gays like me at the time as worth reporting about.

Adolescence is a time of trial for everyone, but for gay teens, it can be a very brutal, and sometimes fatal ordeal. Long before the media noticed, gay kids were committing suicide, and many many more attempted it. I went through a suicide attempt myself at age 16, and so did my partner when he was about 17. Not everyone lived through it. Sadly, I don't think much has really changed since then for gay teens. Life for gay adults has changed dramatically in my lifetime, but not so much for gay kids. There is always the threat of violence (as John Albuquerque tells us in vivid detail). There is always the peril of rejection by family (when I was a teen, a friend of mine was forcibly committed to a state hospital by his mother for being gay; when he got out, he was still gay and he never spoke to her again). To this day, Greenwich Village and Times Square are filled with gay runaways and castaways. As measure of how much things have changed and not changed, thirty years ago, the throw-away kids here in New York were mostly white and from the South and Midwest. Today, they are mostly Black and Hispanic and from the region around New York. The suicide rate for gay teens is still the highest of any category of youth. Thoughts of suicide, and attempted suicide followed (we hope) by the decision to live are still part of growing up gay.

When I remember these things from my teen days, my feeling after 35 years is anger which has not mellowed with time. It still surprises me when that anger comes to the surface after suffering yet another person calling me "faggot." My burning desire in that instant is to take a piece of steel pipe and bash his skull in. Thankfully, I have never acted upon that impulse, and it still amazes me that these moments of white hot rage have not dimmed over time. I feel them as powerfully at 53 as I did when I was 18.

For this reason, I am extremely reluctant to challenge gay folk who feel nothing but rage when confronted with any manifestation of the Christian religion. In all candor, I feel that rage too at every twisted right wing evangelical obsessive and every solemn pronouncement by hierarchs declaring me and my kind to be "less than...." I feel that rage every time they enable the violence that we all must live with, and then back away like beach crabs, frantically denying and deflecting responsibility, when their goons actually kill somebody. I always want to act out that line from Psalm 58, "O God, break their teeth in their mouths; pull the fangs of the young lions, O Lord." Indeed I am aware that the Christian establishment wants nothing less than our extermination from the face of the earth, either through a literal death sentence, or through "therapy" intended to "kill the gay and save the man."

And yet, I refuse to let them claim the copyright on the Gospel. Jesus is not with them putting up razor wire around their altars. Jesus is with us trying to kick the church door off its hinges.


Turtle Woman said...

Thanks for validating rage Counterlight. Every time a man calls a woman a "b----" I think of killing him. Every time some idiot makes an anti lesbian comment, I feel like bashing his head in, and every time I see some damn man in a clerical collar, I feel like cutting off his private parts, stringing him up to die, and then feeding him to the sharks. Every time I see the pope, I feel like burning HIM at the stake. It's interesting that no matter how much time passes, I still really hate the sexist, homophobic pigs in the robes, collars and smirking football uniforms. I keep hoping for the day when lesbian terrorists blow up a plane with the entire superbowl championship team on it (or at least have a lesbian film maker create such a movie), and I wish for the excruciating death of any man or boy from teenage years who tormented me. It's why I'd never go to a high school reunion ever!! One sexist word, and I'm thinking of strangling and stomping to death all the men who do this, including gay men and their sexism. The hate, contempt and desire for brutal revenge never goes away.

Counterlight said...

And yet, I'm so very glad I never acted on those impulses. Then, I'd be no different and no better than my oppressors. As Gandhi always said, we must not become the hurt that was done to us.

Turtle Woman said...

One thing I've learned about straight men, when they attack you, you hit them back with all you've got. It's a great rape prevention tactic, Gandhi never faced rapists. And Gandhi also had a very questionable relationship with underage girls... a pretty creepy crawly guy... again, the crimes most men commit against lesbians and women in general are behind doors. Very different from the public persona.