I’m not a member of the queer community, but I chat with people from all walks of life including theirs. From the outside looking in, it’s hard to figure out the distinctions between the different points where people stand on the queer spectrum. At least I’ve learned that there is such a variety. I try pretty hard to be aware of and avoid the pitfalls of The Male Gaze and my own view through it, but I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to shed the restrictions of my own position on the spectrum. My position is, I think, pretty heteronormative (am I using that correctly?) as a straight male but I’ve no particular phobias about any of the other lifestyles. So… I’m boring but open-minded.
I’ve also read the label “ally” as applied to people who are just straight like me but who try to support, defend, and fight on behalf of the people in the queer community. I don’t know if I’m using that label correctly, either, but I do think of myself as an ally to people of any gender orientation. Specifically for their right to live their lives without attack. That’s because I think all people who don’t infringe other people’s rights should be allowed to live their lives with freedom, respect, and happiness.
So, this Monday that just passed was National Coming Out Day and that’s a good thing, right? Well, I’m kind of torn on it. Just like some people think that Valentine’s Day is a lame excuse to save up romantic gestures for one day a year, I’m a little puzzled as to why it’s okay to say that one specific day is okay for coming out as being something besides straight. On the surface, it seems like a “win” for the queer community, but I fear it’s just a restriction in disguise. That somehow people (both queer and straight) will feel like there’s some sort of amnesty on repercussions when announcing your orientation that day but that it’s still a bad idea on all the other days.
There are a couple aspects to consider there. First of all, I want everyone to feel that they can be honest about who they are, every day of the year. Nobody should suffer shame because of how they’re built. I don’t care if you think it’s a choice or not, nobody should feel shame just because they exist. We should all be proud to be alive as exactly who we are, because our own selves are our greatest and truest possessions. Secondly, that suggestion that it’s okay to come out on that day or any day is by no means valid across the board. We, who are considered by the mainstream television audience to be the “normal ones”, are privileged by our being labeled that way. We can say that we support this or want that or like the other and our alleged normality means we probably won’t be beaten to death. Does that seem like an extreme consequence? Well, it is extreme, but it’s also too frequent to be dismissed as hyperbole. Someone can come out as gay and immediately get attacked by friends, family, authority figures, community leaders, and everybody else around them. Even on a day that’s been given a welcoming name.
So, the most positive part of National Coming Out Day to me is that it’s an opportunity when so-called normal people can show the potential attackers that it’s not okay to attack someone who reveals themselves to be queer. Because many of us are on their side. Many of us want the fact that there are even different sides at all to stop being true. And although I’d applaud and support anybody who does come out, I understand if there are those who want to but aren’t in a safe enough environment to do it.
Of course, coming out isn’t the end of troubles for those brave folk either. There’s been a media spotlight (a small one, really) on several gay teen suicides over the past few weeks, specifically ones resultant from bullying. I fear sometimes that the term “bullying” doesn’t properly convey what actually happens. It might be more accurately evocative to call it bigotry-fueled-torture, but that’s probably harder to publicize. Yet that’s what happens. People who are seen as different are verbally and physically abused, publicly humiliated, ostracized by their communities, and belittled in ways that make waterboarding seem like a welcome change of pace.
To someone who’s never experienced it, calling what happens to gay teens “bullying” might just stir memories of some 8pm sitcom where a big kid pushes around a smaller kid and demands lunch money. If that’s what you picture, shake it out of your mind and replace it with a vision of one defenseless teenager surrounded by dozens or even hundreds of other teens kicking and punching them relentlessly until the gay teen suffers a gory and ignoble death. Literally or figuratively, that’s what’s happening. Imagining less than that denies and disrespects the horrors that are being visited upon kids who have barely had a chance even to make any foolish mistakes yet.
I’ve been bullied. I’ve got the scars on my body and a broken piece of pencil stuck in my wrist always to remind me of it, not to mention the psychological repercussions that undoubtedly still shape me today. And I’m mostly considered normal! Bullies are not misguided kids. Bullies are sociopathic and vicious criminals who should be treated like it, regardless of their age. Because you know what happens when you let bullies get away with such crap in their youth? They grow up to pass laws telling other people what they can’t do with their lives. They abuse spouses and coworkers. They spew hatred, intolerance, and condemnation everywhere as adults because they never suffered any restrictions upon that behavior as children. I say no.
Don’t dismiss bullying as something that kids can work out on their own. Don’t think it’s not happening to your child or sibling or friend. Don’t convince yourself that some kid you know couldn’t be a bully just because that’s what you want to believe. Deal with the truth. Make our future a better place by weeding out the poisonous influences before they get more powerful. Being a bully should be considered no more acceptable than being a murderer or rapist. The results from all three are often the same.
I think that is the way to slow and stem the tide of teen suicides. It is helpful to tell a suffering youth that the possibility of a better life exists, though I think it’s better to concentrate on what’s possible for the youths than your own personal dramas. But it is tremendously more productive to fight against the real monsters that are making these youths’ lives miserable in the first place. It’s better actually to make things better than merely to make a promise of it.
I’m not… I’m not entirely against suicide as an option, frankly. I understand it as an escape. I understand it as an action that someone can take and control, perhaps as the only thing that some otherwise-helpless youths can see as a thing they can choose to do. But every suicide ripples and affects waves upon waves of other people around them. Every suicide diminishes every one of us. Every suicide is a failure of humanity to be better than stupid, violent apes. So, I don’t admonish anyone who commits or considers committing suicide. I get it. When you feel like you can’t control anything else in your awful life, this is something you can control and it bears the promise of relief from the torture. I get it. But even though I don’t begrudge anyone considering that option, I would plead for them to ask for help instead.
We are all of us more connected now than ever before. There is the internet, there are community centers, there are churches and temples and mosques, there are student groups, there are celebrity spokespeople, there are even sympathetic TV shows! Please reach out and keep reaching out until someone reaches back. Because there are those of us who want to and who will. And whatever anyone else tells you, we love you. We love.
I don’t know many resources well enough to recommend them, but I like what I found at http://makeitbetterproject.org and offer you that as one place you can go to get help or offer help to others. http://www.thetrevorproject.com is another great resource, endorsed by Ellen and some friends of mine.