01 November, 2010

It Gets Better

I know I don't usually start off a blog post with a video (those who have been following my blog for a while know it's something I might end a post with, but not start one...) however, this is too important, and too moving, to not put up front.

I'm not a vlogger. I just don't think I do well in video. But I do think I have a fairly decent command of the written word, and I've used that as my medium for quite some time. As someone who's been online in one form or another since the 1980s (that's before the Internet was open to the public), I've used my powers of persuasive writing to advocate for a number of things—such as politics, the environment, and yes, for gay rights.
“In my own unassuming way, I know I can make a difference. You can as well.”
~Kinsey Millhone.
Often, one of the questions posed to me, as a blogger, is, “Why do you blog?” I just finished reading T is for Trespass, the latest (as of this writing) released book in Sue Grafton's alphabet mystery series, starring fictional heroine Kinsey Millhone, an old-fashioned gumshoe of a private investigator, whose stories are set in the 1980s (an age before the Internet, widespread computer usage, mobile phones, flat-screens, and other similar technological wonders). The quote above can be found in the Epilogue of the book, and I think it answers the question as to why I blog quite nicely.

I know, from the experience of having had readers (whether it be individual posts or the blog as a whole) contact me, that I have made a difference in people’s lives by blogging, whether it was from sharing something personal, describing some new technological wonder of interest to me, arguing a point in law, or any of the myriad topics that one would find in the annals of my blog.

It is in this vein that I tackle a subject that is very difficult for me—one that is deeply personal, emotional, and difficult to deal with but one that mainstream media has declared the cause célèbre this past month: the tragic suicides of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and/or questioning youth.

Last month, mainstream media decided to shine its spotlight on the tragedy of LGBTQ teenage suicides, and no less than six individual stories of teens who either were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning their sexuality, or perceived to be one of the above, and who made the tragic choice to end their short lives, made national headlines here in the USA.

Unlike most of the posts on my blog, this one is heavily edited, and I've been working—and struggling—with this post for nearly a month. However, some recent actions finally brought push to shove and I've decided to go ahead and publish this post. I would imagine that, like many bloggers, an occasional blog posting gets written that sits in draft status and is never published; I know I have a few such unpublished "drafts" sitting in my Blogger account, and I'll most likely never publish them. This one, however, is something that needs to be published. I need the world to hear, and to listen, to what I have to say.

I had been debating whether or not to address this topic, given the skill with which so many others had done so, as well as the difficulties I have regarding this particular topic. I had been trying, as much as possible, to avoid news, discussion, debate, and mention of this topic, so that I would not have to revisit it. In particular, it's the rantings of Clint McCance on Facebook of all places, Tony Perkins' ranting that gay teens resort to suicide because they're 'abornmal', and Maggie Gallagher's insane ramblings, and other such hateful statements to have come out in response to this very, very tragic choice that many gay teens make because they feel so ostracized and hated in life for simply being who they are.

For you see, when I came to the self-realization of who I was (that is, when I finally figured out or realized that I’m gay) back in my teens, the only mention of homosexuality (that’s the only way it was politely referenced at the time) I ever had encountered in my life was, for the most part, condemnation.

I was raised, by my grandparents, in a very strict, very conservative Roman Catholic household. Sex and anything related to sex was never discussed in the home. I was masturbating long before I even knew what it meant to masturbate. My fantasies, as a sexually-aroused teenager, were wild and varied but they all had one thing in common, and in the deep recesses of my subconscious, I knew that that one thing made me different, and set me apart, from everyone in my life.

Long story short, when I finally figured out that I was one of those “faggot” homosexuals, I felt the entire weight of the world bearing down upon me in my thoughts: I would shame my family for generations. I was an aberration that must be aborted. I was the devil incarnate. I was every imaginable bad thing one could think of, in my own mind. I thought, “How could I live with myself?”

Where did these thoughts come from? Quite frankly, they came from all around me. In church, religion, politics, popular culture, school culture, school, family, friends, and the like. Being gay was definitely a big, big no-no in the late 1990s. It just wasn't something that one would be, never mind announce to the world.

There's a statistic out there that LGBTQ teens are four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight, heterosexual counterparts. As this article points out, it's not being gay or lesbian that's a risk factor; it's the negative treatment such LGBTQ teens receive that raises their risk of suicide.

The most insane part of this is that no one, and I do mean no one, ever even suspected me of being gay as a teenager. I don't think they thought I was really straight, either. Actually, it was more like no one thought of me as a sexual creature, period. I was this fat, dorky, geeky, nerdy braniac. On top of that, I was so in the closet that I joined the chorus of condemnation every chance I got. Still, the pervasiveness and the negativity about being gay was so severe that it lead me to a drastic course of action.

And so, while on the phone with a friend at the time, whom I had told about my being gay during the conversation, I basically had suggested to him that I was considering ending my life. After I ended the conversation shortly after that revelation, I went to retrieve the bottle of pills my grandparents kept in the upstairs bathroom’s medicine cabinet and started taking them.

Now let me mention a few other things: with the exception of my father, my family (grandparents and sister) had gone on a weekendation – I don’t recall the particulars of where/why they went but suffice it to say they weren’t home. My grandparents saw to it that I led a very sheltered life; I knew that people killed themselves by taking a full bottle of pills but I was unaware that they had to be taken all at once. So I began taking the OTC sleeping pills, and drifted off to sleep.

My friend, worried, convinced one of his parents to come up to my house; my father answered at some unruly hour in the middle of the night, and checked in on me. He saw the bottle of pills, half-taken. I'm not going to announce why the pills didn't do me in but obviously, my plan had failed.

I woke up the next morning thinking, WHAT THE FUCK?!?

I could not reconcile who I was with everything that I was brought up to believe, especially coming from my religion (Roman Catholicism). Seeing that I was not able to end my life, my somehow came to the realization that if I were meant to be alive and be gay, then it is everything else that I have been taught about homosexuality that must be wrong. I systematically eliminated those negative influences (that told me that who I was wrong) from my life, with the help of the first gay person I ever met, first online and then in person, who is a dear friend and mentor to me to this very day.

Through my contacts of being on-line, I managed to come across a very happy individual and debated with him at length (along with a bunch of other folks) about politics. I soon came to find out that he was gay. Soon after my initial contact with him online, he set up his own online repository, and I began speaking with him there. There, in secret, and away from the prying eyes of others on any other system, I was able to engage him, and find out more about this "homosexual" and in doing so, I began to realize that I wasn't quite as alone as I thought I was.

Without his kind love and support, I probably wouldn't have made it this for. And for the record, our relationship has never been sexual. He has always been a friend to me, supporting, and unconditionally accepting of who I am, gay, Republican, and all.

I haven't looked back since that dark time in my life. I've accepted who I am and began to love myself. I gradually started coming out to people: friends first, and then everyone else over time. I went through the phase where I flaunted my sexuality but eventually matured, and I've since grown into the person I am today—one who is still maturing and growing as time marches onward to the rhythm of its steady beat.

If you’ve read some of my other posts on this blog, then you know I’ve been through a lot in life, and I’m still here. I’ve survived all of the torture, torment, pain, ridicule, and whatever else that the Universe has thrown at me, and I have come to realize that I am part of the Universe.

So you see, it does get better. I am a better, stronger person for having gone through what I did, when I did.
As I've previously stated, I’m not a vlogger so, unlike most of the other “It Gets Better” messages out there, this message is in the form you now see it in. My medium is, has always been, and most likely always will be the written word. And so with this, if even one person reads this entry and reconsiders a tragic decision to end their life and decides to stay on and fight, then it’s well worth it.

To give you an idea of just how "worth it" things can become, I’ll restate a story I wrote almost a year ago, about my grandmother’s coming to terms with my being gay, and moreso, her coming to terms with my being a gay rights activist.
Approximately one decade ago, Westchester County (where I live) was debating some legislation that would have extended certain protections to individuals based on their sexual orientation, which made it extremely controversial because it included "sexual orientation" in the wording of the legislation as a protected class--something New York State law did not do at the time.
I'd always been politically involved and astute. Despite my family's wishes to the contrary, I registered to vote as a Republican on my 18th birthday and haven't missed voting in an election since. But I digress; my political leanings naturally lent their hand in somehow shaping me as an advocate for gay rights and someone who has been active in the LGBTQ rights movement.
I had written a "letter to the editors" in support of the passage of the county's proposed Human Rights Law. For whatever reason, somewhere around 90% of the letters to editors that I write actually get published, and this was no exception.
My letter appeared in the local paper, signed with my name and village of residence. My grandmother, very frail of health (at that time she'd had four major coronary infarctions and a series of minor strokes / TIAs, along with the usual health problems associated with someone approaching their 80th birthday who had been smoking for 60+ years...), came into my room carrying the newspaper (while not bed-ridden, she didn't often get out of bed except to use the facilities and go to doctor's appointments).
She asked me how I could be so stupid as to have such a letter published with my name and location. I was very puzzled by her reaction, as she had tears in her eyes (I had already come out to her by this point (or more accurately, she came out to me; that is, she figured out I was gay and asked me for the truth), so it's not like she didn't know I was (am) gay). 
I asked her what the big deal was, and she told me that there are very crazy people in the world and having my name & location published, someone could be hiding in the bushes outside of our house and attack me for being gay, or come by the house and throw rocks at me, or while I'm out and about someone could try to kill me, etc. It was a cause of great consternation for her that I would be harmed by any one of these crazy people.
I responded by telling my grandmother that it was she who instilled in me the values to stand up for what I believe in, to exercise my rights as guaranteed to me in the United States Constitution, and not to back down when I know I am fighting a just and worthy cause. My grandmother hugged me, told me that she loved me, and urged that I be more cautious and safe and not take such public stances in the future, for she worried greatly over my safety.
Grams said she would pray that I not ever fall into harm's way because of who I am, and advised that she would be worrying over me whenever I left the house (a promise she kept, as whenever I left she wouldn't go to sleep until I returned home safe and sound).
A short while later, a public hearing was being held on the proposed Human Rights Law. I was getting ready to leave the house to head for the hearing and to speak out in favor of the passage of the law. Grams asked me where I was going. I (reluctantly) told her that I was going to speak in support of the law at the public hearing (I had to explain a bit what was going on). She asked me if I could wait 5 minutes, and so I did.
Less than five minutes later, my grandmother had her purse and winter coat on, and told me that she was coming with me (despite her frail health). There was nothing I could do to change her mind, so I brought her along to the public hearing.
We arrived a bit late, taking seats near the front. When the legislators asked if anyone else wished to speak, I began to rise but my grandmother put her arm on me to keep me seated and instead rose herself and approached the podium.
At the podium, my grandmother relayed how she read my letter to the editor in the newspaper, and how scared she was for my safety. She told the legislators that she was a devout Catholic, but that I was her grandson and she loved me no matter who I was or what I did. She implored the legislators to pass the Human Rights Law, so that she could stop worrying about the safety of her grandson, and not have to worry that he would be fired from a job for being who he was, etc.
I had absolutely no idea that Grams was going to do this. Tears filled my eyes (just as they are now as I recount these events). It was then, right there in the public hearing, that I came to know the true meaning of Unconditional Love. I couldn't have been more proud, happy, or loved than I was at that point in time .... 
Since then, as I've met more wonderful people (mostly through social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Fabulis, and the like), I've come to experience this unconditional love and acceptance.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, don't—just don't. Pick up the phone, or get on your computer, and talk to someone. You can contact the Trevor Project at, 1-866-4-U-Trevor (that's 1-866-488-7867). You can also check out the resources on the Yellow Ribbon website or call them at: 1-800-SUICIDE. Besides, do you have ANY idea just how messy and icky and yucky failed suicide attempts are? Trust me, you do not want to go there!

So you see, it really does get better. And you, too, can become a fighter, just as I have. All you have to do is stick around to see that day come about. And trust me, it will come about! I should know; I am a survivor ... of gay teen suicide. And if you think there's noone left in the world who cares about you, you're wrong: I do. I care about you; if I didn't, I wouldn't have gone through the emotional roller coaster ride in writing this post.

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5 Comments:

At Monday, November 1, 2010 at 12:14:00 PM EDT, Blogger FagHag Mom said...

Wonderful... your story touched my heart!

 
At Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 3:57:00 PM EDT, Blogger CynStorm said...

Very moving!

Though we have only known each other a short time, I know that the world is a much better place because you are still part of it.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Gros Bisou,
Cyn

 
At Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 2:05:00 AM EST, Blogger fr41trek said...

awesome Peter
As always!

-fred-

 
At Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 11:48:00 PM EDT, Blogger majikfaerie said...

beautiful story - your Grams made me cry :)
thanks for sharing

 
At Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 1:28:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so PROUD to call u my FRIEND!!! You are truly an inspiration to all!!

Tina Fiore
Rye brook, ny

 

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