Suicides from gay teenagers have been highly publicized lately. I’ve been reading and rereading news articles about them, and they truly break my heart. I kept thinking that I wish there was something I could do.
My gay hero Dan Savage (who inspired me to come out to my dad, the second time, a couple years ago) recently began a project on YouTube to let LGBT teenagers know that life gets better after high school. It’s called the It Gets Better Project. Most submissions are videos, but I thought I could maybe write something instead.
When I was younger, I always felt different from other kids. I felt a deep sense of isolation from everyone, thinking that no one understood me, even before I knew anything about sex or sexuality. I remember crying myself to sleep sometimes because I felt so alone. Though I never attempted suicide, I did often wonder whether anyone would miss me if I did.
These feelings, while not always constant, persisted from elementary school through high school. In junior high, I began to use Christianity as a way to fit in. I prayed so hard to not be gay. I prayed to be normal. I even was baptized (without my parents’ knowledge – a whole other story altogether) in an effort to be “reborn” like everyone else. It didn’t work. I was still me.
Throughout high school, I stayed deep in the closet. The first openly gay person I ever met was my tenth grade English teacher. His classroom always had the sweet aroma of coffee with soft classical music playing in the background. He was a very interesting person; I liked to talk to him during lunch. He was the faculty sponsor of the gay/lesbian/questioning club. He must’ve picked up on how lost and confused I felt (probably from how fascinated I was by him and his sweet smelling room), because he invited me to check out the club, but I never did. Looking back now, I really should have.
My English teacher was living proof that there is life after high school. He was proof that it gets better. If only I could see that then. I was so closeted at the time that I eventually joined the Christian club and even held a leadership position in it. No one would suspect a Christian, right?
I didn’t come out until I was 18 and in my first year in college. The catalyst for my coming out was one of my TAs. He helped me a lot throughout the term, so I made an appointment with him to thank him. About a minute into our meeting, he made a point to say that he was straight. He thought I was interested in him. He thought I was gay.
I had tried to stay in the closet my whole life, so someone even thinking I was gay threw me for a loop. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for a whole day after that (not a good thing during the week before finals). Finally, I talked things through with one of the girls in my dorm (who is now one of my best friends), and she got me to finally admit to her and myself that I’m gay.
Coming out to my friend was the first step in a long road to accepting myself for who I am. I slowly came out to my friends, one by one. Some took it better than others. In the end, I lost touch with most of the people who rejected me and surrounded myself with people who love me for who I am. It was still a few years before I truly accepted myself, but my true friends were always there to pick me up when I felt down.
A final anecdote. I had my first sexual experiences when I was 19. I was at a summer math research program many states away from home. The boy I fell in love with was another student in the program. I didn’t even know he was gay until there were only three weeks left in our program. We had some fun together for about a week (we didn’t go “all the way” – a long story that’s not appropriate here), but the boy didn’t want a relationship. We went to school in different cities, and he was against long distance relationships (from prior experience). I loved him so much that I didn’t understand why he wouldn’t even try. He told me that he was a mathematician first, and being gay wasn’t very high on his “priority list.” Being gay was number five or something. At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant. I just thought that he didn’t love me (which was probably true too).
My point is that your sexuality does not define you. It took me many years to figure this out. Of course, being gay is part of who you are, but it is only one of many factors that makes you uniquely you. Besides being gay, I’m also a brother, a son, a friend, a singer, an educator, a student, and a blogger, just to name a few.
While my journey has been long and often difficult, I’m so much happier now than I was when I was a teenager. It was a long process, but with the help of my friends, I’ve come to accept myself for who I am. We’re all different, we’re all normal, and we’re all beautiful.
To the LGBTQ teens out there: However down and alone you may feel, know that it gets better. You will meet people who will understand you and love you for exactly who you are, just like I did. You will have an amazing life, and you will be able to do whatever you want with it, as long as you stay strong and live through the hard times. It’s not always a smooth ride, but you will always come out on top. Being a teenager sucks. But trust me, life does get better. It gets better.
If you need more proof, go to the It Gets Better Project. If you’re contemplating doing something drastic and/or could really use someone to talk to, contact The Trevor Project. There are thousands and thousands of people who care about you. Including me. Don’t give up. We’re here for you. We understand. We’re listening.