Friday, October 1, 2010

Queer youth: hang in there! Love is coming!

I've never told this to anyone except my lover Teresa but what is the internet for if not oversharing, and what is this moment for but saying what needs to be said?

When I was 19 and in the throes of coming out of the closet as a lesbian I tried to kill myself. I thoroughly botched the attempt, thank heavens, and perhaps that's because subconsciously I wasn't as sure of my decision as I thought I was, but I did think I couldn't face going forward in life. There were of course many and complicated reasons, but the main one was that I didn't feel strong enough for the life I believed was in store for me. What I thought was in store for me was being a weird pariah, being whispered about, made fun of, shunned, maltreated, at school, at work, in the world at large; losing all my friends; being alone and lonely forever. Above all, I expected to lose the love of my family once they knew I was a lesbian. I didn't see how I could survive that.

Now, at 56, I know that what was actually in store was very different. I didn't lose any of my old friends and I made many new ones in and out of the LGBT community over the years. Sure, I've lived in an anti-gay society and felt its effects in general and specific ways, but that's life under capitalism, you find your way through it and if you're lucky, like me, you find the struggle and find your voice via activism and tap into your righteous anger and find strength from that. You discover a community--the LGBT community, and sisters and brothers in other oppressed communities with whom you link up to wage united battle for equality and peace and justice.

As for my family, well, I can't report that things went all that well. It's one of the sadnesses of my life that my mother died before ever really coming around to acceptance and understanding as I'd like to think she would have eventually. But that doesn't mean she stopped loving me, she always did and always expressed it, and yes, these things are complex, your family can oppress and love you at the same time and you know what else? Somehow you get past the pain and disappointment and you grow and thrive and life your life. Even if your family never does embrace your true self the way they should, that does not destroy you. You find support elsewhere, from teachers and elders and friends and lovers, you look around and realize that the joy and fulfillment of living as your own true self, your gay as a goose queer as the moon self, will sustain you.

I've segued into speaking to you, my dear precious beloved queer children and youths, so let me go on and address you directly. You may feel like you're the only one. You may be sure your family and friends will reject you. You're not the only one, not by a longshot. And for most of you, your family and friends will not reject you. They'll keep loving you. Many will accept and embrace you immediately--that's the result of these last 40-some years of the LGBT liberation movement. We've changed consciousness. There is much less bigotry and ignorance. Still, there will be some who let you know that they love you but also express their displeasure. This will hurt you terribly, but remember that you've got the rest of your life to watch them change, watch them come around and get over their homophobia; and in any case, your self-worth does not, must not, depend on them.

For those few whose family, captive to reactionary ideology, do reject you, hang on! You will find love elsewhere. You'll end up with a whole other family. You will! This will not destroy you, not as long as you can hang on at this most difficult moment.

In addition to the terrible string of suicides this week, I heard a heartbreaking story a couple weeks ago from a schoolteacher friend. There is a 7-year-old child in her school who is transgender. He's a boy who identifies as a girl. He tells everyone that he's going to be a girl soon. His parents are kind and supportive, as is his teacher. But a couple weeks ago this child told a classmate about his feelings and his hopes and dreams to become a girl--and the classmate told him that this would entail many surgeries, much blood and pain, that he'd suffer a lot physically and never be normal or happy. Who knows where the other child heard this but he thoughtlessly, or perhaps maliciously in that mean way children sometimes have, said it to his friend the trans child. And the 7-year-old trans child went home and tried to kill himself that night. He tried to drown himself in the bathtub. Luckily, he was found in time and survived. But how tragic is this, that a little child, because of some ignorant oppressive twisted hurtfulness passed along by a schoolmate, felt that his life was without hope?

Hope is the thing to hold on to. If you don't know that you'll find your way forward, if you can't believe it just because all of us who've come through the other side are telling it to you, what you must do is hope for it. You'll only have to hope for a little while. Before you know it you'll find yourself living your own true life. 

Your way forward may be different than mine was. Maybe you'll play first base in a slow-pitch softball league and find the dyke friends and lovers of your dreams. Maybe you'll cuddle up with a batch of big hairy bears. Or join a gay chess club. Or write your way through the hard early years, and your writing will help show the way for the next batch of LGBT youth. Most of you won't end up as communist revolutionaries like I did (though some will, and I can't wait to meet you)--but the hope I hold on to is that many of you will turn toward activism of one sort or another. Because by taking action, by joining your sisters and brothers in united militant action, you'll help make things better, help bring us toward the day when no queer youth will even consider suicide. And you'll make your own life better, happier, fuller and more rewarding. I guarantee it.

The reason I've never told anyone about my own close call at age 19 is that I've felt deep shame about it. The fact that I nearly succumbed to homophobia always seemed such a weakness. Now I want to say to queer youth struggling with feeling hopeless, alone, unloved and unloveable that these feelings are not shameful--they are exactly what this oppressive society means for you to feel. There's nothing wrong with you, not for being queer and not for feeling scared. You've just got to hear and believe all of us telling you that it will get better.

I'm going to follow up as soon as I can with some notes about books for and about LGBT children and youth. Such books were few and far between, if they existed at all, when I was in my teens, but I know they would have been such a help. They do exist now. I'm going to study up on them.