Really Deep Wounds

ImageIt isn’t words that matter so much; it’s the meaning behind them. Intentions add definition, giving profound significance to expressions. When comedian Tracy Morgan “joked” to a Tennessee audience that he would stab his son if he were gay, he failed to understand that negative aims often cause deep wounds. As a culture and as a community, we’re just starting to wrap our minds around the effects of those lacerations.

Recent headlines show just how deep this cuts. There’s a study that was just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that finds gay, lesbian, and bisexual U.S. high school students are more likely than heterosexual students to engage in self-destructive behaviors such as disordered eating, smoking, drug use, and excessive alcohol consumption. Some might point to this as evidence of a moral decay inherent with homosexuality, but doing so dismisses a larger truth. A different study done on the same population revealed that LGBT youth were nearly two times as likely than their straight peers to be bullied in school as well as be sexually and physical harassed. They also make up about 1/3 of all teen suicide cases. When darts of venom are thrown our way, we tend to internalize their poison. Negativity gets projected onto us from the corner of someone else’s insecurity. As a result, we emulate behaviors that bring us down farther than any attack someone else could launch.

When I was a sophomore, going to high school felt more like entering a battle field than it did an institution of learning. More people referred to me as “faggot” than they did “Jason”.  Navigating the hallways in between classes was a treacherous journey full of spit wads, back slaps, and violent threats. The bathroom was a dangerous place; I was assaulted there early in the school year and learned to just hold it in. The gym was even worse. To me, P.E. stood for “physical endangerment”.  There was a boy in my class who had an odd fascination with my sexuality. His name was Anthony. He made a mockery of my identity in the locker room with lewdly bombastic sexual gestures that made many of the other guys roll with laughter. The day he sexually assaulted me was no laughing matter, though. That was the day I began to internalize the poison; it got deep into my bloodstream.

My mind had been trained to view each day as a battle when I was an adolescent. I suppose it’s natural that I went to war with myself as an adult. After that incident, I became shackled by shame. Negative self-talk permeated my idle thoughts. My body became an inconvenient orifice I was forced to live in. Life became a chore I had to get through. I entered politics as a way of fighting back. Every electoral victory I could achieve on behalf of gay rights was a punch in the stomach to Anthony.

There comes a point, though, where you can either twist someone else’s knife deeper inside yourself, or choose to pull it out for your own relief. When you stare down negativity, it runs away.

My ordeal happened in 1999. Much of the bullying I was subjected to was viewed as a normal rite of passage. Yes, it HAS gotten better. Today, you can download You Tube vides of the President of the United States and just about every celebrity telling you to hang in there. It might seem trite, but those videos are lifelines to more people that you realize.

The aforementioned 30 Rock Star reminds us that there are those who still need to learn the significance of positive intentions, though. When you joke about gay people being stabbed, you help instill a narrative that incites violence, both externally and internally. As he embarks on his “gay pride apology tour”, I hope Morgan will come to understand that negativity is nothing to fuel on.

I’m sure that many of you have your own war stories to tell. We all have our own shame to contend with. I hope that you allow your own negative energy to be released. You deserve to live a life of deep meaning, not deep pain.


Same-Sex Solstice

ImageIt isn’t just the times that have changed. What we can do with our time has rapidly evolved. Call it a same-sex solstice!

It’s easy to get caught up in the political narrative over gay rights. In a conflict-driven world, LGBT struggles are often defined by “battles” over legislation repealing the ban on gays in the military or as “showdowns” at the polls over gay marriage referendums. In January of 2011, though, Out magazine released results of a study that included an interesting window into a very personal turning point. Their survey found that 80% of LGBT people between the ages of 18 and 25 plan to marry; 70% say they want to have kids. By contrast, only half of their older peers in the 36-45 range want to marry, and just over a quarter want to raise children. The younger one is, the more optimistic they tend to be that they can claim the same kind of life that their heterosexual peers take for granted.

Not long ago, this boundless frontier was illusive. That fact has lasting effects the further one is from the budding of young adulthood.

When I came out of the closet, I had to accept the fact that I would never have a family of my own.  That was in 1998. Matthew Shepard’s violent murder and the cancellation of ABC’s Ellen were hot topics in LGBT current events. The U.S. was at a turbulent crossroad with sexual orientation, and many of us who were grappling with burgeoning identities got caught in the crossfire of a culture war. My fifteen-year old self couldn’t fathom that a little over a decade later, states would be legalizing same-sex marriage and gay teens would be prancing in primetime on Fox’s Glee.

A quiet turning point has lead to the acceptance of a new reality. I’m not alone in being on the frayed edge of that promise, though. It’s easy to be cynical about something you believe you’ll never get to have. Odd as it might sound today, coming out in yesteryears meant embracing the truth of who you are while simultaneously acknowledging that society wasn’t quite ready to make room for you.  Many of us have developed hard shells and postured masterful defense mechanisms as a result. Ever wonder why gays are prone to higher rates of drug use, eating disorders, smoking, and alcoholism?  It’s not because we’ve been lacking a moral compass; it’s because this mortal world has been lacking a place for us.

Today, coming out of the closet means coming in to a new world of possibility. Even in places like Kansas, where gay rights remain elusive, there’s room for we homos on this range. Go to the Riverside Perk on any weekend night and you’ll see a familiar site—giddy teenagers on double dates listening to live music  at their favorite local coffee shop. Except now, it’s pretty commonplace to see a doe-eyed male-female couple accompanied by a buoyant boy-boy date, listening to a just-out-of-high school lesbian strum her guitar, singing sugary ballads about her girlfriend. The heated rhetoric and bombastic politics boil down to something so innocent and so simple.

There’s something therapeutic about being in the company of such unfettered optimism. Life is far from unproblematic for the gay youth of today, but it’s also not unpromising. And those promises that this quiet revolution has delivered aren’t out of grasp for those of us who are older. The shadows of our tattered past don’t have to dictate the realities of our lives today. We paved this road. This is our solstice. Now let’s walk on it and enjoy the view!