When the National News shows a story that another child committed suicide due to anti-gay bullying, it just breaks my heart. School administrators usually turn a blind eye, telling the victim to ‘man up’ or ‘just deal with it’-if they even notice, is horrible beyond words. Kids usually hide the truth from parents, adults, care givers out of fear of hate, ridicule or abandonment. Suicide is always sad and difficult to deal with no matter who it is, but when a child feels that is the only option, is doubly heartbreaking.
When I was a child growing up in the Conservative Christian Religious Right Midwestern United States, gays and homosexuality was not discussed. I knew I was different from other kids around age 4 or 5. I also knew to keep my mouth shut throughout my elementary school years, don’t make friends, don’t talk about myself, don’t spend time with anyone, watch my pronouns, don’t offer opinions about tv personalities/celebrities, don’t talk to adults and don’t spend time with them. Pretty hard for a child but not the worst.
The worst was grown men telling the child-me, that if they ever saw a homosexual, they would shoot them dead with the rifles in the back of their pickup trucks. Or if a gay child ever crossed their path, they would kill them dead-because a dead faggot was the only good faggot. Of course they always said this out of earshot of my Mom and brother, other adults-unless it was with their CCRR cronies. School was another matter.
In school, I felt alone, disavowed, the odd kid in school. Classmates weren’t outright bullying, but they certainly didn’t go out of their way to welcome me. We moved a lot, so making friends was hard anyway so I just didn’t’ bother. Later on in school years, some kids did go out of their way to mimic the adults in the community. That was certainly a lonely experience. But I wasn’t alone.
My Mom went out of her way to tell me she would always love me and always have my back-no matter what happened, what I did. She would always love me. That really means a lot to a child going through something like growing up gay. It is so important for Dads and Moms to tell their children they will always love them, no matter what happens or no matter what the child says or does. Give them hugs constantly and reassure them they are loved, even if they don’t appear to listen.
I’ll share another secret my Mom told me during that difficult time period. I was telling her that other kids were calling me names, making fun of me and so on. She said, “If they’re picking on you, that means they’re leaving someone else alone. God thinks you’re strong enough to get through the bullying and teasing and come out the other side stronger.” That kind of lit a light bulb over my head. Just thinking that I was helping someone else made my difficult times a bit better. Of course I was still miserable and didn’t do well in school, I kept to myself, didn’t share anything but I got through it.
I was also so lucky that an upperclassman, whose mother was friends with my Mom, who-with his friends-vowed to be my protectors when I started my freshman year in high school. Their dedication to protecting me from the anti-gay bullying made a huge difference in my life. I didn’t know until years later, when my Mom told me what they had done. Life could not have been easy for them, so I owe them much gratitude.
That’s not to say life was easy. I did try to commit suicide at 14. Life was difficult, from typical day-to-day teenage angst, a full-time working mother dealing with teenagers, to Christian Community members telling me how much they wanted to kill me. So I’m not condemning the kids who succeed at suicide, rather, their community, their principals, their classmates. The kids didn’t fail, it was a community effort.
I just want to tell all those kids that I’m behind you. I love and support you, no matter what happens, no matter what you do. Life does go on, you will get through whatever is going on in your life. Bullies feed on fear and I’ll tell you a secret: don’t give them anything to feed on. You’ll spend too much time thinking about what they are saying. Get some sort of hobby to keep your mind off of them. I had music and band to occupy my time, and later, acting (which I so loved!).
And I believe in you.