Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet 137

Here are a few excerpts from a book I recently read, "It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living," by Dan Savage and Terry Miller, a compilation of messages that were originally featured in a YouTube campaign in response to the suicides of teenagers who were bullied for being gay.

Btw the point of "Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet" is to present excerpts without context or endorsement.  However, I do want to append this: if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts because you are being bullied for being gay, help is here; for example, the Trevor Project runs a 24-hour hotline which you can access by calling 866 488-7386 or clicking here.  And, if you are bullying someone for being gay, STOP.

I do remember the first time like it was yesterday, though. In the fifth grade, I had a friend named Gwendolyn. We stuck together at school and hung out in the afternoons. Gwendolyn was tall, athletic, kind of a big girl. We were alike in a lot of ways; butchy, indifferent to what the other girls seemed to care about, and, the big one, uninterested in boys. But when one boy teased us, saying we were “tomboys together,” Gwendolyn turned to me and said, “No way!” and pushed me. She chased me home until she caught me. She told me she wasn’t my friend anymore and hit me in the face. I didn’t understand what I had done, but I felt terrible about myself. It felt like something must be really wrong with me if Gwendolyn, I was afraid to make friends after Gwendolyn. And I was teased for years after that. 

I was pretty isolated and often lonely in middle school and high school. I went to the prom with my own brother. I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t like more of the girls in my grade, but at some point, I realized that what set me apart was not what I was wearing or eating for lunch or listening to on my headphones, but that I was gay. Once I knew that, which wasn’t easy to realize, I looked outside my class and outside my school for a few people who I thought might recognize me. And there were lots of them once I looked. With a little time and a few people on my side, I became brave enough not to care about the people who didn’t like me. I even became brave enough not to hate them for being mean to me. My world did get better, but I got better, too.

Me'Shell Ndegéocello, singer/songwriter

I grew up in the small conservative town of David, Panama, in Latin America. Ever since I was a little kid, I felt different from all the other boys in the neighborhood. I was not good at sports. I did not like aggressive games. I hated having to hit the piñata at birthday parties. And I always preferred reading books and playing with the girls. I was raised by my very traditional and religious grandparents in a culture of homophobia and machismo. In my hometown, it was culturally acceptable for gay and lesbian people to be publicly subjected to humiliation, disrespect, and discrimination. I remember hearing stories of gay men being verbally and physically attacked. 

Because I was not masculine, the kids in school made fun of me constantly. They would write profanities about me in the bathrooms, taunt me during PE class, and call my house and say nasty things to me on the phone. I remember walking into a classroom and having all the students yell offensive and derogatory things at me while the teacher did nothing about it. The school staff just let the bullying happen. They believed that I was asking to be bullied by being different from everyone else. At school, I only felt safe around my friend Angie, whom I had known since I was a little kid. She stood up for me when I was threatened by my classmates. At home, I was bullied by my own family, which was even more painful than the harassment I received at school. My family was constantly telling me that I needed to change my mannerisms; they would criticize the way I spoke and walked. 

One day, my mother took me to a psychiatrist who was supposed to help me change. I felt so guilty and humiliated for having a doctor tell me how to sit properly. He tried to change my tone of voice, and even prescribed the antidepressant Prozac for me, which I thought then was a magic pill that would make me manlier. I lied in every session in hopes that I could stop going. I told the psychiatrist that I was acting tougher in school, and the kids were not making fun of me anymore. The reality was that the bullying was getting worse, and I did not having anyone I could trust to talk to about it.

I ended up believing the false, negative stereotypes that I heard growing up because I lacked any evidence of the contrary. I did not know anyone else who was gay. I felt lonely and isolated, and I was barely speaking to my family. One night, while I was riding in the car with my grandfather, he demanded I tell him why I always seemed so sad. I did not want to talk about it with him because I knew that he was extremely homophobic. I was definitely not ready to come out but he pressured me so hard that I ended up telling him that I was gay. He told me that gay people could never have happy lives because no one loves them. He asked me to think about the rest of the family and how much I was going to shame and hurt them. He said that all gay people are promiscuous, and not worthy of respect or success. He told me that I was abnormal. He said that everyone hates gay people, even in bigger cities and more progressive countries. And then, he cried. 

I had never seen him cry so hard. It was so traumatic to see him so upset and hear him say these terrible things that I ended up blocking my own emotions. I decided that it would be easier to lie to him. So a couple of days later, I told him that I was no longer gay, and I had just been confused. I knew this was not true, and I was lonelier than ever because now I felt like my family would never love me for who I was. I got so depressed that I started thinking about ending my life. The future scared me. I contemplated a life of suffering and loneliness and figured that I would never be able to be happy. Killing myself would be the only way to truly end all of the pain. 

I was very close to committing suicide before I decided I should at least tell someone else my secret. I was not sure if I could tell Angie. Even though I knew that I could trust her, I was afraid that she would react negatively and that I would lose my only ally in the school. I decided to tell her anyway because I knew that if I did not share my secret with anyone, it was going to end up killing me. I came out to her. I told her everything that had happened with my grandfather and how bad the bullying at school was making me feel. Telling her was the best decision I have ever made. I was able to release so much anxiety and repressed feelings. She was happy that I trusted her, and made me feel like I was special for being different. It was so refreshing to suddenly have someone to count on. I had been keeping this secret my whole life, and I was finally able to experience what it was like to be completely honest with another person. I realized then that I was capable of developing true friendships; having someone that loved me unconditionally made it clear to me that life was still worth living. 

Juan Carlos Galan, writer/activist

I was raised Catholic and told that being gay was just wrong, that it was against nature—this, from my mother who now happily tells her coworkers and her friends how proud she is of her bisexual daughter. She even cries when the Gay Pride parade goes by her office, she’s so proud. 

People will change and people will rise up to meet you. People that I knew in high school—some of the same people who said the very worst things to me then—have contacted me on Facebook and said, “You’re so brave.” 

And “If I didn’t know you, I wouldn’t have known anyone who was gay.” 

“You’re the first person I knew who was gay and it changed my worldview.” 

They say that now, these same people who threatened to kill me when I was a teenager. Yet if I had made the choice at the time to end the pain that I was going through, well, one, I wouldn’t have had the satisfaction of having them write to me all these years later on Facebook, and two, and more importantly, they wouldn’t have had the opportunity, regardless of how scared they were then, to know someone who was different. 

I think that being “other”—being bisexual, being gay, being transgendered, questioning your gender, whatever—is so incredibly valuable. It gives you a unique perspective on how to overcome the horrible things that people do to one another in the name of fear, in the name of what they think is religious righteousness. To go through all that and to survive it—without any malice toward those people, with love and forgiveness in your heart, and with acceptance of yourself—is the way to help heal the world. I really believe that you will contribute to that future. I promise you that it gets better. 

Khris Brown, video game director

The point is, bully, you might have a couple of pin-headed minions hanging around you, telling you that you’re cool and funny, but you’re really not. There’s not some glamorous, amazing life ahead for you. There is only one direction for people like you and that is down. You are a loser and you always will be. But the world needs assholes, and bullies, and haters like you to make the rest of us shine. Enjoy the power you think you have now, because I promise you it’s not going to last. Soon enough, high school will end, and the people you torment will be free of you. But you’re stuck with you forever, and you deserve it. F**k you. Okay bye. 
TJ, online blogger

I attempted suicide in my teens. I took a lethal dose of prescription medication and meant to remove myself from where I didn’t feel I belonged. When I look back now, I see that I was trying so hard to be who I thought everyone else wanted me to be that I forgot who I was. I lost my sense of place and my own worth. I didn’t feel I deserved to be loved, at least not in the way I wanted to be. So, I know how horrible it can be. I know how awful it can feel. 

Fortunately, a dear friend came to visit me in the hospital, and when I told him what I had done, he threw himself on me and wept. He told me how much my friendship meant to him. Although I had been unable to conjure any circumstance in which I felt needed (before taking the pills), he gave me one. My friend made me feel useful and worthy of being loved. I didn’t dare tell him about my feelings about being gay (not then), but I knew that I mattered and that somehow helped me to know that if I could just hold on until college, that I would grow past those empty moments.

Kristin Rivers, high school teacher

My little brother came home one day when I was in high school and told my dad that he had heard a rumor that I was gay. Then my sister called to tell me that my father said that if I was a fa**ot then, when I turned eighteen, my ass was getting kicked out of the house. She said she didn’t care if I was or wasn’t. It was nice that she was there for me but I lived with the fear of getting kicked out, wondering where I would go, what would I do, for a long time. So I denied who I was, even to my father. Then, one day when I was eighteen, we had a fight about something financial and when the fight was over, he said he loved me. I told him that he didn’t. Otherwise he wouldn’t have said that to my sister. He asked me if I was gay and I told him that I wasn’t. I denied who I was time and time again. 

When I was in college, someone outed me to my father during my sophomore year, but we never talked about it. I finally told him the truth my senior year. He said it wasn’t what he would have wanted for me, but that he wasn’t going to kick me out of his life. 

There was never true acceptance on his part; but for twelve years, there was tolerance. And then recently, he posted one of those cut-and-paste “Will you stand up with me against gay teen suicides?” pledges, listing the names of several young people who committed suicide, on his Facebook page. I thought that was a pretty big step for him, but then I read the comment he posted underneath it. “I am so glad that my son was strong enough to withstand the bullying and my ignorance as he was growing up. I am so proud of him and his accomplishments in life, and I love him for all that he is. Being gay is not one of his shortcomings.” 

It took many years, but I think my father realized that if all these kids were committing suicide, he could have lost his son, too. It’s sad that it took so many young people dying for him to realize that he could have been that parent, but he did. I’m very thankful that he’s finally come around after all these years and now we’re renewing our relationship as father and son.

Wayne Knaub, commissioner of the Greater Philadelphia Flag Football League

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