Last week, the fiancé and I got to see an advanced screening of the movie Love, Simon. I don’t want to give too much away, but for those who have never heard of this movie, it’s about a teenage boy struggling with being Gay and “coming out.” I’m not gonna lie, it was cute, and I enjoyed it. It’s one of those feel-good movies, where you walk away smiling.
But as much as I enjoyed this film, it really made me think about being Gay today. When I was growing up, I couldn’t even contemplate being open with who I was, but today’s kids proudly display who they are for the world to see. In case you haven’t heard me say this before, I think that Gay kids today are some of the bravest kids out there, and I am in awe of their openness.
So what has changed from when I was in high school back in the late 80’s/early 90’s to now? Well truth be told, I think that there is more of an awareness and tolerance because of mainstream television shows and movies, like Love, Simon. They show today’s Gay youth that people will accept them for who they are. It’s a great message, don’t you think?
If I’m going to be completely honest here, I don’t know if I totally agree with this message. Don’t get me wrong; I definitely believe that the Gay community has made amazing strides in the world. However, I also think that these shows and movies romanticize the idea of “coming out.” They show a kid talking to their parents and friends, saying how they are the same person they always were, and everything just turns out great for the Gay kid in the end.
But what they don’t show today’s Gay youth is the other side. The reality is that sometimes, it actually does not get better. Sometimes, “coming out” does not end with a happily ever after and the credits rolling to some pop song.
Here are some hard facts: for all the advances that have been made, homophobia is actually on the rise. And for every YouTube video about a positive “coming out” experience, there is a story about a child being thrown out on the street by their parents. Did you know that 40% of homeless youth are members of the LGBTQ+ community? That’s a pretty high number if you think about it. And a lot of these kids end up selling themselves on the street, doing drugs to get through life, or killing themselves. Does that sound like a positive experience to you?
Being a teenager alone is hard enough, but being openly Gay in school, or even being suspected of being Gay, can be even tougher. Studies have shown that approximately 25% of LGBTQ+ students and university employees have been harassed due to their sexual orientation, as well as a third of those who identify as Transgender. Add to those statistics that LGBTQ+ students are three times as likely as Heterosexual students to say that they do not feel safe at school, have considered dropping out or being home schooled, or worse yet, have thought about or attempted suicide. Where is that movie?
Unfortunately, things can get even worse when religion is thrown into the mix. Most major religions promote the discrimination and hatred of LGBTQ+ people, and because of this, families end up being torn apart. Countless LGBTQ+ youth are raised in religious families and experience a great deal of internal conflict as they try to balance their learned beliefs with who they really are. Some end up suppressing their true selves, getting married to someone of the opposite sex and raising a family, just to make their parents and community happy. They live a miserable “closeted” existence, all in the name of religious beliefs. Some end up stepping out on their spouses, others turn to various vices to cope, and some even end up taking their lives. That really doesn’t sound like a way to live, does it?
They don’t see any other way, because “coming out” and owning who they really are would mean losing their families or everything they grew up knowing. Take me, for example. Anyone who has read any of my past blogs knows that I grew up in a religious community and family. I was picked on as a kid for being Gay, long before I knew what Gay even meant. But I walked away from the community when I went to college, and have been an out and proud Gay man for over twenty years now. But it hasn’t come without a price.
Including my immediate family, I would say I have about seven or eight aunts, five uncles, and maybe thirty cousins. This doesn’t include my brother/sisters-in-law, or nieces and nephews. When I announced my engagement three weeks ago, complete strangers whom I knew only through social media were happy for me, but only about a handful of my relatives showed any kind of emotion. BTW, NOT A SINGLE MEMBER OF MY IMMEDIATE FAMILY REACHED OUT… NOT MY MOTHER, NOT MY BROTHERS, NOT MY SISTER… NOBODY!!!
You would think that me finding some semblance of happiness would illicit some form of response from them, but that’s not the case here. It’s sad that this is where things stand between my family and I, but it is what it is. Unfortunately, this is a harsh reality for many members of the LGBTQ+ community. For me, I have gotten so used to this nonsense that it doesn’t faze me anymore. I have gotten to the point where if they don’t want to be in my life, then so be it. They chose not to know me, and all the good that comes along with it. In the end, it’s their loss.
You know, a long time ago, my mother told me that growing up, I hated myself for being Gay. The truth of the matter is that she was right, but when you think about it, how could I not? I lived in a community that put me down because of who I was, and I have a family who act as if I don’t exist, all because I don’t fall in line with what they believe. I went to a school that drilled in every student’s head that being Gay was a sin. So how could I not hate myself? It was instilled in me since birth that I should, and nobody was there to tell me otherwise.
It wasn’t until moving away from that atmosphere and into the bigger world that I started meeting all different kinds of people. I realized then that the world was made up of such diversity, and I actually brought something unique to the table. But the only way to do that was to be myself, and not some version that others wanted me to be. And that’s when I realized that there truly was nothing wrong with who I was, or how I felt. What other’s thought of me, or how I should be, became less important, and I decided that it was time for me to live my life on my own terms. And that’s when I found my happiness.
I really don’t have an epic “coming out” story. There was no major announcement. One day, I had a boyfriend, and that was that. So there never was that sit-down conversation where I had to say that I was Gay, but still the same person I always was. And as I sit here thinking about it, even if I had that conversation, it would have been a lie. The truth of the matter was once I realized that there was nothing wrong with being Gay, I was never the same person again.
As I sit here writing this, I’m beginning to realize that THAT is where I have a problem with these television programs and movies. The focus is in the wrong place. They are all about how others are going to react to somebody being Gay. They make it appear as if we, as Gay people, need to beg to be loved and accepted, or that our happiness is contingent on what other’s think or feel. But instead of concentrating on what the outside world thinks, maybe the focus should be learning to accept yourself for who you are, and not on those other people.
You see… I’ve learned along the way that “coming out” is not about whether or not your family or friends accept you. Sometimes they will, and sometimes they won’t. It’s about learning to love and accept yourself, and living your life to the fullest FOR YOU. The reality is that nobody else lives in your skin, and once you let go of that secret as to who you truly are, you are free. That weight is taken off your shoulders, and you have taken the first step to making your life your own. Everything after that is for you, and nothing can hold you back. And what others think or feel rolls right off your back.
And that, my friends, is the real happy ending.