Dan Savage, author of the Savage Love column and a couple books, has started a new project in response to yet another suicide by a gay teen. He created a YouTube channel where LGBT people can post their videos discussing their coming out, their lives, and how, in growing up, it gets better. It’s not always miserable and hopeless to be queer, even though it can really seem that way.
Honestly, I don’t have any experience with video. Arg. And my computer, though it claims I can video using my built-in webcam, doesn’t seem to want to. I suspect I am missing a mic.
Plus, I simply prefer writing.
In fall 2004, I was a senior in high school. I’d been dating my first girlfriend for over six months, and my best friend had just passed away in a house fire. It was a very emotionally tumultuous time in my life. Looking back, I remember only bits and pieces, like driving to school on crisp fall mornings with the windows down and having hot sex in the back seat of my Camry, parked in a dark alley. I remember my girlfriend’s parents threatening that if she came out, her mother would lose her job, and the time when her younger sister outed us to all of her friends in an attempt to fit in. We didn’t really know anyone else who was gay, and I felt very alienated – I had no idea there were ways to connect to other LGBT people. The highs were incredible, and the lows were very, very dark. I was coming off a semester of drinking and popping pills every morning before class, but my girlfriend was one of the reasons I stopped playing with drugs. I was head-over-heels in love.
I had a hare-brained notion that I should come out to my mother, in hopes that my honesty would bring us closer. God knows I was so fucking wrong. Instead, our already miserable relationship worsened. She dragged me to a psychiatrist, insisted that I was in a phase triggered by the sudden death of my best friend, and used her shame and yelling to drive me deeper into the closet. My close friends, the few who knew about us and were supportive, were a solace. But losing the last few family members I had left, after my family had already been split by divorce and rivalries, was overwhelming and terrifying. My friends who were Christian took off pretty quick, and those that stayed faced disapproval from their parents for hanging out with “gay kids.”
I remember thinking my cousins would never speak to me again. I just wanted to move out, run away, but I had nowhere to go. I counted down the days to college, when I could get away from my mother. I was so overwhelmed some days, and I really couldn’t imagine how things could get better.
And then I went to moved out, went to college, and got a job.
Practically overnight, I had a bed I could fuck in any time I wanted. I had the money to support myself – to some degree – and I could go see my girlfriend for a whole weekend without asking permission and facing judgment, shame, and anger from my mother. I could call her anytime I wanted, and not fear that if her number showed up on my caller ID that I would face another two days of fighting. I felt liberated. I could come out on my own terms, and define my life in a new place. And I did all of those things.
It definitely gets better.
I don’t have all my shit together, and I never will. I don’t want to pretend to be a role model for anyone. I still struggle with coming out, at new jobs, in unfamiliar or scary situations, in dealing with family. But not for a second would I take back being queer.
I’m so blessed. I have so many queer friends and straight allies in my life. I have stopped putting stock in my biological family, which has never been supportive for really any reason, and learned to build a chosen family of friends who I actually enjoy spending time with. I get to play any role in the queer community that I wish, and I have taken on many – as a political and social advocate, as a member of LGBT organizations, as a researcher, as a geek who loves queer history, as an employee of an LGBT org, as a protester, as a supporter of queer arts and culture, as a volunteer, and now, I suppose, as a writer. I love that everyone in this community can choose their level of involvement – but at the end of the day, being queer – from who you fuck to how you speak out and everything in between – is subversive and beautiful.
I wake up every day, grateful to have not chosen suicide when I was 15, 16, 17. I can’t tell you the number of times I faced death as a viable option.
I can tell you there is so much to come, so much that you just haven’t experienced yet. Amazing, mind-blowing sex. Visiting cities like New York and San Francisco, where the gay flags on balconies signal “home.” Pride parades. Laughing about with queer friends over a bottle of wine or a few beers. The thumpa-thumpa of the club. Drag. Watching someone open their eyes and ears as they learn about what it’s like to be queer. Movies like Imagine Me & You. Seeing a gay kiss on-stage. Falling in love. Tiny, hidden gay bars where everyone is like family. Queer theory and queer history.
And there are all the not-so-gay things. Like the chance to go to school. The jobs you could have, the people you could meet. The friends you’ll make. The chance to reconcile with family members, who often do come around after a few months or years. The places you’ll go.
There are so many possibilities, so many opportunities. There’s so much worth living for. You only get once chance, so enjoy it while you’re young. Enjoy it when you’re old. Tomorrow does get better.
Someday, it’ll be you writing to the next generation, telling them the same.
If you're struggling with being LGBT/queer and need someone to talk to, please call 866-4-U-TREVOR. The hotline is operated 24/7 by the Trevor Project, a non-profit dedicated to crisis and suicide prevention among LGBT youth. You can find out more or donate to the Trevor Project on their website, thetreavorproject.org.