A friend mentioned Written on the Body by Winterson this weekend, and the book seems to have gotten stuck in my head. It's been years and years since I read it, or really anything by her, though once upon a time she was my favorite author. I credit Written on the Body as a big part of my coming out process. The book is written from a first person perspective, though the protagonist has no defined sex/gender identity. At the time I read it, I wasn't comfortable with the idea of being sexual (or even romantic) with another woman. But reading the book forced me to explore my own feelings and thoughts about gender roles, sexuality, and sex in very mind-blowing ways. Granted, I was fifteen. But it was most definitely what I needed at the time. Ironic that this has all popped up around National Coming Out Day (today).
I cried this morning, when I woke up before my alarm and read the FB and twitter updates of many of my friends. I have some friends on FB I didn't even know where queer -- old camp friends, etc. -- and seeing these people who grew up in small town Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, proudly proclaim to 300+ people online that they're here and queer still blows my mind. I spoke with two close friends last week about the LGBTQ community in NOLA, in Louisiana, about the struggles we face and the challenges that hold back this community. On a microcosm, many are small and yet so pervasive -- one or two family members who hold someone back from being out, a boss that might or might not be accepting, a fear of the those who lurk in the French Quarter streets at night, etc. But the macrocosm is devastating in a different way -- the pay gap for women (and especially gender non-normative women), the racial and class divides in this town, the lack of a LGBTQ infrastructure through organizations and groups, the lack of venues for queer women, the lack of everything from healthcare to social support for trans people, pervasive (and often school-sanctioned) discrimination and bullying, etc.
I don't know why this year has hit hard -- I always wax poetic on LGBTQ holidays, but I guess the rash of suicides has just hit home. It's 2010, and groups like HRC and (our local) Forum For Equality and Gay, Inc, have put marriage and adoption at the top of the agenda, while teens are blowing their brains out. I get that it's not an either-or thing; nothing is that simple. But money is power, and the issues we choose to support with our time and money are the ones which get the most press and recognition. Thousands of people in California came out against Prop 8. In the last few weeks, five kids (that we know of) have committed suicide and where is outcry? It's coming, but it's not as well funded. This movement doesn't have the PR machine. But I'm grateful to see things like the "It Gets Better" Project. I'm glad people are reading, listening, hearing, and asking questions -- What can we do? What are we doing wrong? How can we give these kids hope?
I don't know. But we've got to start talking and listening. We've got to find a way to hear the stories of these kids, and not the post-mortem version. We've got to build a support system, an infrastructure, and we've got to start yesterday.
The suicides also brought up two of my own friends, both from high school, who've committed suicide. I'm certain neither of their deaths had anything to do with their sexual orientation or gender identity. But to think they both cut their lives off at 19. Argh. I wonder often who they would be if they were still here. If I'd still run into them from time to time. If they would find happiness. Death always leaves a hole, but suicide leaves a different kind of missing. It's been over three years, but damn, I still think about them. 19 is too young.
What are we doing? Not enough. Never enough, if this is still happening. Social change is slow, yes. But just as women found that Edna Pontillier's escape hatch was not the only one -- Nora Helmer was onto something -- LGBTQ teens have to discover the same. Death isn't a solution. There's so much more to find in Door #2.
Come out, come out, where ever you are. I'm grateful today, especially, for my "family." I'm grateful for my ex-boyfriend, Steven, the first person I came out to -- and a friend who gave me the support I really needed. I'm grateful to the psychiatrist who told me, contrary to my mother's wishes, that my being queer was just fine. I'm grateful to the straight allies, to groups like the ACLU and SPLC, to parents and family members of queers, to advocates, to those who love quietly and those who fight out loud. There's so much gold on this end of the rainbow.