This month we’re going to talk about growing up gay contrasting what gay teens, and young men, are experiencing now with what I went through in the 70’s. Great strides have been made but, many accounts from young men tell a sad and familiar story.
I was 15 in 1976 when I started coming out. I was attending a large, inner city high school. It was scary. The bullying started long before I came out, but, escalated afterwards. I had rocks thrown at me. I was pissed on in a bathroom stall. High school became a living hell. There was no one to turn for help. I’m very interested in what that journey is like now.
We have become much more conscious bullying and have started to actively address It. Bullying is now taken seriously. I wish it was when I was a teen. One of the worst bullies that I encountered was gay. I found out years later when he approached me at a bar. Many of the most homophobic people are self-hating gay men. They take out their shame, and frustration, on the very people who could be their support system.
There are many things that are still the same for a teen coming out. A disproportionate number of homeless kids, and youth, are gay. Ignorant parents still send kids onto the streets rather than coming to terms with their sexuality. Gay kids are still isolated from their peers, and face powerful social rejection for being different. A significant number of gay teens who attempt suicide every year. Coming out is still a terrifying process for a lot of young people. As elders in the community we owe it to them to tell our stories, and show them that there is life beyond the pain of what they face today.
Things have gotten a lot better for many young gay people. Youth groups which were so rare (I was in one of three on the planet in 1976) are being held in major cities across the western world. Straight/Gay alliances are popping up in conservative high schools. I saw an announcement recently from the Houston Chronicle, a mother celebrating her son’s coming out.
I read a lovely article on Queerty recently chronicling a young teen’s coming out to his straight best friend. After much struggle he experienced complete love and acceptance. I lost most of my friends during the two year period that I came out in high school. Even my closest friend, from whom I had been inseparable, bailed pretty soon after I told him I was gay. While I’m sure that still happens it seems to be the exception rather than the rule these days.
Celebrities being open about their sexuality. Recently Billy Ray Cyrus has vocally supported his daughter Miley. We are everywhere. It would have been so empowering for me to see a happy gay couple walking down the street holding hands when I was a tween. We can make it easier for kids to be who they are. There is hope that things will continue to improve.
Growing up gay still has its challenges. Coming out still needs to be handled with care. Now, teens are supported through the process by friends, loved ones, and school counsellors. I believe that coming out is ideally done in our mid to late teens. It is a time when we are searching for self-definition and questioning everything. It seems the most natural time to deal with our sexuality. Why shouldn’t we grow up as who we really are?