Sometimes you have people in your feed reader – and their feed changes. Their posts stop showing up, and because you have so many feeds, you don’t immediately notice. Then months pass and years pass, and suddenly you find yourself thinking, “What happened to X?”
So it is for me with Dan Savage. I used to read his advice column, then one day it stopped showing up in Google Reader, and I didn’t immediately notice. I have sort of been able to work with Dan’s content because it shows up in other places, mostly JoeMyGod.
But in the last few days, Dan’s new project has a lot of coverage right the way across a whole series of blogs I read and things people tweet about. He’s responding to a series of young gay suicides in the US. Young gay people, he says, have very little access to grown-up gay people. Particularly in the US, normal gay adults are barred from talking to teens by schools, by churches and by society. So some young gay people have such a crummy time of it at school, never have the contrary view put, and end up feeling they have no future.
Dan thought, “Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.” And a youtube campaign was founded.
So, in the UK, the Lib Dems have been talking about homophobic bullying since, like, forever – here’s a link to a 2006 story. Now, as the Lib Dems have an Equalities Minister in Lynne Featherstone, it’s in the programme for government.
And its worth remembering, that whilst LGBT teenagers do get bullied for who they are, the net of bullying of teenagers is not very sophisticated, and countless thousands of non-gay people get bullied for it too.
My own personal experience of bullying at school – well, I’m sure many have experienced worse. A small bit of it around 12-13 was terrible, most of the rest of the years had their ups and downs. I was bullied for being gay from the of 5, long before I had any notion of what it meant. One way or another, I was “different” for my entire school, for any number of reasons. I was bright – near the top of nearly every class. I enjoyed reading. I hated sport. I made no effort to fit in. I was perfectly happy alone. I played recorder until I was 16. I was musical. I did all the theatre stuff. There were years when I was the only boy in the choir.
I went to three secondary schools: the family moved home just after I started secondary school, and moved me from the local school near one house to the local school near the new one. That one did not work well for me – again because I made no effort to keep my head down and fit in. I ate things in my packed lunch people thought were weird – like hard boiled eggs. I had a thermos flask of coffee. People used to watch me eat, so I’d put on a show. Like dunking the eggs in the coffee. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful.
Things came to a bit of a head one day when someone grabbed my glasses off my face, and bent them in half down the bridge – the bit that is not supposed to bend. I couldn’t bend them back or they would have snapped, so I had to go home like that. They were expensive, I couldn’t see much without them, and it was obvious my parents had to intervene. They went into the school and talked to the staff, and a teacher told them, apparently “These things usually go away in the sixth form. Most parents in your situation move their children somewhere else.”
So we used our church links to get me a place at a school in Hereford where I finished my school days. I was able to do more GCSEs as a result, spent a fraction of my life on a bus to or from school, life got a bit better.
I never came out at school, although I was pretty sure – sure enough to tell my parents – by 16. Maybe two people knew by the end of sixth form college. But I made a point of jumping in with two feet at university – finding the earliest opportunity to tell my housemates, joining the LGB Soc, and, well, putting it about a bit.
I was never suicidal at school, but there were times in my late teens I contemplated walking into the sea or jumping off a flyover under a truck. I got a depression diagnosis at one point, and took prozac – it never had an effect I noticed, either to help or the sorts of side-effects an ex experienced.
Those feelings passed. It does get better. Lasting friendships and relationships are possible. Hell, even *I*’m getting married next weekend, and if I can manage it anyone can.
Some final thoughts:
You don’t have to conform, even within the gay world. Plenty of gays don’t like clubbing or pop music. There are indie gays, there are goth gays, there are thrash metal gays. There are an awful lot of Early Music gays. There are even Cliff Richard gays!
Sign up to gay weekends. If you can manage to go on big gay weekends out with strangers, do it. Find a group doing something you like and string along. I’ve had amazing times and made great friends on gay camping weekends, and gay bellringing weekends.
There should be a third thing. But there isn’t. Lists of three are always a good rhetorical device, but it’s better if the third thing isn’t the blog equivalent of Lorum ipsum. Maybe I’ll write one later, but I was supposed to get an early night tonight and haven’t.
PS Everything you thought about musical theatre is true. All of them!? The whole cast?!