I had an easy time “Coming Out.” Well, I say that. The months building up to it were horrible, a constant thrum of butterflies in my tummy. Every time I spoke I was scared it would be to blurt out “I’m a lesbian!”
But actually coming out? Well I wrote a note, true to form, and left it on my mum’s pillow. The conversation that ensued went roughly like this:
Mum: I got your note.
Me: Uhm yeah.
Mum: Are you sure?
Mum: Did you really think I’d mind?
My dad’s response was much the same. That is a very, very condensed version of the conversation of course, but my basic point is: they were fine, I was lucky. What I would like to be able to say is that everyone has that experience, that it wasn’t “lucky” so much as “standard”. But I know that isn’t the case.
There is a very high rate of suicide attempts among LGBT teens, with around 1 in 4 having tried. Imagine- that is 25%, one quarter, ¼, of all LGBT teens, who make up (going with the 1 in 10 stat, which is a very conservative estimate) 10% of the teen population. My maths is shockingly bad but I can see, quite clearly, that this isn’t right.
The causes are many: family and societal pressure and bullying rate among the highest. And the problem is that, since society does still tend to take a negative rather than a positive view of homosexuality, it is harder for LGBT teens to reach out and ask for help. In a society that casually makes “gay jokes” and derogatory remarks without even meaning to cause any offence, it is incredibly hard to take the step of coming out to someone.
Even with parents as described above, I found the years between 13 and 16 horrible. I think part of my self-harming and early depressions were tied in with the overwhelmingly negative feelings I had around my own sexuality. This was a couple of years before “you’re so gay” became an insult- it was when there was so much quietness surrounding homosexuality that it felt like a guilty, horrible secret. The contradictions in society are such that I was able to read a teenage magazine and take away from it that “being gay is fine” but “I had better not be gay.” That you can have a gay friend or a gay uncle or a gay sister. You can even have a gay crush! But you can’t be gay yourself, because that’s a whole different ball-park. I did try telling some friends I “might be bisexual” because that seemed easier, like a half-way out. And the general response was “eeeww!” and/ or “you’re just saying that to get attention.”
Yet coming out was necessary: until I could say to somebody comfortably that I was a lesbian, I was also unable to say: “I am being laughed at for being gay” or “I just broke up with my girlfriend”. It isn’t that coming out is, in and of itself, a Very Good Thing, but that so much more of our lives is tied up with our sexual identity than we realise. You don’t just come out once: you are constantly coming out, every single time you introduce a “partner” to someone who doesn’t know, every single time you fill out a bloody form. That is the extent to which our personal lives are caught up with our orientations.
I wish everybody had parents like mine. I wish everybody had friends like the ones I eventually made. I wish being LGBT didn’t heighten your chances of taking your own life. But it does. And until we can be much more open about what it means to be a young LGB or T person in today’s society, it will continue to do so.