I went to the Suffern Free Library when I was in high school to look for books about gay people. I was feeling kind of gay and I was concerned.
Among the stacks was this fabulous book from Denmark about gay men who were living happy lives, with pictures, all of it. They were black and white photos. The guys were, you know, Danish, so they were mostly tall and blond and seemed more foreign than gay. The thrust of the book was, “Being gay is cool. These guys are doing it. So can you.” It was the 70’s.
I cannot remember if I checked the book out and brought it home or not. I don’t think I did. But I do remember thinking this as I walked down a little street we called ONE WAY because the only marker was a one way sign, “Sure, they can be gay. They live in Scandinavia!”
I was not amused, in fact, the book further depressed me. There was something so macho, so football, so aggressive about the United States, reading about greasy haired Danish men with a predilection for cock was not going to change any of that.
But hear this---I was not going to kill myself for being bullied. And I will tell you why. Because I’m a badass.
Now, I was lucky because I was semi to very popular growing up at different periods of time. I was friendly and I truly liked people. I was very shy in elementary school but that kind of flew open in the Fifth Grade and I never looked back. (Though I do still prefer to spend hours alone every day.) But none of that could change the fact that underneath it all, I was very depressed.
Of course, I soldiered on, went to college and kind of blew it big time---too many drugs kind of thing---but again, I survived because I was a badass. I just felt this enormous desire to live and to live well.
But what about all these kids who are NOT badasses? There were days when I felt so shitty about myself, and was SO WORRIED about what would happen to me, that suicide would come into my mind. But again, since I was a badass, I would say, “Fuck you suicide. I want to go to Paris again.”
So this is what I suggest we teach young gay people. This is based on a sample of one: me. Teach your gay kids some anger. They do not have to fight. They do not have to carry weapons. They do not have to scream or curse. But let them know they can be badasses. If someone starts to bully them, let them know they can use their anger to stand up, walk away and find an adult (or cool friends) who will stand by their side.
Also---let your gay kid know that even though they feel horrendously isolated--and gay kids are. It’s awful—there will always be a very funny clever girl who is a little bit overweight who will be happy to have them for a friend.
I do not believe harassment causes suicide. I think keeping things under wraps does.
The advantage of being gay is you get to learn at a very young age that from a distance, people are fearful and treacherous. Being an outsider is a great way to learn about the human race. And there are other outsiders you can hang with who will have a similar bead on things. There is strength to be gained from learning about human nature at a young age. Plus, being a minority falls into the category of “adversity” and we know that adversity is a necessary ingredient for creativity and success.
When I was a senior in high school, I went into a bathroom stall (nervous stomach always---‘cause I was so upset about who I was) and there I saw scratched into the metal divider of the dark blue paint (I can still smell that bathroom) was the following:
“For a great blow job, call Donald Cummings. 357-3651”
That was my real phone number. And I was called Donald. I got on the bus to go home and I was so depressed. But you know what? I cannot remember if I scratched it out. I may have. But I may have also left it there. Because it was true.
To all the people who ever harassed me as a kid for being “light in the loafers,” “a faggot,” “a sissy,” “a bad ball player,” “a singer,” any of it…all I have to say is this: Go shoot or hang YOURSELF but before you do, tell your awful children to leave my fabulous children alone…or I will flatten them. ‘Cause I’m a badass.