Silence Is Damaging
At seventeen, I sat on my bed, staring down at the black metal in my hands. The gun felt heavier than usual. I loaded the chamber, knowing that putting a bullet into my head was the wisest choice I could make. The Bible in my Southern Baptist home taught me that God and my parents saw me as an abomination because I was gay. I hated myself! Since God did not remove the “sin” from me after many heartfelt prayers, I thought the only way out was death.
I am not alone. LGBT youth are more at risk than heterosexual youth due to the many stressors they face, such as social stigma, harassment, violence, discrimination. More LGBT youth attempt suicide and die by suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. More LGBT youth are homeless, kicked out of their families, and foster homes due to their sexual identities and/or orientations. In an attempt to cope with all the stressors and pain LGBT youth are more likely to use substances than heterosexual youth. All LGBTQIA youth need support and acceptance to live full and happy lives.
Luckily, I survived that day in my bedroom, and the many other times that I struggled with living. Over the years I found a supportive and loving community. I learned what it meant to form a chosen family, one who loves and supports all of you, instead of loving only parts of you. My parents could not find the strength to accept having a lesbian daughter. For my mother it was because of her deep religious beliefs. I do not know where my father’s fear stemmed from. My mother was initially outright hostile, which over the years has simmered into silence. My father has always been silent.
Harm comes in all forms- religious persecution, reparative therapy, hate the sin love the sinner theology, refusing to acknowledge LGBTQIA existence, not having equal rights, just to name a few. At the core of it all is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being damned. Fear of being rejected. Fear was the driving force behind the gun I was holding at seventeen and for all the other times I almost took my life. I am sure it is fear that keeps my parents silent. Fear of others knowing. Fear of being rejected. Fear of losing friends, connections, jobs. Unfortunately, the fear is very real.
Silence too is damaging. With one’s silence, a person can allow mistreatment of another and/or deny life-affirming support and acknowledgment. Silence can seem so normal.
Me: “Mama, I’ve started dating again.”
Mama: “How’s the weather? We haven’t gotten any rain, have you?” “What did you do this weekend?”
Me: “I went to the movies with Cindy.”
Mama: “Who’s that?”
Me: “A girl I just met.”
Mama: “Has your brother told you about the girl he is dating? We like her.”
Silence is like an invisible blanket that smothers you. The message received is you are not okay. Silence is not the middle of the road. It can cause as much harm as outward hate.
I thought at fifty-three years old living as an out, successful lesbian and having the support of my chosen family that my parents’ behavior wouldn’t have any impact on me. But that is simply not the case. On my best days, I find it sort of amusing and hurtful. The kind of hurt that stings my eyes and feels like a punch in the gut. On my bad days, the pain is like a hot poker penetrating my chest and stabbing my heart.
Acceptance is such a small thing, and yet it is life-giving and life-affirming. For the love and care of the LGBTQIA folks in your life do not be silent. Like this young man who decorated his truck, show your love and support openly. Your support does not have to be a huge act. It can be asking questions like “Who are you dating?” and being open to hearing the answer. June is Pride month. Acknowledging that with those you love is a great place to start.