I just watched Bruce Jenner's interview with Diane Sawyer in which he came out to the world as a transgendered woman and wow, was it ever powerful and inspiring to see someone accepting their truth and to watch the transformation in him in those two hours as he started the interview in tears and in a bundle of nerves and ended it with hope in his eyes and weight lifted off of his shoulders. It made me want to keep the conversation going. This is what the lgbt community needs. Encouragement. Interviews like this. Campaigns like the It Gets Better Campaign. Acceptance.
I saw so much of my own past in what Jenner talked about during the interview that it felt uncanny at times. I'm not transgendered. I've always been very comfortable in my born gender as a male, and have felt very lucky for that. I'm gay and struggled with that for years before coming out and I can imagine that coming out in today's society as transgendered is so much harder than coming out as gay. They're two completely different things, yet both deal with identity to an extent, gender much more so than one's sexual orientation. One thing is certain, you can't choose either. I'll put that myth to rest for anyone who thinks otherwise, you can NOT choose your sexual orientation. I have never had a choice in the matter when it comes to that.
I'm quite comfortable with who I am now, but were I given the option growing up I would've chosen to be straight in a heartbeat. If I could snap my fingers and make the gay go away, I would've given anything to make that happen. This is why I'm writing this post. Because it shouldn't have been that miserable for me growing up. Bruce Jenner shouldn't be 65 years old and just coming out now as transgendered because he can't stand to be in the closet for one more day. He said in the interview that at one point he contemplated suicide. The suicide rates among the lgbt community, the murder rates towards the lgbt community are disgusting, sad and tragic.
Though I'm not transgendered I related quite a bit to what Jenner spoke about when he talked about waiting so long to come out. When he talked about living his whole life with a constant battle and struggle within his own mind, never fully being happy or living his life. I remember many sleepless nights going over and over in my head how I would plan my life to just pretend to be straight for my whole life and justify how I could be ok with that and furthermore try to convince myself that it could somehow become the truth.
Here's where this post stops becoming depressing (it does, I promise :p). I finally came out when I was 29. Really came out. I had come out to a very VERY tiny handful of people in my life before that, mostly as bisexual, but there was nothing bisexual about me...I was gay. At 29, I told myself I wasn't going to turn 30 and still be in the closet. That's a decision everyone has to make for themselves as far as when it's right...for me it was then. I wish it were earlier. When I say that my life changed instantly for the better and it felt like a million pounds was lifted off of my shoulders, I'm not exaggerating in the least bit. My only regret is that I didn't do that earlier. I feel like I started living my most authentic life at 30.
My fear was that the world that had been judgmental for so long would attack me. I'm privileged and I know that and I'm thankful for that. I have an amazing mom and sister and brother that are the most accepting and loving people in the world that embraced me for the person I am from the moment I came out and would've done so no matter when I did. I have the absolute MOST amazing friends in the world who do the exact same and one friend in particular who has been the recipient of countless emails that allowed me to get to the place where I could face myself. I can't ever repay her for that. But there's still the world we live in. There's the bullying that I grew up with because I wasn't very masculine. There's the expectations of traditional straight male roles that *I* felt I wasn't living up to even if that social construct wasn't set up specifically by my parents. It's still something I grew up seeing in the community, on tv, in the media, in the neighborhood.
I hope and I see that we're moving to a place where those barriers are slowly being broken down. Break down those barriers whenever you can. Let the children and teens (and adults) in your life know, even in an indirect way, that the "norms" are self defined. We each make our own normal. That uniqueness is what makes each of us beautiful. Know that there is NOTHING WRONG with you if you feel different than the people around you and that those people around you? They may feel the same way as you too for all you know. Try to live a life that lets the people around you know that they're welcomed in this world just as they are. Every time I was bullied, every time something was pointed out about me that was "girly" or "faggy"...that pushed me back into the closet for a couple more years. Every time I was called "gay" in a derogatory way or a "fag", it did the same. Don't rob someone of their freedom to be themselves with harsh words. Think of how much you can change someones life...think of the life you can give someone by doing the opposite...just by letting them know in little ways that you fully love and embrace and accept them just for who they are. What a gift that is. It broke my heart to see clips they played in the interview with Bruce Jenner tonight of stand up comedians and paparazzi making jokes about him switching gender and hounding him with these horrendously cruel questions just for the sake of a cruel laugh while he was struggling with something very real.
Lastly, and my most important point in writing this post and the reason to keep the conversation going, LIVE YOUR TRUTH. I know it is NOT easy to come out. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life, quickly followed by the most relieving and fulfilling feeling I've ever had in my life. Like I said, I know I'm privileged to have that experience. Not everyone gets a positive response when they come out. Some people are more privileged than me and don't even have to come out. They're just embraced and accepted for who they are and I am SO thankful that there are families and communities out there that embrace children and teens that way. Taking all of those scenarios into account, live your truth. You will be a happier person for it. That's why I'm writing this...so maybe someone will see it and know my experience. Come out to one person that you know will accept you for who you are and then work from there if you're unsure how things will play out. That's what I did. It doesn't get better in the closet. I promise you that. It gets worse the longer you're in there. But it gets so much better outside of it because you get to live completely as yourself for the first time.
There are supports out there if you need them. It's not safe for everyone to come out TO everyone all the time, I know that. Unfortunately we still live in a world where there is prejudice and hate, though we've come leaps and bounds from where we were even 10 years ago.
There's the GLBT National Help Center with talk lines, youth support and online chat support
PFLAG is an amazing organization with chapters all over the country.
The Human Rights Campaign is one of the biggest LGBT advocacy groups with tons of information.
The It Gets Better Project is one of the best projects I've ever seen and will give you tons of examples of life after coming out and stories of coming out from all aspects of the lgbt community.
The Trevor Project is one of my favorite organizations. They're dedicated to lgbt youth, provide a suicide hotline and a "safe and judgement-free place to talk" 24-7
You can also look for local counselors to talk to who specialize in treating people in the lgbt community. Just remember, there's hope out there when things feel hopeless. There are people who will and already do accept you and love you for who you are. Take a deep breath, trust yourself, trust in those people and know that they exist and go live your life. Live it authentically and happily and proudly and how you deserve to live it and be loved.