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02/04/2012

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Edward S.

A passionately acute, sensitive, and heartbreaking essay, Matt. I have no doubt it is, as you posit, universally true, or very nearly so. It really should be published in The Atlantic, or somewhere that it could have a wider audience and spur discussion.

My own "suicide impulse" moment came when I was 23 and still two years away from coming out. For a period of months I used to drive home every day, park my car in the garage of my house, close the garage door with the car still running and me still in it, and sat there for longer and longer periods of time, contemplating my death and hoping that I would be knocked out by the carbon monoxide before I had to make a conscious decision; it would almost be as if the decision had been made for me, or so I reasoned in my despair. After failing to go through with it (obvs.!), I would lie on the couch staring at the ceiling for blank hours dreaming of self-exile, running away from everything and everyone I knew, cutting off all contact with them, and remaking myself afresh in a place where I was utterly anonymous. And this despite having been raised in New York City, in an "averagely" loving home, with both a mother and father, in reasonably comfortable material circumstances, with parents who actually knew and associated with gay people (mostly friends who ended long-standing marriages to come out of the closet), having gone to a college well-known for its liberal bend, having friends who had friends who were gay, and having gay friends myself. Yet, despite all these things, and knowing all I knew, I still thought it might be better to end my existence than to come out as gay. One can then only feel the profoundest pity for the child or teenager who has such feelings, feelings that they cannot quite understand or adequately master, and who suffer silently in the midst of a family, even the best intentioned, as yours was, who fail repeatedly in their attempts to reach them in part because they don't understand whom they are trying to reach.

Edward S.

(cont'd)

And of course though the majority of gay kids don't commit suicide, the "suicide impulse" persists in other forms even after we've come out, after we've created lives for ourselves. From the more direct expression of the suicide impulse in the buzz some years back about "bug chasers" who actively sought, so the reports went, to be infected with HIV as if proactively (which phenomenon I never quite believed in, frankly), to people still engaging in unsafe sex practices more generally, even perhaps extending to the symbolic suicide of gay people who become ardent Republicans, aligning themselves with a cause that quite clearly would be happier if they did not exist. These, perhaps, are extremes, but the "suicide impulse" endures even in the many of us who would consider ourselves "out and proud," self-loving, self-accepting, with partners and loving family members and friends. We constantly, in large and small ways, still seek to efface ourselves and our identities: we don't hold hands with our partners on the street in Washington Heights (or even in Hamilton Heights!), we may be cautious with our self-presentation when we start a new job, we may allow a stranger to believe that we are straight simply because we don't want to "deal." All these things diminish us, render us more open to despair or simmering resentment and hatred. I can shake my head in incredulity at the foolish things that our conservative political representatives say about us (and even some of the "liberals"), but I know that their words are heard as truth by millions who will go on to consciously or unconsciously harass and bully even their own children simply because they cannot be aware and alive to the fact that that child might be gay or that the epithet that they casually toss off might be the spark that leads to the self-immolation - the auto-da-fe - of some self-despising gay youth whose despair, to continue the metaphor, sends up such billows of dark smoke that it obscures their view of the bright blue sky and the shining sun that lie just outside the circle of their pyre.

Edward S.

(cont'd and final)

That is not to say that I believe "it gets better;" for I too am cast in the Schopenhauerian mold. You are absolutely right that there has to be a sea change of awareness and sensitivity, even among the most liberal of factions, to the need to create a society in which all gay kids can develop secure in themselves and their worth and flourish, maybe even making the "suicide impulse a thing of the past." But I do believe (or hope!) that you are being too pessimistic when you take the referent of "it" to be life generally. Of course life doesn't "get better" in the strictest sense: it ends in illness and the grave; or in violent death and the grave; and, most generally speaking, in the grave. But things about life do get better when one finally comes to accept and avow ones's gayness (in the embracing sense in which you used it - and perhaps even more inclusively to all perceived "difference") and we can only hope that those videos of people who hid and hated themselves and then came out to life and love - and survived, even thrived - just might convince one young person just to hold on, just until they can survive on their own, free of their family if sadly necessary, free of anyone who hates them and puts them down, until they can be who they want to be and see that there is love for them, that there is life for them, and that as difficult as it can, and will continue, to be, there are glimpses of excruciating beauty that seem to make it all worthwhile. Even gloomy Schopenhauer agreed with that.

Matthew Gallaway

Thanks, Ed.

Peter

Thank you for this. My son is not yet two, but I often imagine his future and I have realized that I always imagine him as heterosexual. This is frustrating because it happens unconsciously despite the fact that I was raised in a very liberal and open household and community with gay adult role models and friends. The last thing my conscious self wants to do is make my son feel bad in any way about who he is meant to be (as long as he is not hurting others, of course). But I've come to realize that while I can trust myself to avoid imposing my personal tastes and interests on my son with regard to more superficial aspects of his future life, I will have to train myself not to assume that my notions of a fulfilling romantic and family life are his. It will be a lot easier for me to allow my son to wear a dress to school some day, than to avoid asking him if there are any girls he likes. Your essay drove home the seriousness of being aware of these feelings within myself.

I agree with the previous commenter that society would benefit from wider publication of this essay.

Matthew Gallaway

Thanks, Peter -- you sound like a very thoughtful parent, and Im sure your son will be all the better for it.

Masha Makhlyagina

I think what is often also left out of the discussion is the prevalence of something equally as dangerous as a suicide impulse--a general apathy. There were many times during the process of discovering my queerness that I stopped short of the agency of suicide (because it literally, I believe, takes a willpower to decide to end one's life), and instead could let go of the wheel while driving at night, or, more simply, not care about waking up the next day. This meant that I was okay with the higher powers that be (or don't exist, whichever way you fall on that one) starting a fire in my house and letting me burn to death in my sleep. Really, this is a wonderful piece and thank you so much for writing it.

Matthew Gallaway

Very much agree, Masha -- thanks for the comment.

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