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In a Time of Deep Sorrow

I feel like a very close friend of mine at the moment.

I, too, sit here, trying to piece together my thoughts of what to write, yet my heart is too burdened by sorrow. I never wanted my brother near me as much as I do at this moment. But he can’t be, but I feel his presence giving me the strength to write what I’m about to.

My brother was gay. We lived in a small suburban community in New Jersey, U.S.A, which was at the time very conservative. The 1970’s…conservative? Sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? It seemed that they didn’t tolerate much, and if you were different, they tolerated you even less. My brother kept his homosexuality a secret from many so he wouldn’t have to deal with others distaste of how and whom he chose to love. Eventually he found the courage within him to finally come out but only to us for he felt we were the only ones who really needed to know. I was a very shy child growing up. I had a speech impediment for a time and because I was afraid kids would make sport of me because of it, I barely spoke except to my family and my closest friends. Because of my failure to speak, many thought I was retarded, an idiot, and I was viciously tormented. Because they saw I was different to them I became the target of bullying at school for many years. My only saving grace was that I had a few friends at school who stuck by me, protected me. But even so, the torture continued. It wasn’t just other kids that were the source of my mistreatment. One adult in particular was beyond cruel. She drove me to school because there wasn’t any busing and my mother didn’t drive. My father traveled for his work. This woman treated me as if I was an inconvience to her. She believed her children were perfect, (she suffered from delusions of grandeur, obviously, in herself and her family) and she hated the fact that she became saddled with this imperfect child (me). Her actions spoke volumes even when she would talk down to me in her usually condescending tone. I asked one day if a friend of mine, who was mentally slow but very smart and beautiful (at least she was to me), could get a ride home too. This woman said I could have a ride but my friend could not. I was angry and said: “Very well. I don’t want a ride from you anyway, this day or any other day!” I stormed off, taking my friend by the hand, as I went (Yep, that’s the Aries temper at work..*grin*) We walked home together. It was a bit far but on the way we laughed and she put her arm around my shoulders, and said: “You sure showed her one.” My answer: “Yeah, guess I did. Not going to get any rides from her anymore, though.” Then her arm fell from me and she said very sadly: “You stood up for me. No one ever stood up for me before.” We became best friends from that day on. Finally, I had made an ally. But it had never occurred to me that even grown-ups, the people little kids should be able to turn to, could be just as devastatingly cruel.

Yet, even as I made this one friend who would stand by me for many years after, I would be cruelly bullied all the way to my freshman year of high school. See, in those days, the 1970’s people weren’t as open about their sexuality, at least not in the community I lived in. And because the town I lived in was so small, you wouldn’t dare be so open. Everyone, it seemed, knew everyone else’s business. Whatever you’re inclination happened to be, you kept it to yourself, forcing you to go through not only the outside torment you were already facing, but your own inner one as well. The only one really I was able to turn to, was my brother. He was my rock. My white knight. He was my whole world, my best friend forever. He was the only one who knew the true extent of my torments at school, for it didn’t end with just simple teasing and name calling. I was beaten, I had lunch money stolen from me, an older boy tried to rape me. I was called every vicious, slanderous thing you can think of. When my brother finally left home to go to college, I was devastated anew. What was I to do now? The one person I could go to who knew my most intimate details of my life was leaving me. I was scared again. However, he gave me a parting gift: his stereo and his extensive album collection. He couldn’t take those with him so he wanted me to have free reign over his room. WOOT! So, my precious friends, I’ve given you a little history of how my musical taste (some of which I’ve shared in my video edits here) suddenly emerged. As I explored his collection and introduced myself to all the bands he held most high in his own temple, it felt as if through all this music, his soul was with me, speaking to me. I was no longer afraid. I found another vent. I felt good about being different, it was wonderful even. This was music that I never heard before on the radio. This music was the beginning of the New York Punk scene (of which my brother was firmly entrenched), of club CBGB’s (sadly no longer existing), where all the New York music icons got their start: Blondie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, The Ramones, The New York Dolls, to name only a few. Then exploring further, more wonderful music would hit the turntable. Bands that would comprise the new era of music: the early bands that would be lumped together as New Wave from the United Kingdom and Europe: The Cure, Gary Numan, Joy Division, New Order, Wire, Siouxsie and the Banshees, DAF, Cabaret Voltaire, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and David Bowie (not considered New Wave but I love him just the same), I can carry this list for an entirety. These bands would become a part of my musical soul. And other bands over the years would join them.

As time went on, somehow, by some grace unbeknownst to me, I found a way to cope, to survive. Somewhere along the way, I found self-confidence. My stutter miraculously vanished somewhat…I only do when I’m really excited about something and I talk really fast. LOL! I found along the way I had a gift…the gift of the written word. I wrote about my ordeal in my journals, and I kept stacks and stacks of spiral notebooks filled with my writings. I wrote about the world around me. Not just its cruelty, but also its beauty. Teachers eventually discovered I had talent and encouraged to continue. And so it was.

Yet, as I hear more and more of late of young people who have not found what I did, have not faired as well as I did. They endure their torturous abuses by their peers to the point where they feel they have nowhere to turn. Instead of fighting, sticking it out. Instead of trying to hold on to the hope that there are others that have gone through the same things as they are, there are others that care and could reach out and help them through, they have decided to give up. Over the span of a month, there’ve been 5 suicides of young people who had been tortuously bullied because of their sexual orientation. This latest one, a lovely 18 year old, university freshman and a talented musician by all accounts, jumped off a bridge to his death after his unthinking, uncaring, intolerant roommate and his equally intolerant girlfriend thought it would be ‘cute’ to record this young man with his lover, another man. This idiot further posted the video to the internet for all to see. These two ignorant fools thought gays and gay sex to be funny. Not only was this a gross invasion of privacy, but it just smells of a hate crime. This jerk cared for nothing about the consequences of his actions. I bet even now he still doesn’t. This was the latest in a rash of young deaths and this author is incensed about this to my core. Another soul has been lost to us. When will it end? The route to tolerance must start somewhere and it has to start at home. If tolerance isn’t instilled into children at a young age, they will think it’s cute to pick on, to bully others, sometimes very violently, far worse than even what I had to endure.

I’m about to share one other thing with you now. It was a letter written by Sharon Underwood after her son was kicked out of the Boy Scouts for his sexual orientation. Although it was written in April 30, 2000 to the Vermont News, her words, so filled with emotion, are as relevant now as then:

Sunday, April 30, 2000

By SHARON UNDERWOOD
For the Valley News (White River Junction, VT)

Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a gay son and I’ve taken enough from you good people.

I’m tired of your foolish rhetoric about the “homosexual agenda” and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny.

My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay.

He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called “fag” incessantly, starting when he was 6.

In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn’t bear to continue living any longer, that he didn’t want to be gay and that he couldn’t face a life without dignity.

You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don’t know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn’t put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it’s about time you started doing that.

At the core of all your misguided beliefs is the belief that this could never happen to you, that there is some kind of subculture out there that people have chosen to join. The fact is that if it can happen to my family, it can happen to yours, and you won’t get to choose. Whether it is genetic or whether something occurs during a critical time of fetal development, I don’t know. I can only tell you with an absolute certainty that it is inborn.

If you want to tout your own morality, you’d best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it. For those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program, I’m puzzled. Are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that’s not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can?

A popular theme in your letters is that Vermont has been infiltrated by outsiders. Both sides of my family have lived in Vermont for generations. I am heart and soul a Vermonter, so I’ll thank you to stop saying that you are speaking for “true Vermonters.”

You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn’t give their lives so that the “homosexual agenda” could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn’t the measure of the man.

You religious folk just can’t bear the thought that as my son emerges from the hell that was his childhood he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance.

How dare he? you say. These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage.

You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant. God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin.

The deep-thinking author of a letter to the April 12 Valley News who lectures about homosexual sin and tells us about “those of us who have been blessed with the benefits of a religious upbringing” asks: “What ever happened to the idea of striving . . . to be better human beings than we are?”

Indeed, sir, what ever happened to that?”

Gee, I’m wondering this exact same thing right now. I join her in her sentiments. I’m mad as all hell, friends, and I can’t take it anymore.

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I felt I just had to get that off my chest, and share something very close to my heart

I close this rather long post with a picture I had taken not too long ago, of one of the most iconic sculptures in all of my fair city of Philadelphia. I wish it to serve as a message, a very heartfelt one to everyone, everywhere. Please, as a favor to me, if you have someone close to you that you love most dearly, take the time to let that person know. And if there is someone in your life that you see is struggling with being tormented for whom he’s chosen to love, another victim of senseless bullying, let him know that you will be there for him or her. Let him know that he can count on you to be understanding of his situation and help guide him through and help direct him to get help. Who knows? Perhaps, maybe unbeknownst to you, you may have saved another life.

Go with love. It’s a harder road, but it’s the best one. 🙂

Je t’aime,

xxoo

(image copyrighted 2010, Elizabeth Young)