|Growing Up Gay|
Even as a young boy, Eric always felt that he was different.
It took him a long time to understand that he was gay, and, then, to tell others. "I had a lot of difficult days," he says. "I felt ashamed."
Some of his most desperate days were because some kids called him 'faggot' and 'homo.' As is too often the case, the teachers who heard Eric being harassed turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the harassment.
Eric was nervous and afraid not only at school but also at home. What if his parents heard he was gay and got angry? What if they kicked him out of the house? "That's what every gay kid fears," Eric says. The thought of being thrown out on the street and being disowned is devastating.
When he was teased and bullied at school, Eric didn't tell his parents or sister -and definitely not his brother. "I would go and sulk," he says, "and cry by myself in my room." His brother was a star school athlete. Sometimes Eric would hear his brother talk about an incident with a teammate on the field. "That's so gay," he'd snarl. That made Eric cringe and wonder how his own brother would react to his being gay? He looked up to his older brother and the thought of him rejecting Eric was so upsetting he feared the day his brother would learn the truth.
At school, sometimes Eric was so stressed he felt sick. He would ask the teacher to be excused from class and just sit alone in a bathroom stall locked away from the world. A few times the school nurse called his mother to come and get him.
His mother suspected something was wrong. But Eric kept saying I'm okay or "Stop bugging me, I'm ok" and then would storm out of the room. His mom said, "I'm here if you want to talk and I love you." Sensing Eric needed more help than she could offer, she insisted that Eric see a therapist. His mother went with him to one of the therapy sessions. That's when he told her that he was gay.
"I looked at my little boy sitting there, crying his heart out," mom said. "I got out of my chair and knelt in front of him." she said, 'I know this is difficult for you, Eric. But I love you and always will. We'll get through this together."
While it was one thing for Eric to tell his mother, he could not bring himself to tell his dad. He left his task to his mother.
Dad knocked on Eric's bedroom door and entered when Eric said, "Yeah, come on in." "Mom says you're gay. I want you to know that I love you and it doesn't matter to me. You'll always be my son and I'm proud of you. I want to be a part of your life."
Eric and his dad hugged and cried together. "It was huge to get that off my shoulders," Eric says. "My brothers and sisters have been great, too. They've all totally accepted me."
Support from his family helped Eric feel stronger inside and the fears subsided. When a classmate picked on him he'd say, "You like girls, I like guys. That's the only difference."
When he finally stood up for himself, the teasing stopped.
His brother later apologized for things he'd said about gays.
"Before I told my parents I was gay," Eric says, "I lived in fear they wouldn't accept.me. Now, that I know my parents are there for me is a great feeling and it makes everything better."
Eric knows that tough days still lie ahead. "There are still people who are against homosexuals. I've dealt with them before, and I'll probably have to deal with them again. But the love from my family helps me cope with cruel comments. I know my parents love me. I know my bother and sister accept me. It makes me love myself more and gives me strength."
If you're growing up gay, like Eric, you've probably run into situations like the following at school.
Eighty percent of students say they've heard remarks such as "faggot" or "dyke" frequently or often at school, and nearly nine out of ten reported hearing "that's so gay" or "you're so gay" - meaning stupid or worthless - frequently or often.
More than thirty percent of gay youth had been threatened or injured at school in the last year alone!
Gay and lesbian teens are at high risk because 'their distress is a direct result of the hatred and prejudice that surround them,' not because of their inherently gay or lesbian identity orientation.
How can you deal with it. Here are suggestions adapted from a brochure from the Campaign to End Homophobia and posted on www.advocatesforyouth.org
"I think what helps me the most is being able to accept who I am as a person-knowing my goals, my hopes, my feelings about life. The most beautiful benefit is being able then to accept my orientation."
Tyson, California, age 17
More and more gay youth are learning to feel better about themself. As you start to listen to your deepest feelings and learn more about what being gay means, you will begin to be comfortable with your sexuality. This is the process called 'coming out.' The first step in coming out is to tell yourself that you are gay and to say, "That's okay. I'm okay." Later you may want to tell someone else-someone you trust to be understanding and sympathetic. You might choose a friend your own age, a sibling, a parent, or other adult. Some gay youth are able to come out to their families. Others are not. Start slow with someone you trust and the rest will unfold as it should.
In the beginning, be cautious about whom you tell, but be honest with yourself. Just as self-denial costs you, coming out will pay off. When gay youth accept their sexuality, most say they feel calmer, happier, and more confident.