In some ways this post is the most important I’ve written since I began this blog in 2007. Looking back at the archives, it’s apparent that this blog has dealt with some incredibly important topics, (like those on Nigeria), so I do not make that pronouncement lightly. I know that this post will draw readers, many far younger than my usual target demographic. Therefore, I have to be very careful about what I write. The last thing I want is to have some kid who is already in agony try to make a decision he or she isn’t equipped to make. Yet–and please, please believe that I mean this with all my heart–I do understand.
By writing this post I am opening a door into my personal life. Any journalist worth his or her salt will tell you doing so is fraught with peril. We can’t be as objective as we’d like because we’re looking at our own lives; people who know nothing about what happened have no problem expressing an opinion, especially on the Internet; people who were involved have families and friends they’d rather not know about portions of their lives, me included, and fear someone they know will stumble across this post accidentally and put two and two together. I have done what I can to ameliorate the accidental discovery by friends and family by not using dates, names or places. There’s nothing more I can do because, in the end, this is my story too and I will not lie. Thank you for understanding.
This post was originally written between the night of February 21 and the morning of February 22, 2012 after viewing the “On My Way” episode of the television series Glee. Like anything I’ve written that is controversial by its nature, I’ve set this post aside for over 24 hours before editing and re-writing portions. If you haven’t seen this episode of Glee and don’t wish to be spoiled, turn back NOW. Oh yes, I forgot to say that this is a long post.
[This post was re-edited slighty at 8:00a Sunday, February 26, 2012 for typing errors and clarity. Nothing was materially altered.]
Actor Max Adler
I had no intention of writing anything tonight. I’d slept all day sweating out a bout of bronchitis. The girls barely got me out of bed for their constitutional around noon and I was too wiped to even take my pain meds. I felt as though I’d been flattened by a truck or, as the previous post is titled, by “The Invisible Menace.” However, as I watched the episode of Glee that aired February 21, 2012, “On My Way,” aka “the suicide episode,” brilliantly written by Roberto Aguirre-Sarcasa and directed by Brad Buecker, I knew that I had to write. I felt the desperate, searing pain of character Dave Karofsky, (portrayed by Max Adler), a closeted gay bully who was bullied himself after being seen with the series’ regular out gay male student, Kurt Hummel, (portrayed with enormous range and depth by Golden Globe winner Chris Colfer), during the Valentine’s Day episode last week. Although Dave had tormented Kurt for all of nearly three seasons, he confessed his attraction and asked for a date after at last coming out to himself. He put himself out there and, like most of us, suffered the humiliation of rejection. If the humiliation had ended there, the catalyst for suicide would have been absent. That is where being outed and harassed by at least one schoolmate who wrote the word “FAG” on his football locker, his Facebook wall covered with what can only be termed hate speech and someone texting everyone and anyone they could to out Dave as gay come into play. That kind of teasing and taunting is devastatingly destructive when the person needs someone the most. I know that feeling.
The reason for Dave’s attempted suicide didn’t shock me. What shocked me was the attempt itself. Unfortunately, I could teach a master class on suicide, but I won’t, at least not here. Nevertheless, this episode hit very close to home for me. I am a suicide survivor.
Different cast members had different reactions after hearing of the attempt. The teachers, guidance counselor and principal at the fictional McKinley High School who’d known Dave was bullying Kurt and had him moved to another school last season engaged in a lot of hand-wringing and woulda, coulda, shouldas. The students, probably because of their age, were far more judgmental of Dave’s attempt to end his life. One of the main characters, Quinn, compared her pain from having an unwanted pregnancy last season, a dramatic occurrence to be sure, to Dave’s. However, Kurt shut her down as only Kurt could.
I feel sorry for Karofsky, but what he did was selfish. He didn't want to just hurt himself, he wanted to hurt everyone around him. I went through the wringer, but I never got to that place.
Quinn, please! Sure, you had a baby when you were 16 and you had a bad dye job for two weeks. Seriously? The world never stopped loving you, and you're going to Yale. You have no idea what Karofsky was struggling with.
You really want to try and compare . . .
Despair, the self-loathing?
In short, Quinn’s experience, while dramatic and possibly traumatic, was nothing compared to Dave’s feelings of utter humiliation, shame, aloneness and pain.
Glee is a work of fiction, but that doesn’t mean the situations aren’t very real.
According to ”Suicide in the U.S.: Statistics and Prevention,” a web page published by the National Institute of Mental Health using 2007 data, teen suicide is the third leading cause for death among young people 15-19, about 6.9 per 100,000; fourth among children 10-14, about 0.9 per 100,000, and; young adults 20-24 years old commit suicide at a rate of about 12.7 per 100,000.
When examining the statistics specific to gay teen suicide, a more frightening picture emerges. According to the Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG) chapter in Phoenix:
- Suicide is the leading cause of death among gay and lesbian youth
- Gay and lesbian youth are 2 to 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth.
- Over 30% of all reported teen suicides each year are committed by gay and lesbian youth.
“PFLAG Phoenix: Today’s Gay Youth: The Ugly, Frightening Statistics.” PFLAG Phoenix: Homepage. Web. 22 Feb. 2012.<http://www.pflagphoenix.org/education/youth_stats.html>.
These statistics aren’t new to those of us, LGBT or heterosexual, who work with children, have LGBT children or are LGBT and engaged in our communities. We’ve known that the number of suicides among children and young adults deprived of love, nurturing and self-esteem because they are LGBT is staggering. We, the adult LGBT community, know what the problem is but are often prevented from helping because we could be, and often are, accused of “recruiting” or molestation. Oh, there are people who do molest those in less powerful positions who happen to be of the same sex, but that’s less than 20% of all molestations. All sexual abuse is about power and not sexual orientation.
Religion and its institutions, like the Roman Catholic Church where thousands of children were sexually abused by priests without condemnation or punishment, do not help at all in shaping an opposite, accurate picture.
“Cardinal Bertone, the Holy See’s secretary of state, said that homosexuality was the ‘problem’ that caused Catholic priests to molest children,” reads a 2010 article in the British newspaper The Telegraph. The article goes on to state that the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference, Father Marcus Stock, took umbrage with Cardinal Bertone’s statements.
“To the best of my knowledge, there is no empirical data which concludes that sexual orientation is connected to child sexual abuse,” countered Stock.
“The consensus among researchers is that the sexual abuse of children is not a question of sexual ‘orientation,’ whether heterosexual or homosexual, but of a disordered attraction or ‘fixation.’ Many abusers of children have never developed the capacity for mature adult relationships. Instead, their sexual attractions focus on children – boys, girls, or both,” he concluded.
If one assumes Father Stock’s reading of research available at that time is accurate, then child molesters really don’t have a sexual orientation per se. Knowing far more about sexual abuse and perpetrators than I’d like, the key in their minds is what potential target is both at hand and most vulnerable. Therefore, painting gay men who would like to mentor gay male youth as potential pedophiles is ignorant, ludicrous and an impediment to saving lives. Yet, it is a situation encountered time and time again. Our kids–and I say “our” because we, as adult members of LGBT communities across the world, have to take responsibility for these children–are at risk of suicide often because they feel alone in the world, never having encountered a healthy out and proud gay or lesbian person, particularly anyone in a committed, nurturing and loving relationship. They haven’t a clue about how to have sex safely or even when to have sex; often they live on the street and make their living by hooking, stealing or doing anything they have to do to survive. In doing so, more and more damage is heaped upon already fragile psyches and whatever sense of self-esteem they had all but disappears. From there, it’s not a big leap to suicide at all.
I said that the reasons for Dave’s suicide attempt didn’t shock me, but the attempt itself hit a nerve. It is difficult for me to decide how much to expose my own background because I am, by nature, pretty private. In the end, this post isn’t really about me. It’s about the child I might have had, the children and youth who will end up here and the parents of LGBT and questioning youth.
There have been times in my life when I was absolutely desperate and at the end of my rope. I trusted no one–with good reason. I knew there were others who’d had the same experiences I’d had, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t see through the pain to connect with them. Then I did and was helped immeasurably. I learned how to counsel my peers by watching, listening, believing and just proving that I was there. These things are never easy, but I became more aware of the various conditions under which certain events took place, what words to say and those to never utter. I saw into the maw of the darkest of souls and visited that place myself at times. Believe me, I now know why psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers have to enter counseling themselves before being allowed to practice. They see the results of the harm so-called “human beings” do to others. It isn’t pretty.
The last time I attempted suicide was due in large part to a drug I was given under protest with no information about side effects or adverse reactions. I had no doubt that I needed something in that class of drug, benzodiazepine, but the psychiatrist wouldn’t listen when I explained that I’d been on two that were very effective. The drug that I was given somehow turned off the EDIT button we all have and disposed of any inhibitions I had about most things. It also made me somewhat paranoid, but with very good reason.
I saw this happening and felt out-of-control and helpless, especially after being humiliated, mocked and threatened by a former lover I hadn’t seen in nine years. To understand how absolutely brutal and sadistic this was, I offer three additional pieces of information: 1) The reason I hadn’t seen him in nine years was because he hung up on me after I told him in anger that I wasn’t having sex with men anymore; 2) Although I’d come out to him in such a crappy way, there was absolutely nothing that could kill my love for him; 3) Even then, he was the only man I could see sharing the rest of my life. Had we both talked about things when he called, it is possible the course of both our lives would have been different, but we didn’t.
As I was feeling more manic, the one and only person in the world I trusted, the former lover, did something that would be considered cruel, stupid and fairly disgusting had he been a teenager. Doing the same thing while in his 40s was something beyond cruel. I tracked him down and asked if we could explore getting back together. During the course of several conversations, he led me to believe it was possible. I made a very innocent (i.e. fully clothed and modest) video telling him in embarrassingly corny terms how I felt. I waited for him to contact me and he didn’t. I took a deep breath and got in touch with him via chat. When I chatted with him, he told me he’d been joking, that he wasn’t interested, didn’t want to talk to me and never answered the question “Why?” with anything more than “I don’t know” and “Things change,” a phrase that haunts me to this day.
Needless to say, if someone you love to the marrow of your bones and trust more than anyone in the world, does something to humiliate, harm and basically cause as much damage to you as possible, “I don’t know” and “Things change” aren’t going to cut it. I spent nearly a year practically begging–and in some cases doing just that–for an answer, receiving nothing but more pain with each and every letter that was returned, blocked or just not read.
At the same time, I was becoming more and more sick due to the damn drug I never wanted in the first place. The night I learned of the drug’s possible side effects and adverse reactions and saw that I had nearly ALL of them, I e-mailed and faxed him with proof that I wasn’t being crazy just to be crazy. There was a very good reason. Tragically, the more instances of humiliation that came with his silence, coupled with the humiliation and guilt I felt due to my own actions toward him, led to swallowing a hefty handful of pills that should have killed me. Four days in intensive care and three more in a behavioral medicine unit delivered me back home and mad as hell.
I don’t know why I’m alive when I should definitely be dead. Perhaps it was to see an episode of Glee where a closeted gay man attempted suicide and, thereby, gave me a reason to write about my own struggles and try to help others. It is a question I’ve pondered since last Tuesday.
I sent a note to the man I wrote of above some weeks ago telling him that I’d learned to forgive myself and that I’d forgiven him too. I don’t know how many manga and anime fans read this blog, but I do know that I get some traffic from Japan and wish to say, “Origato!” for reading. In that vein, the best analogy I can think of for this man’s actions comes from the iconic feature films and television series Ghost in the Shell. The man who tried to hurt me was not, and is not, my dear, former lover. His ghost–his soul–is gone and will undoubtedly stay that way. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t grieve for him, if only for a few seconds, usually more. All that’s left is the shell that’s extremely difficult to view because I think of the beautiful young man who grew into the beautiful fully adult man whose name will most likely be on my lips as my heart falls forever silent. Even after telling the shell and the then-ghost what a sociopath I thought he was after leaving the hospital, a significant part of me blamed myself for the actions of a non-bipolar woman behaving as though she was indeed bipolar thanks to the wrong meds. It took me years to shake that feeling and a lot of help through both overt and indirect means.
Dave Karofsky is a fictional character, however, the situation in which he found himself is all too real. I barely held back the tears re-watching the episode to write this blog entry and couldn’t hold them back while re-editing. I know the Glee fan page on Facebook is more active than it’s ever been and I’d bet calls to suicide hotlines across the country are up as well. I know first-hand what it’s like to have someone you love tell you every day that you are nothing as I was told with each unanswered letter or call to the man I wrote of above and as Dave was with each unanswered call to Kurt. I know what it’s like to be mocked and teased for loving someone the way I was and the way Dave was (though not by the person he cared for). Because I know, I ask that if you are a young person struggling for any reason, especially if that reason is your sexuality, know that there is at least one person who thinks you are an incredible gift to this very ugly world. No one, including you, knows what you can accomplish if you find an anchor and hang on to it for dear life while taking control of your destiny and reaching out to a suicide hotline. Oddly enough, there’s a list of hotlines where the URL is simple and to the point. If you’re afraid you’ll get some crazy fundamentalist idiot, don’t worry. In my experience, the people on the other end of the phone are the least judgmental people in the world–unless you’re a child molester, which most states require reporting.
Max Adler, the actor who portrays Dave Karofsky, is involved with the It Gets Better Project. I have issues with simply telling a desperate kid with a knife or razor blade to his wrist, or worse, a gun to his head,”Oh, just wait. It will get better.” Hmph! What gets better isn’t society, which has gotten more mean for the sake of being mean, but your ability to cope with people who only seek to do harm, tell you you’re sick and/or are going to hell because you are you. Although it may feel as though you have no control, you do. Call a hotline. Think of your favorite pet and hang on to him/her. If you’re religious, read the New Testament because the Old Testament has, believe me, been so taken out of context as to be laughable were it not leading to kids’ deaths.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if, by chance, you are an Episcopalian and have a liberal priest, go to him/her, but I wouldn’t advise relying on them. They can be extremely cold when it comes to pastoral care and wouldn’t know a crisis if it hit them with a baseball bat. Or, if they did, would do whatever is needed to get you–ANYONE–off their own books and on to someone else’s. Unlike other Judeo/Christian/Islamic clergy and institutions, they turf congregants more and better than hospitals and doctors! *shiver* Then again, I’ve met some who were warm, caring, understanding and sympathetic people. It’s a roll of the dice. Perhaps make clergy the last option. [*waves* Pissed off Episcopalian here! ] He or she should be able to point you to the LGBT group Integrity. If there isn’t a chapter in your church, go to the national.
Particularly helpful is PFLAG, Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians And Gays. They are phenomenal! I was truly honored to meet their president at the time while covering a massive ecumenical demonstration of LGBT and allies at the 2001 United Methodist Church General Convention. I think he has two gay children. There were A LOT of people who, very literally, risked everything by being arrested in support of LGBT rights within the UMC. Maybe this is the excuse I need to post the photos from the demonstrations, the courtroom and the building as those arrested were allowed to leave to prove that, even 11 years ago, we really were not alone. There had never been a demonstration like it ANYWHERE and there hasn’t been one as large since.
What I am really excited about is the launch of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation on February 29. I’m already registered for the video feed.
If you’ve gotten this far, congratulations! Writing this post has been a genuine privilege because, by getting to the end, you’ve allowed me to share a bit of myself that may help you, someone you know or another person we’ll never know. The episode “On My Way” touched me in a way nothing has in a very long, long time because of this storyline and another that is just unfolding and I won’t spoil. Origato again, merci, gracias, thank you!