I was 21, sitting in a parked car with a friend who was several years older than me. I looked up to her greatly. She was an important friend--one that I trusted.
It was 2005. The friend was asking me about dating at BYU, where I had just started school. I told her about some of my experiences, including that I didn't really like dating all that much and found it sort of stressful. I told her there was a young woman who was a close friend of mine and whom my friends couldn't believe I didn't want to date. She was impressive in all of the ways that 21-year-olds at BYU find young women impressive.
But I didn't want to date her. I told the friend this, sitting in the parked car.
She said it sort of in jest. The statement wasn't a joke, but her delivery was in the spirit of teasing to some degree.
"Well I just hope you're not gay. I don't have the energy to try to talk you out of that right now."
My heart sunk so low that the nearly permanent sunken state it was already in seemed healthy in comparison.
I responded in the same tone in which she had spoken, denying "of course" the suggestion. I brushed it off as casually as I could, fiddling with a cupholder, suddenly very aware that I was doing it and wondering if it was normal to fiddle with a cupholder. It was raining now, and getting sort of late.
"Good," she told me, as she started up the car and drove me home. I worried that the seemingly-deafening sound of my swallowing would seem suspicious during the entirety of the drive.
This was hardly the first time someone had audibly hoped that I wasn't what I, and only I, knew I was. It wasn't the last, either. And it was far from the most heartbreaking.
On other occasions I heard people I cared about refer to homosexuality as a mental disorder. I had college roommates brag that they didn't know any gay people. As recently as yesterday, a Facebook friend wrote that not telling gay people that they have a problem they need to fix is like saying to someone who has cancer that they shouldn't go see a doctor. I had heard variations of this analogy dozens of times before I ever came out to anyone.
Today was/is apparently National Coming Out Day. I suppose it's a holiday that's supposed to bring awareness to how intimidating and terrifying this process can be, and it's meant as a means of encouragement. There will be people who will think this holiday is stupid. Those same people probably complain about not having a straight pride parade.
I have some expertise on this issue; and in case anyone out there wonders whether it is important to talk about these things, let me weigh in.
It is hard to describe the isolation and terror of hearing people you love complain about the prospect of potentially having to talk you out of an innate and uncontrollable part of who you are. Of knowing that if your closest friends found out that you had a crush on a boy when you were in kindergarten, they wouldn't be your friends anymore. Of constantly wondering if the crippling pain of keeping all of this buried inside is better than what might happen if you don't.
To that last line, I can now say that it is better to come out. 100 million percent. But I know that if I could travel back in time and sit in that parked car with my 21-year-old self, I could never convince my horrified younger version that this is true.
There are people you know who are sitting in proverbial parked cars right now, suffocating under the same pressures. They are hearing words and sermons that cause a type of pain that one can probably only truly know if LGBTQ.
My soap-boxy plea is first and foremost that you not be the people delivering the messages that cause pain in the first place. That you try, really hard, impossibly hard, before you ever voice an opinion on the topic to someone else, to imagine what it might be like to grow up gay. That you think about the kind of support you would be desperate to have if in that situation.
But beyond that, I beg of you on behalf of everyone in your life who needs it, to please be louder than the voices that cause pain. Speak up and speak often. Positively preach inclusivity and understanding. Pressure the people who are delivering harmful messages to stop.
It's not enough for us to simply avoid adding to the hurt of the world. Real decency comes in actively removing pain caused by others. Even the unintentional kind.
Love to you all. Especially the homos.
~It Just Gets Stranger