Today I am hosting an acquaintance of mine, Laron Chapman, who blogs with a few other friends at Queerwerks. He has a beautifully strong voice and I am very pleased he decided to add his voice to my compassion theme this month.
The opposite of compassion is indifference. This post is not only about the power of words and how just a few words of animosity can destroy a life, but it is also about the importance of family. Every child has a voice and it is the compassionate parent who listens and empowers their child to face hate with love.
There are very few topics that illicit such violently passionate opinions as does sexual orientation. It is a topic that seems to send people to the opposite ends of a metaphorical rope to play tug of war using words meant to harm or defeat. Magical things can happen when one person listens and reacts to someone else with respect, kindness, and compassion. Magical things do happen when we choose love over hate. Magical things like living instead of dying.
We all have opinions just as we all have a choice on how to voice those opinions. My hope is that you choose love over hate. Compassion over indifference.
Rejection. Now, here’s something that is not so much a painful term as it is a painful reality. While it may not incite the same visceral reactions as the pejorative terms “faggot” and “queer” do, it carries a more stealthy, lingering affect. Not the term itself, of course, but rather what it implies; especially, in regards to the LGBT community. While rejection is a something we all experience at some point in life, there is at least one arena that this action should never be practiced: the home
That was not the case for one of our fallen transgendered soldiers, 17-year old Leelah Alcorn (born Joshua Ryan Alcorn) whose suicide by vehicular impact this past December garnered international attention. After heartbreakingly publicizing a suicide note on her Tumblr blog, expressing her personal anguish, social alienation, and lack of familial support, Leelah made the ultimate sacrifice. Her death paints a powerful illustration of the damaging effects of rejection when it exists in the home and it’s inspired reflection on my own experience.
I’ll never forget the fear and sadness I harbored as a youth struggling to embrace an identity that seemed frowned upon by my peers, my family, and the state I resided in. Those feelings became a bitter poison that consumed my thoughts, affected my interpersonal skills, and created an inner void. I lived inside a shell, locked away in my room, contemplating worse case scenarios should my sexual identity ever be exposed. On the rare occasion that I mustered the courage to proclaim it, a hurtful gay slur expressed candidly by one of my peers or family members would exile me back to silence. The prospect of continuing to live a life shrouded in secrecy and loneliness was insufferable; The fear of being rejected by my family was unbearable.
In high school, I once overheard a group of students philosophizing over the manner in which they preferred to die. After several testimonies, one of them shared a story about an older woman who had recently passed away after falling asleep in her garage with her car engine running. The obituary described her death as “painless” and “peaceful,” two terms that resonated deeply. I felt as though this private conversation had cultivated a solution to my internal demons. If I wasn’t brave enough to affirm who I truly was, I refused to continue living inside the dark corners of my conscience. I decided to end my life.
The next evening, after my household had fallen asleep, I stole my mother’s car keys and entered the garage. I made a point to keep the lights off to blind myself from any prospect of hope. I started the ignition and rolled down my window. I watched as thick white clouds of exhaust billowed into a hazy, nightmarish fog. I turned on the radio to drown out the eerie hissing of the toxic emissions. I closed my eyes and ruminated on my most cherished memories.
Suddenly, the light switched on with my mother’s silhouette occupying the door frame. She frantically rushed over to the car, pulling me out of the fog and into the light. I convinced her that I had simply been warming up the car before a drive, but for the next couple of years she hovered over me with palpable concern and confusion. She continuously reminded me that her love for me was unwavering until I had no choice but to believe it. It was these acts of affection and affirmation that cultivated a change in my spirit. As terrified as I was when my moment of truth finally came, I knew in my heart that my mother’s love for me wasn’t crippled with conditions. The sensation of relief was exhilarating. For the first time in my life I was openly, honestly, indisputably myself.
I’ve never been one to impose my beliefs on others. On the contrary, I revel and applaud diversity. However, when the same courtesy isn’t afforded to others, the adverse affect can be tragic, even lethal. Love, tolerance, and acceptance should be fostered in the home with whomever we call family. It sets a firm foundation, emotional security, a place of refuge, and a confidence to embrace ourselves as we are. Without these essential elements, it’s easy for the onslaught of anti-gay agendas, cyber-bullying, discrimination, and depression to discourage, dismantle, and destroy the spirits of a community already riddled with injustices, political, social, and otherwise.
Even with the influx of shifting attitudes toward marriage equality and the growing presence of LGBT members in mainstream media, annual LGBT suicide rates continue to unveil a disturbing precedent in regards to how the community at large channels their anxieties about society’s tolerance and acceptance of their sexual orientation. Now, I would never dream of diminishing the glow of progress, but when 30-40% of LGBT youth have reported to have attempted suicide and research confirms that LGBT members are four times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to complete the act, there is no denying that there is still yet work to done (according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center).
It’s human nature to attribute a set of behaviors performed by a few to rationalize our feelings about an entire group. When we differentiate ourselves from others, we feel more superior, more distinct, more unique. However, this is a corrosive process that disrupts our common humanity. I believe that everyone leaves their own mark on the world and we should all respect and embrace our differences. It’s what makes our country so complex, colorful, and pregnant with possibility.
My heart breaks for the death Leelah Alcorn and others like her who left this world feeling lost, unacknowledged, misunderstood, or unloved. This is why the practice of love, acceptance, and tolerance are of paramount importance. Whenever I find myself in a dark place psychologically, I’m always reminded of the wealth of friends and family that would be devastated if I let the fog that’s clouding my judgement persuade me to make a fatal decision.My life has been an endless exercise of love found and love lost. But I never give up hope. Not anymore. Knowing that I’m loved, admired, and valued for who I am by those that matter to me is life affirming.
I’ve always rejected the expression “words can never hurt you.” Words carry immense power. They can bring about healing, encouragement, and change; they can weaken us to despair and hopelessness. I’ve always done my best to see the goodness in all people and time, maturity, and experience has taught me the value of empathy. We should celebrate the people we love. Finding love is a blessing, securing it with someone is a gift, and proclaiming it openly should never be viewed as a privilege, but rather a human right. In the end, love always wins.