A few days after Thanksgiving, a young man named Josh Pacheco killed himself by suffocation in the family garage. He closed the doors and windows, turned on his car, and breathed the exhaust fumes until he died. Only afterward, during the horrifying days leading to his funeral, did his parents learn of the bullying their son endured at the high school he attended because he was gay. They learned of this through his friend, acquaintances, even his teachers. So many people knew or suspected what was happening, yet nobody stepped forward to assist him, or to warn his family what was going on. His family knew that he was troubled but did not know the extent of what was happening.
Can you imagine the despair this seventeen year old boy had to feel that would cause him to make that decision? He must have felt that the only relief or release from the daily pain was death. The only recourse he could see for himself was to die at his own hands. The bullying was only part of it, I’m sure. The culture in our country that fosters the kind of base animal attacks on anyone who is perceived as different was also a large part of the despair this boy felt. You see, he bought into it too. He believed our society when it claimed that gay was bad. He felt worthless, as though there was nothing of value he could bring to the world ever. He believed that no one liked him or could ever like him, because he couldn’t like himself. He couldn’t like himself because he couldn’t bring himself to have sexual feelings for the opposite sex, only the same sex. In his eyes, it was wrong wrong wrong! That’s what he was told.
He may not have been told this in so many words, but the messages were there and very clear. He probably listened and paid attention during the vitriolic public rhetoric was spewed from both parties during the recent election. He heard so much hate, and not enough acceptance. He eventually came to believe that he was despicable. He embraced it because he couldn’t see anything likeable in himself. He didn’t see the role models. Or if he did see them, they were only exceptions and couldn’t apply to him.
I didn’t know this boy, so you’re probably wondering how I could possibly know so much about what he was thinking or feeling. It’s because when I was a teenager, I was him. I was the different one. I didn’t face the constant harrassment or bullying, but wasn’t the popular kid. I stayed to myself, had a very small circle of friends, low self-confidence, and a piss-poor outlook on life. I clutched at any straw to make myself feel better. I was, and am, attracted to guys and because of needing to hide that attraction, I had a difficult time interacting with guys. I had a difficult time interacting with girls because I never understood the appeal. I had friends of both sexes, but no real close friends until I began to mature and come out of my shell. But I still had that gnawing pit of hatred for myself, that area that I couldn’t accept because I’d been taught that it was wrong and sinful.
For years, I considered the act of suicide. When I was younger, I didn’t know how, and when I was older, I was too scared. My own personal self-hatred was so strong that I feel into a deep depression when I was around 19 or so. Nothing tasted good, not food, not drink, not life. Not even chocolate. Finally, one night, I decided, that was it. There was truly no reason to go on. The only thing that stopped me was imagining the conversation with God when I stood before Him/Her: “My child, why are you here?” “I couldn’t handle the world. It was too painful.” “I would have helped you if you’d only asked me to.” I was ultra religious at the time so it helped. But in a negative reinforcement kind of way. I couldn’t face God with that sin on my head along with the sin of being gay.
So I learned to live with the pain. Eventually, I learned to accept myself. I was 44 years old. Coming out for any gay person is a multi-step process. The first step is coming out to yourself and learning to accept it. If I couldn’t accept myself, how could anyone else possibly accept me? For some gay people, it’s an easy step. For others, it’s not. I cried for nearly two days. But when I finally learned to accept myself (two years later, by the way), something kind of wonderful happened. The pain went away. That ache in my soul disappeared. What other people thought of me no longer mattered. The other steps of coming out were difficult, but not insurmountable. I know people who lost their families and friends, their jobs, their careers. I lost sleep and nothing more. I was one of the lucky ones.
As a society, our country has failed. We claim that all men are created equal, but we don’t practice it. We claim to be forward thinking people, but we aren’t. We claim to fight for the underdog, but we don’t do it. In upcoming years, as a society, we’ll look back on the civil rights movement, the gay pride events, the right for women to vote, the hate-spewing Christianists, even the old-school Republican party, and wonder. We’ll wonder what the real problem was. We’ll wonder why we couldn’t accept now what will be normal in the future.
In the meantime, people will die. People will die because this is a war. Some people will die because they are bashed for being who they are. Some people will die because they practiced who they are. Some people will die because they cannot accept who they are. The real tragedy is this war doesn’t have to exist.