On Wednesday a tragic incident took place at the offices of the Family Research Council when a man opened fire and wounded a security guard. Details are still emerging about the alleged assailant (who volunteered at the DC Center for the LGBT Community), his state of mind, and his motivation for the heinous act, but one thing is certain: Violence is never justified in response to those who oppose us (and over 25 LGBT organizations and advocacy groups signed a statement stating this and offering their condolences).
However, in the hours that followed the shooting, many on the right have tried to reframe the discussion and looked to place blame for the attack on the Southern Poverty Law Center for designating the FRC as a "hate group." Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said in a statement yesterday, "[T]he SPLC, by their own hateful and malicious rhetoric against FRC and AFA, has essentially claimed responsibility for this shooting, and they too should be held to account in the court of public opinion."
Fischer also claimed that:
SPLC claims it only lists organizations as "hate groups" if they engage in the "propagation of known falsehoods" about homosexuality. But the SPLC website itself lists numerous falsehoods about homosexuality. For instance, the SPLC says, without a single shred of proof, that homosexuals are born that way, that it is impossible to leave the gay lifestyle, and that homosexuals are not at elevated risks of depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders.
Lying in bed last night, I couldn't sleep, because my mind kept racing over those three statements and the personal connection I have to each of them. I can't offer Fischer a "shred of proof" regarding any of the three, but I can tell my stories -- stories that very few people outside my close network of friends, and, in some instances, only one or two people, know about -- in hopes that other queer people can relate and will tell their deep, dark secrets to help shed light on our lives and humanize our struggles so that people like Fischer and groups like the AFA are, ultimately, unable to continue creating a culture of fear, panic, and hatred.
1. Homosexuals Are Born That Way
I was born and raised in Racine, Wis., an industrial town set beside Lake Michigan and most famous for being the home of Johnson's Wax, makers of Windex and Raid Ant & Roach Killer. My earliest memories are of being gay. When I was 4 or 5 I had a ginormous crush on our garbage man, and one Thursday morning I snuck out of my family's front door in my underwear and did a dance for him. He called me a "queer," and I ran inside to tell my dad, proud of what had just occurred. My father, knowing that being called a "queer" was not a good thing, raced for the door to confront the garbage man, but I stopped him. I thought "queer" meant "magnificently unusual," and I was too young (and too in love) to understand that the garbage man was confused (and probably horrified) by my performance.
There isn't -- and has never been -- anything inside me that has ever been heterosexual. I was born this way. It scares people to think that children can be queer, and all too often we're told that it's impossible to know until we're older, or at least until we reach puberty, but I knew. Every fiber in my body vibrated with the fact. What's more, everyone knew. From my obsession with Madonna (and my wanting to be Madonna) to my stable full of My Little Ponies, I was the kind of kid who was so gay that there was no hiding it. And to my incredible parents' credit, they loved me exactly as I was (as much as I know how unprepared and, most likely, freaked out they were by it at the time). The rest of the world, however...
2. It Is Impossible to Leave the 'Gay Lifestyle'
When it came to religion, my upbringing was fairly unusual. My dad is Jewish and my mom is Lutheran, and I attended Catholic school for 10 years. By the time I was 14, I had been steeped in the Bible and the Torah, and being queer was no longer a fun-filled adventure of Jem and the Holograms cartoons and crushes on Corey Haim. By this point I knew that my difference, my queerness, was not something I was supposed to own, let alone celebrate, and each day at school was a nightmare (more about that in a minute). My solution? Writing letters to God, asking him to cure me of my homosexuality. And when I say "writing letters to God," I mean that literally. I wrote hundreds of them, mostly during my freshman year of high school, in my loopy cursive, asking him to make me straight, praying that I wouldn't have to live this way for the rest of my life.
At the same time I couldn't comprehend how this had happened, how my wiring had gone haywire, or when, because I'd always felt that way. I would lie awake at night, staring at my bedroom window, convinced that either Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street (whom I was terrified of) or Jesus would appear and have his way with me. While I desperately wanted to be changed, to be turned straight, part of me was more afraid of Jesus appearing than Freddy -- and looking back on it now, I think it was because the Jesus I had conceptualized was a Jesus of punishment and disappointment, and because, deep inside me, I couldn't believe that being queer was wrong, that what and who I'd been all my life was evil.
I have never suffered through conversion therapy, I have never been through an exorcism, and I have never been electrocuted, but I can still tell you that it is impossible to leave the "gay lifestyle." And even those who once claimed it was possible have now come forward to recant their testimony.
3. Homosexuals Are at Elevated Risks of Depression, Anxiety, and Substance Abuse Disorders
And now my deepest, darkest secrets and a bit of capitulation to what Fischer writes, because queer people are at elevated risks of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse -- but not because we're queer. Rather, it's because of the culture of fear and hatred that I mentioned earlier.
My freshman year of high school was hell, and I mean that as literally as I can mean it. My queerness radiated out of me; I was about as obviously gay as a kid can be, meaning effeminate or swishy. Though I tried to butch it up and hide my gayness, my body betrayed me, and my peers punished me mercilessly for it. I was pushed down flights of stairs, punched in the hallways, and called every name you can imagine. I had exactly zero friends, and gym class was the absolute worst (if this sounds too stereotypical to be true, trust me, it's true).
In the locker room I was tortured -- slapped, beaten, held down while the boys hosed me down with their spray-on deodorants -- and I did whatever I could to avoid going to class. I remember coming home from school each afternoon, and because I was too chicken (and loved my family too much) to kill myself (though I thought about it constantly), I would dream up other ways to escape having to go to gym. Some days I would squeeze my wrist tight in the vice in my father's basement workshop and then bang one of his wrenches down, hoping I could break my arm. Other days I would stand at the top of our basement steps, dizzy from the height, and try to summon the courage to throw myself down them and win myself a broken leg. But, in the end, I couldn't do it.
These are things I've never said out loud to more than one or two people. If and when my mother reads this, it will break her heart into a thousand pieces, but it's the truth. Yes, Bryan Fischer, you're right: I was spectacularly depressed. Yes, I was undeniably suicidal. But it wasn't because I was gay. It was because I was tortured for being gay and thought there was no other choice, that I had no other options than to disfigure, hate, or kill myself in order to survive in this world.
That was exactly 20 years ago, and a lot has changed, but queer kids are still killing themselves. Lesbians are still being mutilated. Queer parents are still having their children stolen from them. Transgender people are still being murdered. And it's because anti-queer -- and, yes, hateful -- rhetoric has very real consequences.
I stand with my queer brothers and sisters and denounce the terrible act that took place at the Family Research Center on Wednesday, but I also say enough is enough. Our deep, dark secrets -- and those who hope to use them against us and continue to foster a society where we are demonized, and where words and acts against us are legitimized and protected -- only have as much shame as we give them. What we need now, more than ever, is to start telling our stories and refusing to be told that what we are is damaged, in need of a cure, or evil.