While October traditionally tends to be a month of masks and disguises, for the LGBTQ community, it is also a time for visibility.
With National Coming Out Day (October 11th) followed shortly by Spirit Day (October 16th), the emphasis on personal pride is amplified even more than usual, and, statistically, this makes sense. According to an associate of mine who works with GLAAD, the month of October traditionally sees a rise in suicide for LGBTQ youth. Already a few months into the school year, the theory behind this spike is the notion that kids who feel trapped or are bullied are in the thick of things, and the reprieve of summer vacation seems like an excruciating lifetime away.
It is a disheartening fact that, in 2014, so many kids...and also some adults...feel the anguish of a societal prison designed to stop an individual from being who they are inside. However, if you're currently making your way through the darkness, no matter how hopeless it feels at the moment, a sunrise is coming.
If you're out there and you feel lost, please just give me a moment, because today I'm writing to you. For the duration of this letter, I want you to know that you're not alone. Furthermore, I know when we part ways at the end, you still won't be. You may not know it yet, but there are so many people out there waiting who care, who love, and who will be willing to take your hand to walk with you a little farther toward that rising sun. And I promise that each hand that intertwines with yours will hold on a little longer and a little tighter along the way. The more you open yourself up to the potential of good in the world, the more it will open itself up to you.
But, you're probably saying, "What's this guy on the other side of the computer screen know about my life? What does he know about what I'm going through?"
Maybe you're right. I will admit that I was lucky. When I came out to my parents at 19, they were loving and supportive. I realize that not everyone's home situation is so easy. But, I also grew up in a time when being out at school was simply not an option. The gay characters on TV and film were either nonexistent or pastiche stereotypes, leaving me with very few people to look at and say, "Oh, they're like me." This media shroud lead to the belief that this was just not something you could share with friends. For a long time I lived with fear that people would reject me because I wasn't "normal."
Oddly, it was ultimately a connection with movies that eventually led me to understand that maybe normalcy isn't all it's cracked up to be (I wrote more about this here). I learned that instead of trying to define myself by someone else's standards, the only way to be truly happy was to define myself by my own.
In fact, the very things I once believed to be my limitations grew to be my strengths. When I started to align myself with people who celebrated their differences and dared to live life out loud instead of in a narrow box, I began to experience things I never dreamed. In our adolescence, we're sold such a rigid view of what we're "allowed" to be, we often never take a moment to realize that the only people who can set those standards are ourselves. By not allowing anyone to stifle my voice, I was able to chase my dream of being a writer. I've written movies and columns, and had the opportunity to tour the country because of my work. There were people who didn't think I could do it, and there are still some out there who don't. But, I am who I am in spite of them, because I deserve to be the person I want to be.
...and so do you.
Now, I realize this notion of eschewing the opinions of others to live our lives with pride isn't relegated to the LGBTQ experience, nor should it be. Part of "coming out" and Spirit Day is taking a moment to recognize that you deserve to be here. Whether you're a movie nerd, punk kid, closeted teen, or whatever, who you are will infinitely always matter more than what.
I get that things may be tough, but believe me when I say the things that are happening in this moment are but a small fraction of the marvelous world that could be waiting for you. The things that seem to matter in high school...popularity, etc...in the long run don't amount to much at all. What does, however, is living with kindness and love, especially in those moments where they feel the most absent. I guarantee that if you've felt lost, then someone near you has too, and by sharing yourself with an open heart, you can make this world a little better for you both.
I've lost people to suicide. It's not a solution. Anguish like that doesn't extinguish with death, it just moves on. You can't end darkness by turning off more lights. Instead, when it seems the hardest, that's when you need to look within and shine the most. That sun you were walking toward? That light? It's you. It always has been. Those who walk with you with love and care, myself included, are here to help you understand that the brightest part of you is you. Remember, when a light comes on in the dark, it helps people see.
So, don't succumb. Make them see you.
Make them see that you're worthwhile. Make them see that you're deserving of love. Make them see that the shadows they cast can't compare to the light that you shine.
Make them see that you're you.
Because you matter. You do.
So, please, shine for me.
The Trevor Project lifeline is available 24/7 for LGBTQ youth who need to reach out and talk. Call 866-488-7386 or visit http://www.thetrevorproject.org