“Death by a thousand cuts” - A letter about homophobia
Dear Mr Jim Wallace, head of the Australian Christian Lobby,
I think I know why so many gay men commit suicide.
Maybe part of the problem is it’s both deeply embarrassing and hard to articulate what it’s like to be the victim of homophobic abuse to someone who has never experienced it. According to the Suicide Prevention Australia, 200 gay teenagers commit suicide each year, that’s about one in every two days.
Let me tell you about what it was like for me at a public high school in a bush town on the fringes on Melbourne’s South East suburbs.
I didn’t think I was destined to be part of a minority group - as a child I was a dominant personality, white, male, middle class and part of the popular group in primary school.
But in year 9 rumours (true ones I might add) spread at my high school that I had been involved sexually with other male students. That’s when the trouble started.
My old friends who used to stay at my house in years gone past stopped talking to me. I still remember with a sharp pain in my guts the day my best friend thrwe my pencil case across the other side of the room one day in class when I tried to sit next to him.
Left without allies - groups of teenage boys would gang-up on me, push me into metal poles, call me every name under the sun and make a point of ridiculing any male who was brave enough to associate with me. Girls would also exclude me and impersonate me behind my back.
This happened every morning as soon as I arrived at school and most lunch-times.
For a while nobody but the fellow alienated would associate with me – meaning my new friends became the kids everyone else picked on throughout high school (and are still my friends today).
Even one teacher at my old high school joked one day after giving me a hard-time in class “sorry, I’m just a bit homophobic” while turning and smiling to a group of male students.
I recall looking at myself in the mirror a few weeks after the abuse began with my bright-red public high school jumper, freckles, braces, glasses, and tiny-frame. I said to myself “it’s okay Luke, you always have you, you can get through this.”
But it wasn’t okay, it really wasn’t – teenagers are fragile creatures and soon I secretly began to deeply self-loath. Eventually I was forced to withdraw from high school and finished year 12 by distance education.
The homophobic abuse was actually death by a thousand cuts. The damage wasn’t immediately felt. Once I left high school, I just slowly crumbled. I had panic attacks every time I left the house, I became so scared when I was outside I would often hide in toilet cubicles, I didn’t work, I dropped out of University and when I looked in the mirror – I saw nothing but a repulsive, weird failure.
‘Ugly”, gay, outcast, abused nearly every time I left my house by guys from their utes, desperately lonely, dealing with puberty, feeling partially rejected by my parents and totally rejected by my small town community – yes I’ll admit Mr Wallace, at times I did feel like killing myself.
I went from being an outgoing, high-performing person who always wanted to be the centre of attention to someone who was so painfully shy I couldn’t look a stranger in the eye.
I never wanted to show the bullies at school they were hurting me. I never cried, I hid my feelings; sometimes I even yelled back and threw punches. It took some ten years before I was finally able to acknowledge how much the bullying hurt.
I didn’t want to hold onto the hatred forever. I’ve long since reunited with my old friends who rejected me and don’t really blame them for jumping off the ‘sinking ship’ of ‘faggot Luke’ at high school. I’ve even bumped into the bullies and its clear their attitudes to me have clearly changed too.
However, I know some wounds never completely heal. It’s extremely damaging to a teenager to be socially outcast at a time when peer group validation and affiliation is what a humans to properly individuate from their parents.
Homophobic abuse and the way my friends turned against me has left me often neurotically sensitive to rejection of all sorts in my life. Although it’s not obvious to people who meet me, I live the perpetual fear of people not liking me and also of being rejected by the group.
My self-esteem and assertiveness skills have improved, but remain brittle and often cloaked with false bravado. Has all this homophobic abuse reduced my life-span? I hope not Mr Wallace, because it’s taken me nearly 15 years to work out how to be happy again after high school - it would be great to live to be a very old man.
Mr Wallace, I am not sure why you and your evangelical base are so obsessed with gay marriage rights. For me, gay marriage sends the right message to the community - gay and lesbian teenagers are no different to anyone else – don’t bash them, ostracise them or make sexuality a basis for choosing your friends.
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