An epilogue. (This is as close to an “It Gets Better” as I will ever come out with)

I know I posted about a month ago that I wouldn’t dwell too much on the past, but I also didn’t want to leave that last post on a down-note, so to speak.

First, I want to thank everyone who’s commented so positively on yesterday’s entry.  I’ve heard (via WordPress comments, Twitter, Facebook, and personal messages / emails) from people who knew me at the time and only knew part of the story, from people I’ve known since who felt my own struggles influenced ways I’ve talked them down off of metaphorical ledges, from friends who have opened up and shared their own truths, and from total strangers who agreed it’s a story that needs to be told.  Thank you.

So, the after-story.  After the highly unsuccessful suicide attempt, life obviously went on.  I put up with having everything restricted.  My parents found my Yahoo! Chat profile, the Internet ban was extended and worsened, and they decided we should all see a family therapist.  We went, and in the one-on-one portion of one of the sessions I lied to the therapist, told her the stock “it was a phase” and “I was just curious” lines about the gay content, and she apparently believed me.  I later discovered either through overhearing or through an unintentional slip that she in turn relayed that on to my parents, who at the time used phrases like “it’s okay if he is, but I don’t believe he’s one of those people.”

Things continued on as normal.  My Internet use restrictions were slowly relaxed, and I started making more, and better, friends – many of whom I’m still in touch with today.  I started paying a little more attention to my appearance, mostly in a healthy way.  I even got rid of the awful haircut I had and went with the short and spiky look that I somehow have always come back to over the years that have followed.  A year later I was dyeing my hair blonde and, in one instance, blue.  I still intend to dye it a fun colour again (though not blue, that was a failed experiment), I just haven’t found a local hairdresser I can ask to do it in a while.  But I digress.

I still kept my sexuality to myself for a while, though I’m sure plenty of people knew.  To some close friends I openly mused about being ‘jealous’ of certain guys as a not-so-effective guise for my attraction to them.  I had long planned to meet the perfect guy, start going out with him, and then I would come out by introducing him to people as my boyfriend.  It seemed like the perfect plan – we’d have each other to lean on, and I would pretend like it was old news and there was nothing special about it.  I eventually started to realise that I would never actually meet someone to work through that plan with if no one actually officially knew I was into other guys.

In another teen-drama-inspired breaking point, it was Dawson’s Creek that finally made me just come out with it.  Yes, really.  Specifically, it was the double-episode (which I’m convinced I will watch as soon as I’m done typing this up Wednesday night) entitled “To Be Or Not To Be…” and “… That Is The Question.”  It’s the episode where Jack came out of the closet, first to his dad with his sister looking on, and eventually to others.  I knew it couldn’t be in that order for me, and that I didn’t want it to be.  He was also forced out, which I quickly realised was a real possibility for me and something that scared me more than coming out on my own terms.  But sitting in front of the TV at 2AM (my parents had priority on the TV, so I used to use the VCR to record my shows, and watch them late at night — I was always a night owl so this actually suited me just fine), bawling my eyes out because that character on screen was going through the exact same thought process I was (credit to series creator Kevin Williamson, who has long been out as gay and co-wrote this episode), I knew what I had to do.

So it was.  I don’t remember the exact dates but sometime in February or March of 1999, at the age of 15, I came out of the closet.  I had meant to tell one particular friend first – she was one of the most open-minded people I knew, and having been the only person in my whole time at that school to have been pregnant there, I figured she’d understand.  But there were two buses to my school from downtown, and she got on the same one as my mother (who, at this point, had taken a job in our cafeteria.  She later tried to get a job at my university, and did eventually get a job at the Tim Horton’s across the street from it).  So I got on the other one, and spent the whole trip working up the nerve to tell the other friend I would often ride the bus with (it had always been a toss-up between these two, who were amongst my closest friends, so this wasn’t the end of the world).  I eventually told her after we got to school and were at her locker.  In a confusing turn of events, she responded with a very sincere “no you’re not!”  Not in a judgmental, “you’d better not be” tone, but in a real sense of disbelief.

It all cascaded from there – she went into the bathroom after we stopped at my locker, and while waiting outside for her the friend I’d originally meant to tell asked where the other friend was.  I said she’d been in the bathroom a while and I was worried she was freaking out because I told her I was gay.  She followed her in, and after what I assume was a mini-conference, they re-emerged, supportive and friendly as if nothing had really changed, though I could tell they were a little stunned.

From there it became easy.  I don’t even remember the details of the rest, though I’m sure some of the people I subsequently told remember it better than I do (one in particular commented briefly on my previous post about this).  I recall a perfect setup for telling the first people that weren’t close friends – we (myself and some girls in my gym class that I got along with but wasn’t really friends with) had been chatting about Lilith Fair coming up and they observed that the crowd would be mostly women and gay guys anyway – which easily segued into me making a comment about how I’d fit in perfectly, then.

The weird thing is that no one ever seemed to mind, or care.  I didn’t really lose any friends because of it.  I’ve since drifted from many of them, and that’s fine, but there were no harsh or fiery incidents.  At worst, some insisted they’d long since known and were hoping I’d say something already (I’m still not convinced of this, though I can’t deny the writing was likely on the wall).  But it was all just kind of okay.  Which I think is, in part, what has led me to live such an open life now (as anyone who follows me on Twitter can attest to) – being honest and being myself just made things fit so comfortably.  The lying (even if only by omission) was so much effort, and so difficult, that to tell the truth and just be honest was such a weight off my shoulders.  As life got easier, the thoughts of ending life drifted further and further away.

Of course, there were my parents, who I told over a year later.  I had gotten my ear cartilage pierced one day after school (being 16 or 17 made this legal to do without their consent or knowledge), the night before leaving fora band trip (yes, I was a band geek) to Halifax.  The real reason I chose to get it done that day was that I was at that point working at a fast food restaurant, and the greasy air infected piercings easily.  I wanted to give it a chance to heal (the week I spent on the band trip, not working) before going back to work, so the timing was perfect.  When my parents found out they freaked out and accused me of doing it then to avoid being able to talk about it because I was leaving the next day.  Nevermind the fact that I was old enough that I was responsible for myself, but anyway.  In the process, I overheard my mother say to my father “he looks like a homo now.”

I went on the trip and came back and they insisted that we talk about the piercing, as if it was any of their business.  I at this point had grown strong enough to stand up for myself, and completely deflected the non-problem of the piercing by telling them what I overheard, how it was true, and it was offensive that they would say that.  They’ve said nothing of the sort since, and have made some limited attempts to educate themselves, but the bridges had long since been burned years before that point and, mostly by my doing, we’ve never gotten much closer.  Any future incidents were seemingly unrelated, including the time I called the cops after I overreacted to a physical attack – I left home and returned later that day, in what I think was a stronger position than when I left.  I was convinced to stay at home for university (I chose to go to the university in my hometown – I didn’t get into the program I wanted at my first choice university and Brock was my second choice based on the quality of its program – in retrospect I’m glad I went there).  Second semester of second year I moved to Mississauga for a work term, moved back home for the spring/summer semester, realised you can never move back (life under the supervision of parents always feels much worse after you’ve experienced life without it), and moved out again for good in September of 2003, never to look back.  Things have improved between us, and they even had a four-day visit here last week without major incident, but I don’t expect it will ever be a ‘normal’ relationship – it just can’t be.

But this post is supposed to be about happy thoughts. The happy part of that last paragraph is that I’m now an adult, and have control over my own life and my finances and my living situation.  Having such a positive experience with coming out to my friends (my peers, the people I actually cared about) made it easy for me to just be.  There was the occasional awkwardness, but most people legitimately didn’t care either way.  I was still not rich enough, athletic enough, good-looking enough (until my final year when I finally grew into my appearance), or cool enough to be in the ‘popular’ crew, but I started caring less and less about that.  In case there was any doubt at all about my sexuality, in my grade 12 year (Ontario still had a grade 13 (OAC), so not my final year) I bought not one, but two, guys in a charity bachelor auction our high school held every year.  One didn’t mind at all (I still wonder whatever happened to him – he was straight but definitely not narrow, to borrow another cliché), the other apparently minded but knew well enough not to say anything.  Such is the power of political correctness.

There was really only one incident in my OAC year, when I had been befriended by one of the more popular kids (who, strangely, apparently served as a policy advisor to the Minister of Industry, Tony Clement, subsequently provided management consulting to Industry Canada, and is now Manager of Stakeholder Relations at the OLGC – it’s always weird looking people up years later!).  We had chatted over ICQ and, in a more self-conscious / stupid moment, I idly asked how people perceived me.  She got angry, went offline, and in an attempt to try to make it better I tried emailing her to explain I was just curious in a broader sense, and cited a few specific things that I wasn’t asking (something like “I don’t care if [name of person X] thinks [opinion] of me”).  In retrospect, I should really have just apologised for the ignorant question and moved on, but I can’t change that.  Awkwardly, she printed my email, handed it to people I had named in it (apparently at a party), and one in particular approached me in the hall at school and, in the most laughable threat of the year (even unathletic me could have taken this guy), he threatened to beat me up if I ever said anything like it again.  He never followed through, though I never said anything like it again because even in that instance it was a hypothetical.  Needless to say, I never really spoke to that short-lived friend again.  And I learned the lesson that those people you really want to be friends with that won’t give you the time of day aren’t worth having as friends.

Things had already improved over the last few years of high school, but by the time I reached university I was confident and comfortable in my skin.  That really makes a world of difference.  I met other gay people, dated them, slept with them, got politically involved with them.  I actually got on to the advisory council of our student union, something that had been unthinkable in high school and was admittedly all too easy in university (most seats ran uncontested).  I got more involved on campus, was appointed to the SU’s board of directors, became president of the Pride organisation on campus as well as the Accounting Club (nerdy, I know), and sat on the committee for the university’s first Positive Space campaign.  Getting (and wanting) good grades went from being something that was uncool to something that was respected, and paid off in the form of job offers and scholarships.  When adversity came my way in the form of homophobia or any other discrimination, I met it head on and felt empowered enough to say it was not okay.  I still had a flare for the overdramatic; I recently found a blog entry where I compared an anti-same-sex-marriage organisation to Hitler, something I would never say now (damn Godwin’s Law!).  But even if I occasionally went over the top, I learned how to keep control and not take the worst out of life. I could only do this because I was in a good place – the old me would have crumbled under such adversity.

I graduated, got a good job, did well on my qualification exams, and am now gainfully self-employed and as in control of my life as anyone can claim to be.  I’ve gotten to travel extensively, and I get to do good work that I enjoy every day.  I’m glad I’m here, and yes, it does eventually get better.

I think I know now what parting thoughts I wanted to leave on yesterday’s post.  You will never know or expect who may be feeling suicidal.  Unless they’re in the process of attempting, there’s very little you can do to prevent someone from killing themselves.  The characters on that Glee episode started blaming themselves and wishing they’d said something or been there for the character who attempted.  Those fictional characters, as with the real-life people who knew me or who know anyone else who’s considering it, could never do anything to prevent the actual desire to commit suicide.

I’ve posted before that suicide-prevention cannot work as a strategy on its own, and simply telling people to call for help or not to kill themselves just won’t do anything particularly useful.  We need to create a culture and an environment where people are able to be themselves and live happy, fulfilled, lives.  Where we learn that we are loved and cared for.  Where we are in charge of our own destinies, and have control over ourselves and our lives.  Where we have the ability to change our own lives and the lives of others for the better.  Where we are financially capable of being independent, and do not have to put up with the abuse or confinements of others.  This comes with honesty, it comes with respect, it comes with treating others fairly and kindly.  It comes with acknowledging our own mistakes and helping others to feel comfortable enough that they can acknowledge theirs.  And it comes with having open communications and dialogue.

Be kind. You never know what someone is going through.

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