Readers respond to the Savage Love column about gay teenagers who've come out of the closet:
Your column about coming out was insightful, funny, and very moving. You tackled hard questions and provided some of the best answers I've ever heard to them.
My only qualm is with your reply to Christian Parents Angrily Chastise, whose Christian parents were making his life hell after they discovered he was gay: "Your only option right now, I'm sorry to say, is to lie to them." It's not that I don't think lying is necessary for some kids in his situation, but CPAC should know it's not his only option. My Christian parents also found out early on (age 12) just how fabulous their son truly was. I got the works—therapy, extra church sessions, lectures, shunning, grounding from male friends, the usual stuff. I went back in the closet initially, but after a while, I realized that was, uh, fruitless and came back out at 16.
My last few years in high school certainly weren't a cakewalk, but my parents did a lot of reading, snooping, arguing, and even some listening, and eventually my relationship with my parents slowly mended. Shortly after my high-school graduation, my mom even held me while I cried when the Defense Of Marriage Act was passed. She promised me she would be at my wedding to dance and drink wine and celebrate my union with my future husband, along with the rest of the family. Ironically, looking back, it was one of the happiest moments in my life, too.
I know not every kid has parents like mine, but that doesn't mean every family like CPAC's is destined to be torn apart forever, either. If anything, he has a better chance of changing his parents' beliefs while he's still residing with them and can be a living, breathing, daily testament to the reality (and permanence) of his homosexuality.
Thank you for one of your best columns to date.
I do not think that you went far enough with your advice, Dan, and I'm going to spell it out for all of your readers who feel trapped by their "peers" in school, all those kids who are being harassed and abused by their fellow students: There is life outside of your high school. I don't just mean that one day you will graduate and move on, I mean that there are millions of people in this country alone, and some of them will think you're made entirely out of awesome.
Tired And Losing It and CPAC are lucky because they live in the age of computers and the Internet. Reach out into the world and look for people who share your passions, find the people who care about the issues that interest you, search for the rest of your "tribe," and if they're trapped and isolated like you are, offer them your support and affection.
Don't wait until college to seek out your true peers. Start looking for them now, and please don't judge yourself based upon what those assholes at your high school think of you.
Been There, Survived That
Big fan, Dan. However, your usually reliable web savvy was notably absent in your responses to gay teens last week. Positive self-affirmations in the mirror and vilifiers directed at small minds worked in the old days, when you and I grew up as gay boys without the Internet. Today, GLBT teens have virtual communities at their fingertips that offer support, tangible resources, and connections to others. I should know… I work with many of them. Please promote these invaluable lifelines: matthewshepard.org, pointfoundation.org, gayteens.org, advocatesforyouth.org.
I am a counselor in a large school, and the brass responded with similar claims of "We'll need proof to move forward" when an out student was being harassed. The student got hold of a pro-bono civil-rights lawyer who had a quick, quiet discussion with the school CEO. The next month, our school started a series of awareness workshops and training, sponsored a gay/lesbian/bi/straight alliance club, and treated any incidence of sexual harassment with the same vigor that they would a reported pedophile teacher.
A little lawyerly talk can go a long way.
Been There, Seen That
It is quite obvious that you have a contemptuous air about you. That's fine. The bar isn't all that high, and your advice is usually helpful, if painfully obvious. Having said that, I would like to say this to you about your answer to the 16-year-old old gay boy whose parents are evangelical Christians: We don't know these people on a personal basis. They probably love their child but are quite frightened by something they find alien and incomprehensible. But the true viciousness is in your knee-jerk, intemperate, and DANGEROUS "advice." I, unlike you, have the privilege and burden of parenting a teenage boy, and I know that one must be very careful about what ideas you put in their heads. Fantasies of killing their parents or of their deaths? Now that's vicious. What if this poor kid actually did something irrevocable and tragic? Why not address an open letter to the boy's parents, gently reminding them of the values and love they should cultivate in the true spirit of their religion, or recommend a local counselor that they can see as a family? Much more useful, and possibly productive.
Don't Go There
Just wanted to thank you for your recent column. I'm in college now, but I remember well how lonely and isolating the high-school years can be. It's sort of a strange time today because I know a number of gay people who came out at 12, their parents joined PFLAG, they started their schools' GSAs, etc., and then there are the rest of us, who suffered through something significantly less friendly. There's not much advice to give these kids except the same old mantra: You have worth, keep hanging on, and get yourself into a better environment as soon as you can. Though the advice is pretty simple, unfortunately there aren't enough people out there saying it. I'm sure you gave a lot of anxious, lonely teens a little hope and perspective.
There's one important step TALI should take that you missed. She needs to check her state laws regarding discrimination against gays and lesbians. It could be that even though she lives in a small, intolerant town, it could be in a state that has laws barring such discrimination. If so, she should contact a lawyer, who could then threaten the school district with a budget-busting lawsuit unless they actively do something to end the harassment. Usually, the threat of such a lawsuit is enough to get some action.
Pissed Off At Bigots
You should add information about resources to your answers to TALI and CPAC. They should contact PFLAG (Parents, Families And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays). If there isn't a chapter in the towns where they live, they could still contact nearby chapters for support. LGBT people often attend PFLAG meetings in order to have contact with parents and other adults who welcome and accept them. National PFLAG website is pflag.org
I hope that you will refer CPAC to a recent excellent documentary about five Christian families who found that they had a gay child, and how they handled it [For The Bible Tells Me So]. One woman featured in the film listened to [James] Dobson [from Focus On The Family] and wrote a disapproving letter, her daughter hanged herself in a closet, she studied what the Bible really said, and now she spends her life offering the acceptance and encouragement to gay children that it is too late to give her own daughter.
To me and so many other people, the God of the Bible, through Jesus Christ, is essential for a life worth living. The Bible does not condemn gay people unless you decide to interpret it that way; more and more churches are making room for gay people as valuable members.
I'm a junior-high-school teacher (and former teenager), and I want to give a copy of that column to every kid I care about who's getting shit for being different—in whatever way they're different. Those three paragraphs are going to help more people than anything else I've read in a long, long time. They'll help people get through tough times, probably even help some who otherwise wouldn't get through them alive. Thank you.
Here's a question you should have asked CPAC: When exactly is his 18th birthday? My birthday falls in January, which meant that I was able to leave the house and high school soon after the big 1-8. For three years, I plotted to earn enough credits to graduate from high school early. I graduated after the first semester in my senior year—which happened to be 10 days after my birthday—and I was able to sign myself out of school, legally being an adult. My parents screamed and gave the school a headache, but I was legally in the right, and there was nothing they could do about it. (Even though I did have to threaten to sic the ACLU on the school.) That semester after graduation, I worked 12-hour days as a diner waitress to earn some cash; enough to truly tell them to suck it.
Why was finishing school early a good thing? Because I was able to work that whole semester and save money for college. This is why CPAC needs to plan ahead. CPAC, if you're reading this, get a job right now. Work your ass off and lie your ass off about how much money you are making, and hide it better than you hide your porn. Save! You can only really tell your parents to suck it when you're 18 if you don't need them to write checks for you. Apply for a bunch of colleges (let your parents write the checks for the applications) and ask the ones where you're accepted what sort of financial aid they offer if your parents won't support you because you are gay. Some colleges won't understand, and those places aren't for you anyway. But some will. Then tell your parents to suck it, and know you've earned the right to say it loud and proud. They may decide to come around, and if they do, tell them to bring their checkbook, because they'll owe you.
Suck It, Dad
Maybe you should confine your advice to adults, if the only advice you have for kids coming out is to grin and bear it until you're out of high school, hide, and lie to your parents and others. Maybe you should have invited some experts to weigh in, like people who are experienced helping teens.
Your advice is dangerous. Don't you know that hiding and lying can lead to not only thoughts of suicide, but to suicide itself?
Would you recommend that your son or daughter or niece or nephew lead a marginalized lifestyle, living in fear and shame until he or she is able to graduate and get out of town? Would you want your son or daughter to be subject to name-calling, threats, and destruction of property?
Realistically, there is no easy answer, but you dropped the ball and you suck, you aren't helping at all. In fact, you're hurting. I've read your column for a long time, but now it's time to stop.
A Former Reader
Just wanted to shoot you a line and let you know you were spot-on with the advice you gave the 16-year-old gay boy: Tell your parents what they want to hear, even if you have to lie. I know, because it's exactly what I had to do. I was raised on a farm in a conservative Southern Baptist family in rural Missouri. I knew from the time I was 13 or 14 that I was gay, but I wasn't going to let them know. I could only imagine the horrors that existed for that, and this was pre-Internet, so I didn't even know parent-sanctioned torture organizations like Exodus existed.
The only advice I'd add for this kid is, when it's time for college, go with a state or secular private school. He needs to be firm in not letting his parents push him into one of those god-awful Christian schools that provide degrees like "biblical history." If money is a concern, go to a state school. That's what I did and now I'm 31, pulling in six figures, I own my home, and have a partner of several years.
Life Does Get Better
I've been reading your column for a few months now, and it's always educational and entertaining. Your last column about gay kids really, at the risk of sounding corny, inspired me. I'm 17, gay, and out. While I go to a very liberal high school in a generally liberal city, high school still sucks, especially when you're gay. "Right now they're making you feel like an outcast, TALI, and the malice stings," you wrote. "But what exactly are they casting you out of? Your high school? Their asshole cliques? That shit town? You haven't been cast out, TALI; you've been liberated. Freed. Sprung." Right fuckin' on, Dan. Thanks. I needed to hear that.
Liberated, Freed, Sprung In D.C.
A friend of mine in high school was going through pretty much the exact same thing as CPAC, and his parents decided to send him to a therapist to "fix" him. What his parents didn't realize, of course, is that homosexuality isn't in the DSM IV anymore, and his therapist spent an hour every week helping him come to terms with his sexuality and deal with his parents' hatred. At the end, he was very well-adjusted and happy, and his parents were pissed that the therapy didn't "work." I recommend that CPAC ask his parents for therapy and get comfy being a homo on their fundamentalist dime.
Been There, Counseled That
I just read this week's column and I'm applauding your advice to CPAC—the gay teenage boy with abusive evangelical parents—except for one aspect. You suggested that he get himself a "fag hag," which could backfire on him in two major ways.
First of all, this means getting a second innocent kid tangled up with his demented parents, who will not only be pestering him about their relationship, but will likely also demand to know every little detail of her life. The other issue is that if he does decide to go down the fake-girlfriend path, he's going to have to find a best female friend who can be trusted not only to keep his secret, but also to understand that no, his homosexuality is not just a phase, and that there is no chance of a real romantic relationship between them. If he isn't careful and totally honest with this girl in the beginning, there's a big risk of her developing serious feelings for him and getting her heart broken.
Fags And Hags Need Love
I don't mean to interfere in your job too much, but could you issue a bit of clarification in your advice to CPAC, and by extension, to other young men who are forced into the closet? You said, "get yourself a fag hag." Could you please add, "…who knows she's a fag hag"? When I was in high school, two friends of mine, male and female, were going out. She was constantly miserable. She wanted what people want out of their significant others: physical signs of affection. He told her she was a slut for asking for it. Then he started telling her that he'd want her more if only she weren't so ugly, or loud, or aggressive, or whatever excuse he could come up with that week. I, far from straight myself, suggested to her that he might be gay. He swore up and down that it wasn't so, and that I was just jealous.
She thought the world of him, and would never have outed him or betrayed him to his parents. Instead, she turned herself into a silent, meek little doll in the vain hope that he'd like her more if she were more "feminine." Feminine was the last thing he wanted. He came out as soon as he went to college, and never spoke to her again.
Fucking some poor, insecure straight girl over isn't fair, even if you're gay and your parents are assholes.
Regarding CPAC's parents finding his gay-porn web-browsing history: I wanted to let you know that anyone can view online porn with impunity, using Firefox and an add-on called Distrust. You simply start a Distrust session, view all the porn your heart (or any other organ) desires, then when you exit the browser or turn Distrust back off, your history, cache, etc. return to the state they were in before the session. It's like you were never there, and it is MUCH better than leaving behind a telltale, completely blank history. Only a savvy user would realize the add-on was installed, and even then, they wouldn't know it had been used, or what tracks it had erased.
Loves Internet Porn, Privacy
I thought CPAC might like to know about an awesome little program called HeatSeek. It's made for surfing and storing porn on your computer, all hidden away and safely encrypted. It covers your surfing tracks and has a ton of neat features like mystery program icon, multiple "kill switches," password protection, and even an "I'm busted" password that opens up a completely different program, plus a bunch of other neat features. (And that's just the free version.)
I'm not a spokesperson for the company or anything like that, I'm just a satisfied user. (I've got a long-term girlfriend who's really awesome but not big on what she considers "too much" porn surfing, i.e., more than once a month.)
HeatSeek Up Suckers, Hide Ur Porno
I noticed in his letter that CPAC said he forgot to delete his browser history. I, too, have forgotten to delete porn in the past and paid the price. But there's a great, small program out there called Browzar (browzar.com). It's a very small copy of Internet Explorer that leaves no history on your computer of what you surfed. No caches, no "sites last visited," no nothing. It's small enough that you could delete it every time you're done jerking off and reload it before you get your next chubby, but I'm guessing CPAC's parents wouldn't notice an extra program on the desktop, anyway. It's a great way to look at porn or anything else on the Internet, for that matter, without any repercussions. I figured this is something all your readers, but especially CPAC, would appreciate.
Geek Is So Sexy
To the 16-year-old boy whose ultra-religious parents are savagely repressing any hint of his homosexuality: You don't have to wait two years. This is abuse, and grounds for emancipation. You can become emancipated at the age of 16. The downside is that you'll have to get a job, and it will be tougher for you to finish high school. But it can be done. Perhaps there's a gay youth support group that can help you. Good luck!
Paying Rent Since 17
A suggestion for CPAC: When you're 18, come out LOUDLY while IN YOUR PARENTS' CHURCH! Have a bodyguard and be by the door. Not only will this be great payback for the hell they put you through, CPAC, but you may actually save some younger kids sitting in the pews who are in the same situation you are.
Thirty years ago, a choirmaster at my church loudly told off a priest during Mass. It was a turning point in my life (and the lives of several friends). The choirmaster was in his 40s, a big guy, wore glasses. And one Sunday during Mass, up in the organ loft, he began repeating part of the sermon that had just been delivered. It was on the "sins of deviants." At first, we thought he was repeating part of the sermon because he agreed with it—like he was going to call for "Amens!" or something from the congregation, which would be a strange thing to do in a white, Catholic church. But then he just went off! He started shouting about all he did for this blankety-blank church, and how he and his partner had to cower in the shadows, and he kept going from there! Every time the priest tried to rebuke him, he'd point out some crazy-ass shit the church had done: the Inquisition, drowning witches, the ban on birth control. Parents were covering their children's ears, lots of people were yelling, some people were cheering.
He was fired on the spot and heckled out as he slowly walked out of the church. BUT! The local Catholic school run by nuns, the school I attended, refused to fire him and made him a full music teacher, and he was there under their protection until he passed away.
That one angry choirmaster opened a lot of hearts and minds that day. You can, too.
A Grateful Member Of The Choir
I want TALI and CPAC to know that my heart goes out to them. I wasn't treated nearly as horribly as they were, but I did get a lot of teasing for the rest of high school. I wish I'd had the courage to come out in high school, but I was raised Mormon. I had very little fun in high school, and I was glad to get away. In the 10 years that followed, I came out, started dating guys openly, and made a life for myself—a life I'm quite proud of. When the letter for my 10-year class reunion came around, I just tossed it in the trash. There was no way I was going to let those people treat me that way again. A week before the reunion, however, I felt an uncontrollable urge to go. I couldn't explain it. I just decided that I was going to show up, snickers and jeers be damned. But I was wrong. The outpouring of love and friendship was almost too much to take. Every time I turned around, I ran into someone else who had heard I'd come out and wanted to express how happy they were for me. The whole weekend was incredibly cathartic. The memories hadn't changed, but the people had.
Will it be the same for you? I certainly hope so.
Happy Mormon Cocksucker
I'm a big fan of your column and have been reading it for years. I usually agree with your advice, but I have to take issue with your statement that TALI would have to go to a big university or secular private institution in order to find a welcoming community. As someone who went to a private, Lutheran liberal-arts college, I would have to say that this is definitely not the case. The school I went to, though not free from homophobes, was welcoming of gay and lesbian students. The campus congregation was a member of Reconciling In Christ (lcna.org/ric.shtm), an organization for congregations and synods that openly welcome gay and lesbian members into full communion (and do NOT try to "convert" them to heterosexuality or judge them for being who they are).
Christianity (Lutheranism, for me) is supposed to be welcoming and loving, not judgmental. Granted, the ELCA (my particular flavor of Lutheran) has a long way to go in its treatment of gay and lesbian members, especially when it comes to ordination and marriage, but we are having these discussions, and many congregations are becoming more open, even though the umbrella organization has yet to follow.
Twelve years ago, I was TALI; lost in a small town, alone, the only out lesbian for miles, and worse, there was no such thing as the Internet. At least, not where I lived. I came out, like TALI, hoping it would inspire other people to do the same. Also like TALI, my efforts backfired on me instead. I was constantly harassed, had things thrown at me, nearly got raped by a do-gooder classmate at a party who blearily insisted he could turn me straight… the list goes on.
I left that small town and eventually wound up in New York City. I now run my own business, work comfortably from home, and spend my nights curled around the girl of my dreams. The asshats responsible for making my high-school experience a living hell are back in that shitty hometown, working shit jobs, and raising stupid, ugly children with their stupid, ugly wives. The highlight of their week is Friday-night pizza and beer in front of the television.
So I wanted to write to confirm what you've already said to TALI: "The shits conspiring to make you miserable, TALI, are unlikely to have lives anywhere near as interesting as the one on which you're about to embark." TALI, please know that there are about a million or more women out here who are so proud of you for coming out, and we're all rooting for your inevitable success.
Can't Think Of Anything Clever