Two weeks ago, I yelled at my therapist for almost five minutes straight. I love my therapist. She’s the best of the best. All she did to earn my rage was express admiration for my ability to survive – to continue to exist when many haven’t made it under the same circumstances. But…she used the word “resilience.”
I. Hate. That. Word.
Resilience is “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences...” It’s often used in relation to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma. Many within the LGBTQ+ community feel the same way I do about that word. Why is that a trigger word for some of us? We’re so damn tired of being resilient. We didn’t “successfully adapt.” Some of us have (barely) survived against all odds; many of us didn’t make it to their 21st birthday. Our continued existence in a hostile world isn’t a testament to our resilience, but an act of defiance.
When Shanna asked me to write this in light of the current anti-LGBTQ+ political environment, I wanted to say no. I’m tired. Worried. Restless. Overwhelmed. Exhausted. I feel powerless to protect my trans siblings and niblings. I don’t have words for the existential anxiety my community has felt as we’ve followed legislation for months and mapped the real-world implications. But my life’s purpose is to leave this world better than I found it for the LGBTQ+ youth coming behind, so I told Shanna yes – because I can’t do it alone.
What’s currently happening in Missouri and across the nation is deeply personal to me. Not simply because I’m gay, but because of what I’ve lived through. I can’t help but think of the lyrics “You've got to be taught to hate and fear” when I look back at how I learned to hate myself.
I was 7 years old and in a church service when I realized there was a name for people like me. My pastor was railing against “homosexuals” from the pulpit. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time, but that’s the time it clicked for me that he was talking about me. I was abomination. I was damned. I would die of AIDS. With fear and trembling, I begged God every day for the next 14 years to fix me and to love me.
I was 13 when I made my first suicide plan. I had a new plan almost every month for the next 8 years, and when I wouldn’t go through with it on the date I set I would hate myself even more for being a coward. I lived in a constant state of danger. If my secret was discovered, I would at best be homeless – at worst, I would be dead. Friends and family were noticing things. I “ran like a girl.” My hips “swayed too much” when I walked. I didn’t like sports. I was “too emotional.” Each comment they made was heard as a visceral threat.
I was 19 when I started conversion therapy at Southwest Baptist University. It was voluntary – the first 2 times. The third time came under threat of expulsion and being publicly outed. It was a mild experience, as far as conversion therapy goes. Just talking to a “counselor,” confessing my wicked desires over and over, and learning even deeper ways to hate and be disgusted with myself. I barely made it out alive.
I was 24 when I finally attempted suicide.
I’m 37 now. Somehow I’ve made it this far, but most of my personal journey has been through the valley of the shadow.
My experience has left many open wounds on my soul. Wounds that are invisible, that will never fully heal. Stigmata that I’ll continue to learn to care for and treat for the rest of my life. Many in the LGBTQ+ community have similar stigmata. As for the next generation? I’m so scared.
- LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their non-LGBTQ+ peers
- At least one LGBTQ+ youth attempts suicide every 45 seconds
- Transgender and nonbinary youth were 2 to 2.5 times as likely to experience depressive symptoms, seriously consider suicide, and attempt suicide compared to their cisgender LGBQ+ peers
True Colors United
- LGBTQ+ young people are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBTQ+ youth
- About 7% of youth in the United States are LGBTQ+, but 40% of youth experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ+
My community is being retraumatized as we watch hate rallies, under guise of worship, in the state capitol. We are scared, especially for the kids. We want them to survive. Hopefully in better shape than we did. And maybe, just maybe, they can thrive in ways we never could. But let me be very clear: this legislation will kill LGBTQ+ people, and the kids are the most likely victims.
I don’t know what to do or where to start right now. This is just the beginning of a national legislative attack. My community needs Community to shine like the steeple of light in our night sky. I don’t know what that looks like for each one of you, but I have some ideas.
Say something. Silence is so much louder than hateful voices. Your LGBTQ+ loved ones need to hear from you. Check on them. Tell them you love them. Make them laugh, if just for a moment. Risk saying something, even if it doesn’t come out quite right.
Show up. Whatever that looks like for you, the LGBTQ+ community needs to feel your presence. Sit with us in the dark places. Hold our hand to bolster our courage. Give us mom and dad hugs at KC Pride. Celebrate with us. Grieve with us. Breathe with us.
Shine your light. The LGBTQ+ community needs to see that you’re there. This is a James theology moment – that whole faith without works part. We need to see you put some skin in the game. Making light in the world requires energy, and sometimes it creates heat. Do justice by leveraging your social capital, your privilege, and your voice to fight for us and with us. Make good trouble. Cause a scene. Work out your faith. So let your light shine.