I usually get monthly newsletters from Exodus International. In this month’s edition there was one article that caught my eye. It was called Middle School Youth More Open to Coming Out Sooner, Article Reports. This article was written in response to an article published in the New York Times this last September called Coming Out in Middle School. I hope you will take the time to read both articles.
The original article details how students in middle schools across this country are becoming more openly identified as homosexual. I found this to be a really interesting article and one that demonstrates how much more accepting and open-minded people are becoming toward those with a homosexual or bisexual orientation. I also found it comforting to read how much less fearful and ashamed young people are becoming about being gay. Fear and shame pretty much dominated most of my middle school and high school years, and even after then. I was terrified someone might find out or think I was gay. And because of this, I hid myself from a lot of people.
The second article (the one featured in the October edition of the Exodus Newsletter) I found to be a particularly troublesome response. I have often supported Exodus in the past. I had an Exodus counselor for almost three years who was in a lot of ways a real life-saver for me. Paul (my counselor) was only the second person to ever know I like other men. He helped me see that not all people will freak out and hate me if they find out I’m gay. He was the first straight person I’d ever known who acted as though homosexuals were not people to fear and hate and ridicule, but to love and befriend and speak the truth to. He encouraged me not to hide who I am, but to let other people know me for the real me, to develop friends with people, and to not live out the rest of my life in fear of what others might think. Paul helped me through some of the loneliest and depressed times of my life. Above anything, he was always willing just to listen to me. He allowed me to pour out all the hurt I’d felt but kept bottled up for so long. He taught me that I didn’t have to live in fear, or hide myself, or keep lifelong painful secrets, being ashamed to ever let anyone know the real me. And he taught me that God still loves me, regardless of my temptations or past mistakes. I’ll always owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all he did for me. I’m a better person now because of his help. And I have to thank Exodus for making that connection with Paul for me. But having said this, I do disagree with many of the standpoints of Exodus. This article points out one of the mindsets of so many who are affiliated with Exodus. And that is that young people are essentially not wise enough about themselves to be able to know if they are gay or straight.
I know middle school is a confusing, troubling time for many people; even when it comes to sexual identity/feelings. This isn’t only the case for homosexuals and bisexuals, but for heterosexuals as well. Most people become confused or curious or even anxious when they first start having feelings of a sexual nature for another person. And that is because they are new feelings. Of course a person will not fully understand them at first. But most people have little doubt about whom or what they’re attracted to. They may not understand why their attractions are as they are, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily confused about whether they’re attracted to men or women, or both.
I remember when I was at middle school age I knew I liked boys. I knew (or thought anyway) that I was supposed to like girls though. I thought it was wrong for me to like guys, or to act on those feelings, or to ever tell anyone about it. I kept my true feelings a secret and, for a time, pretended to like what I thought everyone else expected me to like: girls. I even had a girlfriend for a while just to satisfy this thought. But I really was never confused about liking men. I was confused about how I’d developed these feelings, but never about the feelings themselves. I didn’t have to act out these feelings with another male to know that they were true. I didn’t have to act out sexually with a female to know that I wasn’t interested in that.
Many at Exodus want to believe that fewer people will become gay if they just won’t identify as gay at such a young age. Now, I do believe many people may experiment with their sexuality, and may engage in some activities that they shouldn’t. Some people, as odd as it may seem, even consider homosexuality or bisexuality cool. To be one or the other has become one of those added things to contribute to the individualistic mindset of the people of this country. Some people think that to be gay makes them unique from others, and so there are some, who are not gay, who are more than happy to act out as if they are. It can also be a point of rebellion. After all, it is not the hope or desire of most parents that their children should be gay. And so some young people, though I do think a very few of them, do maybe adopt a gay or bisexual identity when perhaps they are not. But for the vast majority, being gay or bisexual is their reality. And what is wrong with them being able to admit this to others? What is wrong with a young person admitting to themselves that they are gay or bisexual? If it’s how they feel, it’s how they feel. Whether or not it’s right or wrong for them to act on those feelings is somewhat beside the point. It’s relevant (the morality of acting out on homosexual feelings) but it shouldn’t factor in to whether or not a person identifies as having those feelings. As I already said, you either have those feelings or you don’t. If you do, why should you have to hide the fact your entire life? Why should you live in secret, covering up, not getting help, afraid to let anyone know how you feel or who you are? Why should you live in fear your whole life? For those who are homosexual or bisexual, choosing to identify as such should not be a point of contention.
Do we want our kids living in fear, to grow up afraid of who they are? One of the things I found interesting in the original article was that most of the young students interviewed for it were not even sexually active, unless you include kissing, holding hands, or dancing, or other things like that. They are simply being themselves, admitting that homosexuality or bisexuality is, in fact, a part of their lives. They’re being open and honest about who they are, and hoping for a little bit of understanding, compassion, and respect from others. And there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that.
On another point, I found it interesting how the level of bullying has gone down in schools where students felt safe to be openly gay or bisexual. Schools that allow students to create and join clubs such as Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) have seen a decline in the level of violence or harassment of not only homosexual and bisexual identified students, but of all students regardless of their background. Isn’t that a good thing? I think it is.
Now, I’m not promoting young people becoming sexually active. And I don’t think the vast majority are aspiring for that either. Nor am I promoting homosexuality (anymore than I’m promoting heterosexuality), or believe that students should be pressured into accepting or admitting their sexual orientation before they're ready to. I just think young people should be allowed to not have to live in fear of who they are and how they feel. I also think it is wrong of people to force others into shame and hiding, or to bully or belittle them for having feelings they did not choose to have. I wish many others would realize homosexuality is no more or less prevalent today than it’s ever been. Just because people are being more open and honest about it, doesn’t mean society is falling apart or becoming more sinful. It just means people are tired of living in fear, hiding who they are, and are deciding more and more not to live their lives afraid all the time. Frankly, I see nothing wrong with that.