One morning in January, a few years ago, I walked into the Pacific Ocean. My plan was uncomplicated – just the cold, the tide, and death. The memory of that time comes to me in quick, sensory flashes: the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, the clench of numbness around my ankles, most vivid of all is the taste of salt.
The moment that still haunts me, though, is not that first, icy step into the water, nor is it the night that I decided to die. No – the most crushing, terrible pain I have ever felt was in the second I realized that I’d failed my suicide attempt, that I was going to live. I was going to live on, still maybe gay, still maybe transgendered, still friendless, still freakish, still ugly, still unloved. There is a tiny part of me that relives that moment constantly. A tiny part of me will live in that moment forever.
In the past month, there have been no less than six separate homophobia-related teen suicides reported by the mainstream American media. These six American teenagers, who ranged from middle-school to college-aged, are not statistics. They are not a political platform. They are not poster children or martyrs for a cause. They are real, unique people who led real, unique lives. However, they represent, both individually and collectively, what has been for generations an open secret among queer youth: that living in a homophobic world is the kind of silent hell that makes death attractive.
Ellen DeGeneres recently said on her talk show, “One gay teen suicide is a tragedy – four is an epidemic.” Yet the sad reality of the situation is that this “epidemic” has been quietly murdering untold numbers of young people for years – and none of the survivors escape unscathed.
Six teenagers lost in one dark September is heartbreaking news. We need to remember, however, that these six are only the latest to lose their lives. I do not doubt that every day of every week of every month of every year, there is a queer person who attempts suicide in response to the constant threat of physical or emotional violence. The sad truth is that queer children and youth must come to terms with the knowledge that as long as they live, there will be people who will discriminate against them and revile them. Death is only one facet of the terrible reality that homophobia can create; for many queer youth, life too contains horror and despair.
As humans, as activists, we are told that hope is the answer, that we must remind queer and questioning youth that “it gets better.” Indeed, the It Gets Better Project is an internet initiative that many queer people – including its founder, Dan Savage – have begun to take part in, making videos that remind queer youth that life after school does indeed get better.
But hope is only half the battle. For some of us – the lucky ones – life does get better as we move on, change social circles, grow older. Others are not so lucky. Some, like Seth Walsh, Billy Lucas, and Asher Brown, are lost to suicide. Some live in hell for years, in that terrible space between life and death. It is time that we stopped waiting for life to get better. It is time we made it better – we need to make life better than death for queer youth.
I will never forget the taste of the sea, the crash of the waves, the day I tried to die. I mourn the dead – and I mourn the living, those who suffer now. The former, we have lost. We have not yet lost the latter and we must try to lose no more. For every homophobic attack, we must band together tighter, for every insult, we must cry out in answer. We will fight for those who are feeling lost, freakish, ugly, unloved – we will fight and we will live.
A vigil for queer youth who have committed suicide will be held at 7 p.m. tonight at the Roddick Gates.
Ryan Thom is a Queer McGill co-administrator and U2 Theatre and Psychology (Joint Honours) student. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.