Every time I hear about a teen committing suicide, it wrecks me. When I heard about Jamie Hubley, though, it just hit too close to home. Literally. Jamie grew up in a suburb in Ottawa. He struggled with depression for years, was bullied, and did not feel safe at school. So he chose to end his suffering, because he couldn’t imagine a world in which he had a chance of being safe and happy.
Note I didn’t mention that he was gay in that list. It’s because it’s not a problem.
Being gay only becomes a problem when other people choose to use it as an excuse to harass, assault, and dehumanize you. Being gay only becomes a problem when other people choose to exclude you from cultural rituals and social celebrations because who and how you love doesn’t reflect their expectations. Being gay only becomes a problem when people in positions of power allow people perceived as anything in the queer alphabet soup to be targeted.
I grew up in a suburb of Ottawa. I struggled with anxiety and depression since childhood. I was bullied in middle school. I did not feel safe.
I was also queer, but not nearly as brave as Jamie. And maybe it wasn’t about being brave. For some queer kids, you take one look, and you just know. That’s not choosing to be out, that’s coping with always having been read as different. Anyway, I was read as different all right, but I think most people were surprised when I came out in university. I waited, because I knew that my school was not a safe place. I dated boys I was interested enough in while hiding my feelings for the girls who held my heart, and I pretended. Did it make me safer, more emotionally secure? It really didn’t. I tried to kill myself twice in high school.
I didn’t want to die. I wanted to not wake up every morning feeling like shit. I wanted to feel like I could be the person I thought I needed to be without fear of losing my friends and family. I wanted to live in a world where people didn’t throw cold cuts at me and laugh, where people wouldn’t tell me, days before my birthday, that they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore because I just wasn’t cool enough. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be loved. I wanted desperately to be happy. But every day hurt more than the last, and the isolation was unbearable.
I could have been Jamie Hubley. But I have so far managed to survive. As a survivor, I feel I have an obligation to kids like Jamie, kids like little me. Even on my most troubled days, I’m still in a position of greater strength than these kids. I am not bullied. My depression is (more or less) managed. I have a community of people who love me for all that I am. Being queer is not a problem.
Tomorrow, I’m attending a meeting for LGBTQ students in my program, to discuss the pros and cons of being out as a teacher. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, big protects little. If my being out in a school as a queer teacher makes one student feel less isolated, less different, less small while also challenging the norms around “acceptable” bullying in school culture, it’s worth it. It doesn’t get better unless the strong take action to make things better, so we can all become strong.