Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An Invitation

Another gay teen.  Another possible suicide.

This past Saturday evening, eighteen-year-old Lance Lundsten from Alexandria, Minnesota, was taken to hospital, where he later died.  According to his Facebook profile, Lance was openly gay, and, because of his sexual orientation, he'd been bullied at Jefferson High, where he attended school.  His funeral is scheduled for today.

When half a dozen gay and questioning young people in the United States committed suicide late last summer and early fall, the result of being bullied, I was stunned by what had happened.  Losing one precious life to suicide is bad enough, but six in less than two months?  Unimaginable.  Unacceptable.  As a result, Dan Savage initiated the "It Gets Better" project (www.itgetsbetter.org), which was subsequently taken to the next level by the "Make It Better" project (www.makeitbetterproject.org), which I wrote about here in my blog.  (I invite you read these posts, and to visit both of these worthy websites.)

But when I read about it this morning, this latest possible suicide--possible, because it's still under investigation--hit me hard, moving me to tears in a way news of the previous suicides hadn't.  Even though I didn't know Lance, I saw myself in him many years ago, when I was a young, insecure, bullied teenager, fighting what I knew I could never allow myself to be, and I related to what he must have gone through and felt, leading him to think he had no choice except to kill himself.  But I was upset also because, lately, I've thought a lot, and wrote, about low self-esteem in gay people, which I believe is one of the biggest challenges facing our community.  Obviously, my emotions were close to the surface, and news of Lance's senseless death opened the wound in a way the others hadn't.

Do you think if Lance had felt good about himself, had had a healthy sense of self-worth--had loved himself, really--he would have committed suicide?  I don't think so.  Because people who know their value, to themselves, to their family and friends, and to the world around them, are not brought down to taking desperate measures when they experience a setback, when they are judged, or ridiculed, or bullied.  They have the tools they need to deal with adversity when who or what they are is called into question, and they are able to put that adversity into perspective in relation to the rest of their lives, having, in the end, a strong sense of self, and possessing the strength to overcome unfortunate experiences.

I think about all of us who were brave enough to admit to ourselves and to others we were homosexual when we attended school, or who had questions about our sexual orientation but couldn't discuss it with anyone, lest they think we were talking about ourselves.  And those who were emotionally and physically bullied too, but, for whatever reason, never committed suicide.  Think of the scars we took into young adulthood, as we travelled, or attended college or university, or joined the workforce.  Physically, our life journey continued, because we did what we were expected to do--we put one foot in front of the other and began to make something of ourselves and our lives.

But I also think about the internal journey we knew nothing about at the time--did not have the tools to work through anyway--the journey from bullied and battered teen to self-respecting and self-loving adult.  How many of us never take that journey, or only make it part way, because of how painful it is to travel that road, because of how much work is required, because of the demands placed on us to make peace, to learn, and to move on.  No question, though, the internal journey is the most important one of our lives, and one we can't afford not to take.

I can't tell you how important it is to me to share with you what I know of that journey, to help you on yours (if I can), and to learn from you in the process.  I realize I've gone out on a limb in my recent posts, admitting highly personal details and probably coming across as judgemental of the choices some gay men have made.  I realize, too, I may have unorthodox methods of getting your attention, or arguing my case for recognizing low self-esteem in gay people and making improving it a priority in our lives.  But I assure you I'm one hundred percent sincere about what I'm trying to do here, and I only have the best intentions.

Some people, like Lance Lundsten, take the easy way out, committing suicide and leaving those left behind to ask the impossible questions, to work though the aftermath for years to come.  The rest of us struggle to some degree for the remainder of our lives to come to terms with what happened to us when we were children growing up at home and attending grade school, both places usually doing a poor job of validating our young, fragile, and insecure selves.  But this is especially true for young gay people, who, even today, after all the advances made in the acceptance of us and our community, still face the worst assault, physically, mentally, and emotionally. What happened to Lance is proof of that.

I invite comments from you, dear readers.  Please take this opportunity to share a few words about how you feel about yourself today as a gay man or lesbian woman. About your ongoing struggles to recognize your self-worth, to improve your self-esteem, to love yourself.  And for those of you on the journey to overcome the past and to find love for the most important person in your life--you--tell me about that, too.  I sincerely want to hear from everyone.  Think of it this way:  At least your words will show other readers they are not alone when it comes to low self-esteem.  And you may even help someone else figure out what he needs to do to accept himself, to recognize his self-worth, and to make loving himself a way of life.

Let Lance Lundsten's tragic death be the impetus to share our stories in the spirit of healing ourselves and helping our gay brothers and lesbian sisters to heal themselves, too.

(If you have any other comments, I'd appreciate them as well.)


  1. My oldest son (22, straight, as far as I know) was bullied in school. We did everything we could think of, talking to teachers, having him meet with counselors for strategies on dealing with people, finally pulling him out, and homeschooling briefly until he could start at a new school. I asked him recently if he thought we had done everything we could. To my surprise (honestly, I thought he'd say we were totally proactive) he said nothing really made a difference until we took him out of that toxic environment. Which begs the question: Do we, as parents, truly comprehend what our kids go through, and should there perhaps be well-publicized resources for kids who are choosing between school and suicide? Should we make it plainly known that they don't have to physically attend school to graduate?

    Also, as parent, I'd like to know, for a bullied gay teenager, what makes the difference between getting through and choosing suicide? Is a caring parent enough? Or do those kids need an outlet from the school environment, regardless of how accepting their parents are? I ask, because it seems like I've seen too many anguished parents on the news, talking about their dead kids, and I wonder what would have made the difference for that kid.

  2. Firstly, I'd like to comment about the internet being the best resource, connecting people. Yes, it has given a lot to us who are somehow feeling like a absolute aliens among "normal" people. It is much better nowadays. But I feel that people, especially young people have gotten much more meaner and ruthless. Yes, there has been a progress but also there is another part that a parent does not understand. A parent or any other individual can not understand the way a person feels and the situation he is in. Because of that the only way an adult can help, is to be there. To give a hug, to offer a chance for a child to talk!, to show that your child is always important.

    I was bullied a lot during my 8th and 9th grade (I'm from Estonia: we have grade school that lasts for four years, primary school for five years and secondary school for three years). It was awful, but I loved school. I loved to learn, causing me to be the best in my class. When secondary school began I was the one with the highest grades, I took part in state competitions, wrote poems and also I was always there for my classmates, even if they were sometimes mean to me. It got better because I made a name for myself.

    What I am trying to say, is that unfortunately a parent can not take steps for their children. They have to go threw their painful events to learn. Yes your children can make awful mistakes on the way but learning by yourself and from your mistakes in crucial.

    Ok, I have to admit. I am a young person. I have no strong suggestions to offer but I try to give everything that I have learned from to that moment. My dream has always to be a teacher of science. And I know I want to have a child. And I'm gay. And I'd love to find a partner who I can share my life with. Living where I am and knowing the income of a teacher (in our country a waitress at a bar makes more than a teacher) I understand that I need to make some hard choices in my life. The work I love or possibility of a family. A school is a place I can never be opened about myself and causing pane at the moment I do not know I am powerful enough to handle. Still I am finishing my BSc and hoping to continue my studies as a teacher. I do not know what life brings to me or what my choices can lead me to feel and to do but I know I have to do something. There is a wonderful thought in a new movie called "Üks minu sõber" (In English: "My friend"): we have to remember ourselves that we are nothing more than ants. We know nothing more than to build our nest. We carry thorns one by one to our nest. Everything that happens, happens. And doing something just makes living easier.

  3. Sarah, you ask some insightful and tough questions. I love the perspective you bring to this discussion--that of a concerned (and, might I add, open-minded and supportive) parent.
    If you haven't already, I hope you'll take a minute to read the above comment from elevencats. He has a similar point of view to me, having been bullied non-stop for many years in grade school, and what he suggests is probably right.
    Perhaps I could add one other comment. In all the years I was bullied, I don't recall talking to my parents about it even once, or asking them to intervene, along with school authorities, in an effort to help. The reason for that? Because I couldn't say a damn thing about why I was bullied. I couldn't let them know it was because my classmates thought I was effeminate and gay. Believe me, that would have prompted them to think their son was gay, and what parent, back in the 1960s and '70s, would have tolerated that. My situation at home would have been much worse. That's the last thing I needed.
    So my parents knew I was picked on, like so many other kids were for many different reasons, but I never told them why. Sad, isn't it, as I think back. Because I already felt isolated as it was, and I couldn't reach out to anyone, even my parents, who were supposed to be there to support me.
    Thank you so much for your interest in my blog and your contribution. I really appreciate it.

  4. For my response to the comment from elevencats, please see the post titled "Response to the Comment from elevencats."