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.)