My experiences growing up gay are not experiences I would want to relive.
- Traumatizing LGBTQ+ children for being LGBTQ+ causes them to live childhoods they would never want to relive.
- Don't Say Gay laws are a variation of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
- PRIDE as in gay and LGBTQ+ pride originally stood for Personal Rights in Defense and Education.
- A vast majority of the population erroneously believes that gay people are more likely than straight people to be child sexual predators.
On February 7, 2023, I read an article in the Washington Post about the death of Charles Silverstein, a psychologist who played a critical role in the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness. I was eight years old at the time of the declassification.
In any event, the article stated in part as follows:
“Dr. Silverstein, whose family was Jewish, recalled encountering antisemitism as well as homophobia and described his childhood as ‘not something I would want to relive…. I was not good in sports, and that, of course, is a black mark on a boy. I think that also within me were some characteristics that would later come out, in terms of being gay,’ he said in a 2019 oral history with Rutgers University. ‘I just know that I was different than the other kids, and I wasn’t sure why.’”
That statement resonated deeply with me. In fact, I have said similar such things about my childhood experiences.
Before I knew that I was gay or understood what that meant, I tended to play with and spend more time with my classmates who were girls than I did with other boys. I did this even though boys my age said that girls had “cooties.” Also, like Dr. Silverstein, I was not good in sports. I was almost invariably the last person picked to join a team to play a sport during physical education. Once a team was forced to take me, my teammates would bypass me as much as possible. I absolutely dreaded physical education because I not only knew that I was not accepted and did not belong, but I could not even try to fit in because I lacked the skills and interest. Growing up, I was not winning any popularity contests by any means because of “characteristics that would later come out, in terms of being gay" and my efforts to hide them and not draw attention to myself.
As I became aware of activities that were considered more “feminine,” I would steer away from them, regardless of how much I might have enjoyed them. Our school's music teacher wanted me to join the choir because she liked my voice, and I refused. My parents insisted that I take Cotillion, which I hated, as much as I loved to dance, and even though I was a relatively good dancer. The teacher wanted me to join a team to compete in the Viennese waltz and other team dance competitions, and I refused. I feared participating in and being perceived as enjoying activities that were labeled “gay.” At the same time, I envied my male classmates who engaged in such activities either because those male classmates were not perceived as being gay or feminine, or because they just did not care about what others thought. I lacked the courage to do that which would darken or add more of what Dr. Silverstein referred to as black marks.
A number of my classmates knew or suspected that I was gay. They would comment on it in front of our peers and even ask me to perform certain sexual acts on them – sexual acts one thinks of females performing on males. Furthermore, I once invited a very masculine and popular boy in our class over for a sleepover not because I wanted to do anything sexual with him; rather, because I thought that forming a friendship with him would help me to become more accepted by our classmates. Instead, he literally tried to rape me, and we were in 7th or 8th grade at the time. I never did engage in any sexual acts with him or any of my classmates because, among other things, it would have confirmed that which I was desperately trying to hide.
Although I knew that I was gay before I reached the age of puberty, by the time I started high school, I learned to “date” girls in an effort to fit in as being straight. "Dating" girls challenged my classmates’ perceptions that I was gay, to the extent they had such perceptions, and it helped to prevent other classmates from forming such perceptions. At the same time and for the same reasons, I continued to refuse to participate in any activities that might appear “gay.”
I denied myself so many opportunities to engage in activities I enjoyed or would have enjoyed in an effort to fit in where I was not accepted and did not belong. Looking back, I also prevented myself from interacting with classmates with whom I would likely have been accepted and belong, at least to some extent.
My last memory of high school was when a male friend invited me to join him at a graduation party that a female grade school classmate of mine was having. I told him that I had not been invited and that she did not like me. He persuaded me to join him at the party, and I was chased out of the party by a number of my classmates I had known since around kindergarten. Why? On information and belief, it was due to my characteristics as a gay boy who was not accepted and was unable to fit in, even though I was deeply closeted about my sexuality. Because of their experiences growing up with me as a gay boy who was deeply closeted It is my understanding that it was because they perceived me as being gay.
These were some of my lived experiences growing up while homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder, when California criminalized consensual sex acts between same-sex adults, which ended when I was ten years old, and when serious efforts were made on the part of born-again Christian singer Anita Bryant, the Traditional Values Coalition, and the Moral Majority worked to label LGBTQ+ people as threats to children and society in an effort to rollback and overturn any civil rights LGBTQ+ people had obtained. I also lived through the era of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the military, after having experienced my own living hell of Don't Ask, Don't Tell from stated and unstated familial and societal rules. I know that had my parents learned that I was homosexual before I completed my formal education, they would not have helped me in that regard. When I became estranged from them because of my sexual orientation and my refusal to live an inauthentic life, they accused me of defrauding them because they would not have supported me in any way had they known the truth.
Now, I am married to a man and have been since 2014, shortly after I was permitted to marry and have it legally recognized as a marriage. I did not even have the right, until I was 49 years old. The response to marriage equality; however, has been a backlash. LGBTQ+ people and their allies are being labeled child sexual predators, even thoughthe research reflects that LGBTQ+ people are no more likely to be pedophiles and sexually abuse children than cisgender straight people. It did not take that much effort to bias people against members of the LGBTQ+ community because "although polls indicate a significant minority of the population believes otherwise, gay people are not more likely to be predators than straight people." In other words, a vast majority of the population already incorrectly believe that gay people are more likely to be child sexual predators than straight people.
PRIDE, as in gay pride and LGBTQ+ pride is an acronym for Personal Rights in Defense and Education. The reason why LGBTQ+ people have the rights, privileges, benefits, and protections they have is due to those LGBTQ+ people who had the courage to "come out" as their authentic selves and who fought like hell for those rights. Don't Say Gay laws are a variation of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. After all, if you cannot say gay, you certainly cannot ask or tell.
It has been traumatizing to witness the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and laws because negative expression leads to oppression and Don't Say Gay laws and laws punishing people and corporations for defending LGBTQ+ people silence any efforts to challenge that negative expression. It seems as though those who are sexually prejudiced against LGBTQ+ people are enacting policies and laws designed to prevent such Personal Rights in Defense and Education from occurring in their effort to see LGBTQ+ rights rolled back.
I feel deeply for LGBTQ+ children and their loved-ones who support them because of my childhood experiences, and I am very concerned for LGBTQ+ people's safety and well-being as hate crimes against them are increasing significantly and hard won rights obtained during my lifetime are being rolled back. The exact same playbook is being used that was used to try and prevent marriage equality and which was used to keep LGBTQ+ people oppressed after homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder and was decriminalized.
Like Dr. Silverstein, my childhood was "not something I would want to relive;" nevertheless, I find myself reliving it on a daily basis as I observe with complete and utter horror that which is occurring in this country in response to marriage equality and other civil rights LGBTQ+ people have obtained in my lifetime.