Through my ten year career thus far in healthcare I’ve been around people who have been brought to their knees. It doesn’t happen often and when it does it is so powerful and emotional to witness that it becomes scarred into one’s memories. To see another human break whether from physical or emotional pain is in some ways indescribable.
I have seen the moment parent’s witness a physician call the time of death of their child. I’ve been the one doing compressions when the time of death is called. I’ve witnessed patients being given devastating diagnoses. I’ve seen people so crippled with pain from detox they literally fall to their knees in the hallway as they crawl from their rooms begging for relief. These moments are so overt in visceral agony that it is hard to bear witness to them.
It struck me recently though that these are not the most painful situations that come to mind if I think of the worst things I’ve seen.
What comes to mind is the look of defeat on a teenager’s face when her parent calls her a him throughout our session though they have been identifying as female for two years. The fear in the eyes of a young adult when they tell me they are gay and they haven’t come out to their parents because they know their parents will stop paying for college and kick them out of their home. It is the shaking hands of a client who came out to me as transgender terrified of rejection. It’s the hundreds of moments I have personally witnessed when LGBT teens and young people have been horribly invalidated, unaccepted, and in their own eyes unloved because of who they are.
What weighs on me day after day is the intolerance and the hatred facing so many youth in our country, in my state, and in my own town. The scary hatred in America is not just the neo-nazi assholes scattered about our country. The scary hatred is the nice middle class suburban families holding their children hostage through their financial and emotional dependence on them with no acceptance of their sexual orientation or gender identification.
The scary hatred is the “normal” families with children living in fear because of the intolerance in their own families. Because they have to live with them on a daily basis. They have to live in fear of rejection every day, fear of emotional rejection, fear of homelessness.
It feels defeating to me sometimes because intolerance is so pervasive. It starts to feel like a heavy burden we are all carrying around. As an adult, confident in my own self and in my own skills professionally, it can still pull me down to face a homophobic family who doesn’t know I am married to a woman. It creates uncertainty and fear if I’m being honest. This is also why the religious freedom laws piss me off. So a religious person can say they don’t want to bake my wedding cake, but I as a lesbian have to treat every person who walks through my door because I am a healthcare provider.
I don’t treat homophobic people any differently than LGBT people. But it feels scary to sit with some one who doesn’t know who I am and who would potentially threaten me if they find out.
There is acute pain such as a sudden loss, and then there is the pain that grates at you, day after day. Every day being misgendered or every day having your parents try and set you up with boyfriends even though they know you are a lesbian or vice versa. Every day being told you are confused, it’s a phase, you’re evil, you’re going to Hell…
That kind of cruelty chips away at a person’s soul. It’s like slow torture. It’s quite possibly the most painful human experience I bear witness to.
To all the parents out there- it’s not a phase, they are not confused, and you won’t just bring your kid to their knees you will push them down a path into deep depression that can end in suicide. People don’t get up from suicide.
I don’t know how to fight this other than what I’m doing. I provide safe space for LGBT youth who are living in fear. I make sure they have lifelines in the event of suicidal thoughts. I talk and talk about the suicide rates and acceptance and love and I’m hoping maybe some day I will see news stories about the declining suicide rates in LGBT youth instead of the increasing rates. I will see news stories about families who love and support their children without discrimination. Unconditional love will be just that, unconditional.
On days when I want to fall to my knees from bearing witness to the fear, pain, and depression in youth the hope for acceptance keeps me going. Knowing I am raising two sons who will never know that fear of rejection also propels me forward. But it’s hard. It’s hard to be a minority because it is tiring in so many ways. I’m tired of the hatred and I’m tired of watching parents inflict pain onto their kids.
Create safe spaces for youth, be a lifeline and if you are a parent please just love your kids. If you are not LGBT don’t put your head in the sand. The nice suburban neighborhoods outside of the South and Midwest are filled with intolerant families. Don’t look the other way.