I grew up in the midwest, the suburbs of St.Paul, Minnesota to be exact.
I was an overweight, quiet, closeted kid my freshman and sophomore years. I was terrified of coming out, acknowleging publicly what I could only describe as a genetic flaw. (Even then -- before anyone really talked about gay teens, I knew gay was how I was born). I felt like a freak and didn't have any intention of letting anyone know about it. My outside appearance was upsetting enough to me at the time and brought me sufficient suffering through the heartless/ignorant teasing of others. I certainly was not going to subject my inner self to the same intense, abusive ridicule.
By the end of my junior year of high school, I had managed to transcend most of the teasing and mental torture of others because I had conformed to a more "normal" "suitable" person (in their eyes -- not mine). I lost 80 pounds, I dated the cheerleaders, but I was still gay. I had traded their hate toward me for hatred toward myself. I was the leader of the gang that was now responsible for my inner mental torture.
By senior year I had found my first gay love and felt I had to face the world for who I was. I had no one to talk to about it with (so I thought -- I was wrong) but to my face in a mirror, sometimes with tears streaming down my face, sometimes in fits of hysterical laughter, mostly just full of fear of what was going to happen to me.
When I did finally did come out I made quite a splash. Rainbow rings, political T-shirts and political music were all a part of my quest to draw attention to myself and let others know I was into guys. I was establishing a new identity. I realize now that my excessive display was also a desparate plea to get the other kids to start abusing me again so I would stop abusing myself. And it worked. For the rest of my senior year I was kicked, shoved, spit at, pushed, tripped, sucker punched, had my car run off the road twice, berated and publicly (and privately) humiliated by some of my peers and strangers until I finally graduated and moved on to college.
Despite the relief I would often feel thinking of the possibility of eternal silence back then, I made it through. It's been 20 years since I came out of the closet. It is what it is, I am what I am. Gratefully and thankfully, who I love, lust after or crush on has very little consequesnce on me or anyone else in my life in terms of defining who I am or my safety. But when another story like that of Kenneth Weishuhn comes like bullet spray toward my entire being I can't help but think -- it doesn't always get better. I suddenly feel like that vulnerable, scared, teenager who's bullies turned me against myself into the biggest bully I ever knew. Thankfully my inner bully was silenced before he silenced me.
That clearly isn't the case for these poor kids that, no matter what we do to help create social awareness and somehow try to prevent these nonsensical suicides/murders, haven't got a shot at experiencing anything but death. Killed by their own hands because bullies turned them against themselves. For Kenneth Weishuhn or Tyler Clementi or Billy Lucas and others to come. It just won't get better, because they are dead.
Despite my pessimism and sadness in the wake of another senseless suicide, I do believe it gets better, I do. And it is because of organizations like It Gets Better that those who feel they have nothing else to lose but their lives are given a source of light and hope. We can't get back those who are gone. But we can keep shining light and giving hope to those who are still here but struggling with sticking around. For you -- it does get better.
Find me/follow me on Twitter @BryanStendahl