October 20th is Spirit Day. I wore purple all day. This year there is even more urgency given the suicide of James Hubley. I could go into the details of why James felt he needed to commit suicide but they are all too familiar to a queer person. Suffering under the pressure of knowing you are despised for something you cannot control or change is unbearable for most of us. Somehow most of us get through it.
Growing up queer in a Christian-centered county like Canada can be difficult. When I was a teen you didn’t talk about being gay. You didn’t your parents, your friends, your teachers or your counselor. It just wasn’t done. You live in fear that someone is going to figure it out. So you learn how to live a lie. Even though I had some gay male friends in high school, I still didn’t feel like I could come out. Hell, half the time you can be so pressured to conform to the hegemony of heterosexuality that you are even confused about your own feelings. Kids like James who come out in high school have a very lonely road to walk. If they don’t have adequate support from the school and their peers the consequences can be dire.
Hurbley’s suicide caused me to reflect on what my path had been. I can remember coming out to my Honours professor at the University of Calgary. I don’t remembrer why I needed to do it, likely it had a lot to do with being authentic. He didn’t blink. It was no big deal and we went right back to discussing whatever book I had just read for my independent study class. I was out on campus. I volunteered for the LGTB organization; I was there when the right-wing nut jobs posted death threats on the door of our office. We reported it but the university administration did not take it seriously. It scared us to say the least.
In my thirties, we had moved to Vancouver. It felt like we had gone from a lesbian desert to the Promised Land. We could walk down Commercial drive and see lesbians everywhere. We held hands for the first time in public in the Davie Village. We had community everywhere. Meeting other queer women was as easy as hanging out with our neighbours or co-workers. We felt free to just be.
In 2003 we got married. Married for real. We didn’t expect a change in the quality of our relationship but there was. It was good. We were family now. We had the same last name and we had the acceptance of my family. But it seemed that while there had been great changes for us, there was more bullying of youth everywhere for being queer. The more society moves towards acceptance it doesn’t make sense that things should be worse for the youth. I don’t understand it.
Here is the thing about being different. You are never really safe. I repeat, you are never really safe. While life can and does get better for queer people as we move through adulthood, we are never, ever truly safe. People can talk a good game and can act properly and say all the right things but still act upon homophobia. I know because at 45-years old I became the target of bullying. A great deal of this bullying was simply because I was a lesbian. It took all of my strength to get through it.
I don’t have an answer. I wish I did. I feel very bad for the Hubley family as they grieve the loss of their son. I want the world to be different. I want it to be a safe place for queer people, all of us.