The Healthy Bear On Growing Up Gay

Hey there Guys,

Today I thought it might be a nice to talk about growing up gay. For many gay men, younger years have been tough. Being gay and growing up can be bloody hard. Being different can lead to feelings of isolation, confusion and for some men depression, anxiety and even suicide.

I hope that today by sharing my story it might be a good way to open the door of conversation and thoughts on what it’s like growing up gay for other people.

In many ways my younger years were wonderful. Sure I had a few issues but to be honest, I have been fortunate. Growing up in a suburban middle class family I was lucky to have few worries.

Like most kids of my era I grew up with my Mum at home, Dad at work, one sister and even a dog. My memories of home are happy ones. I felt safe, which is something some children are not able to say.

In many ways I always had an inkling that there was something different about me. Even from a young age I was dreadfully shy, heck it would take more than an hour for me to pluck up the courage to leave my room when guests came to visit. On looking back I have no idea why I would be afraid, but who said that there was any logic involved.

Even from a young age I was different. Quite short sighted, I needed to wear thick glasses which certainly were not the fashion when I was starting school.

For a variety of reasons I had started school early at the age of four. Being younger then my class mates I was socially behind the eight ball, still learning to understand the ideas of friendship and social interactions. Given that I was incredibly shy, I tended to play by myself though over the years I did develop a few close friendships.

Sadly in year six at school I became the victim of bullying. Each day I would vomit before school. Mostly due to the extreme stress and anxiety of the thought of another day of being beaten up, I also hoped that this demonstration would allow me to stay home, avoiding the torture. Sadly at school it seems that once word is out that you are an easy target, other bullies are happy to join in the fun.

This was a low time in my life. Making it worse was that teachers, of whom you think could be held up to protect vulnerable students, actually supported the bullies and actively participated. Whilst I never was so low that I wished I was dead, there were times I would have done almost anything to get out of that school. One day I even tried to force myself to look into the sun, the thought that if I was blinded I would need to change schools.

Mum and Dad were worried and it was on one tearful morning that I finally admitted what was going on and why I was so reluctant to go to school. To this day I am grateful that they listened and acted. I was withdrawn from the school and transferred to a new school. My mood picked up, I made good friends and I was able to leave that awful chapter of my life behind me, at least to some degree.

I suppose that while I lived my life in fear, sexuality was the last of my concerns. That said I do have faint memories of Mr Keith, my swimming teacher, his sexy red speedos and the wonderful triangle of fur just above the band where the chords playfully poked up teasing me.

I think I was about 12 when my hormones started to kick in and I started to realise that it was guys I was more interested in rather then girls.

The kids in my class were starting to go through the awkward phases of puberty, and I was sitting there enjoying watching hair sprouting and bodies changing.

On my entry to high school it quickly became evident that I needed to be a little discrete in my enjoyment as I was quickly singled out as the faggot. Now this was probably not due to me actually being gay but more to do with my total un co-ordination and dislike with a passion when it comes to all things sport.

Clearly I was not the only person whose experience was like this. Take this quote from Mike Stuchbery’s post supportive of gay students:

When I think about my high school years at a private school in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, my most vivid memories involve a lot of head kicking on the sporting field, a great deal of being hassled in the locker room and a never ending pressure to fit the template of the ideal student – good at sports, fresh-faced and academically gifted. As an awkward, pudgy, dreamy nerd, I only fit one of the criteria and as such, spent five years copping it from all sides – fellow students, even some teachers. Bullying was a part of life and I still find myself reflecting on it in my lower moments.

This was how high school was for Mike and he is straight. Imagine what it’s like if you are gay.

Through high school I had crushes on guys, but sadly as many gay men can understand, these feelings are forced to be suppressed and hidden due to the risk of being outed. This places young gay men into an almost forced “asexuality”, delaying the  joy and discovery of sexual expression until after high school when it can be done without the risk of taunting, bashing or worse.

After leaving high school I remember talking with a mate, both drunk outside a night club. That night we both came out to each other. I was a relief to know that I was not “the only gay in the village” and to also hear of who else was doing whom at school. I was shocked and sad I had not been part of the fun!

Unfortunately my good mate Mark was not as careful with my confession as I had been with his and he outed me to my past class mates. This quickly spread like wild fire right though my university friends, one of whom just happened to be the son of my father’s co-workers.

Word spread to this family and soon my father was being teased at his work for having a faggot son. This kind of removed my concern about ever having to “come out” to my parents, with my Dad coming home one night to ask me if I was “a member of the homosexual community”.

To be honest I was glad he asked, it allowed me to feel more free. I didn’t have to hide any more. It took some time for my parents to come to terms with this, and there was a lot of teaching I had to offer my father.

One example was that after I told him I was indeed a “member of the homosexual community” his next question was, “how long have you been HIV positive?” I was shocked! Did being gay instantly mean AIDS to my father?

It took a long time and Dad had many a discussion with close friends, but over time he’s learned a lot about having a gay son. He now understands that not all gay men have HIV infection, and in fact not all HIV infected people are gay. He’s come a long way.

Looking back I can understand some of the concerns Dad may have had. I was young and I was finally able to enjoy my teenage years that had been suppressed during high school. I was hitting the night clubs almost every night, I was rather camp and my university studies were not going well. It’s not easy to get to 8am prac classes if you had been out dancing to 3am.

Talking with Dad years later he shared that his biggest concern was my lack of direction.

Thankfully when I was 24 a wise, older gay friend sat me down for a chat. He too was worried about my lack of direction and he suggested I pull my finger out and just finish my degree. I respected this friend and I am forever grateful for his advice. Finishing my science degree lead to me studying medicine, a career I love that has offered me so many fantastic opportunities.

In many ways my early years as a young gay man had been without too many problems. I was lucky. Some of my friends had been kicked out of their homes. One friend at the same school as me was bashed, kicked and pissed on by his “class mates” at school camp. Another attempted suicide after extreme bullying that lasted his whole time at high school.

Is it little wonder that gay and lesbian teenagers are at almost 4 times the risk of suicide?

To quote Dr Payam, a USA based psychotherapist.

The experience of carrying a sense of differentness as it related to some of the most taboo and despised images in our culture can leave a traumatic scar on one’s psyche. Most school age children organize his or her school experience around the notion of not coming across as queer. Any school age child’s worst nightmare is being called faggot or dyke which is commonly experienced by many children who do not flow with the mainstream. One gay high school student disclosed to me that on average he hears more than twenty homophobic remarks a day. Schools can feel like concentration camps for LGBT children or any child who gets scapegoated as queer. For the most part, LGBT kids do not get any protection from school officials, and this is a form of child abuse on a collective level. Mistreatment of LGBT youth and a lack of protection are contributing factors to the issue of LGBT teen suicide.

For me now as an older gay man, I often wish there was some way to help offer support for younger gay people as they go through footsteps similar to those I experienced . When I learned about the “It Gets Better” project, I was excited. Here were thousands of videos created by people like myself sharing with gay youth that yes indeed, life does get better, and perhaps even more powerful. You don’t have to live in fear.

Below is the video I created. I was thrilled to see it included as part of the project.

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If you have created an “It Gets Better” video, please include your link in the comments below. It would be awesome to create a special page on this site just filled with videos of positive affirmations that indeed life is pretty awesome to share with our fellow gay generations.

On a final note I’d like to offer you the opportunity to share your own story of growing up gay.

If you feel comfortable please feel free to include your story in the comments below. We all have a story, each different, each a story of happiness, perhaps sadness, stories of strength, or perhaps not being as strong as we would have liked.

If you wish you can include your story anonymously by emailing your story where I can add it without any identifying features. Would you like to tell your story of growing up gay?

Guys I hope you found this post helpful, If you are able to share it forward one simple way is to hit the facebook “like” button below. You just never know who this post may help.

Yours in good health.

Dr George

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