The New York Times
‘Coming Out’: Gay
Teenagers, in Their Own Words
By SARAH KRAMER, from
the Web, May 21, 2011
Coming Monday, May 23: Audio
and photos featuring the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
teenagers from around the country.
The suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who jumped from the
George Washington Bridge last year after discovering that his roommate had
secretly streamed Mr. Clementi’s romantic interlude with another man on the
Internet, captured world-wide attention. In the wake of his death, stories
of gay youths being bullied and taking their own lives proliferated.
The subsequent outpouring of concern from parents, educators and those who had
survived bullying themselves inspired “It Gets Better,” a campaign led by the
columnist and author Dan Savage in which thousands of lesbian and gay adults
shared their stories to assure all teenagers that society has a place for them.
Popular culture has reinforced this message of acceptance. For example,
the hit TV show “Glee” has had three story lines involving gay teenagers this
season, including Chris Colfer’s and Darren Criss’s characters’ matter-of-fact
courtship — which includes rare same-sex kissing. Lady Gaga has countered
the antigay rhetoric many young people hear in their churches and communities
with the song “Born This Way,” increasing her already large fan base among gay
and lesbian teenagers.
“The amount of attention that has been given to debates over L.G.B.T. issues in
the last year is another sign of how deeply American society remains divided
over L.G.B.T. issues,” said George Chauncey, a Yale University professor of 20th
century United States history and lesbian and gay history, referring to lesbians
and gay, bisexual and transgender people. “And it has made it clear to
young people just how much opposition remains.”
The New York Times embarked on the project “Coming Out,” which begins Monday, as
an effort to better understand this generation’s realities and expectations, and
to give teenagers their own voice in this conversation.
The Times spoke with or e-mailed close to 100 gay, lesbian, bisexual or
transgender teenagers from all of parts of the country — from rural areas to
urban centers, from supportive and hostile environments. The newspaper
contacted them through various advocacy groups around the country, as well as
through social media like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. The Trevor
Project, which provides counseling to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
youths in crisis, among other services, posted a call for teenagers to tell
their stories to The Times, resulting in nearly 250 responses. At times,
young people led us to others.
The youths who participated were in different phases of coming out: some
had come out only to themselves, some to people in certain realms of their
lives, some to only one trusted friend or family member; some came out to their
family or community and then, realizing they lacked the support they needed,
rescinded the declaration — and came out again a couple of years later.
Others spoke of hating themselves in the process of accepting who they are.
Some flaunted their sexuality, while others adhered to traditional gender norms.
In English, Ind., one boy said that when he first came out, he wore eyeliner and
skinny jeans. “But then when I stopped it and decided to be myself, it was
like I no longer fit the stereotypes,” he said.
In the face of competing messages, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths
just want to be teenagers. While they envision a world where they can get
married and have doors open to them, they do not want to be defined by their
sexuality, regardless of how they are received by their community. It is just
one part of their identity.
As 15-year-old Kailey Jeanne Cox said in her story, “I don’t want to have myself
being seen by people as ‘Oh, she’s, she’s gay.’ I want them to see me as,
‘Wow, she loves God, who cares what kind of people she likes? She is a
Christian, she leads by example and she’s a wonderful person.’ That’s what
I want people to think when they see me.”
Or 17-year-old Joel Brimmerman, who cannot wait for the day he can begin the
physical transition to male from female, summed it up this way: “I’d
rather just get done with it and get on with my life. I mean, I have stuff
to do besides transition.”