When actress Ellen Page came out last month, several conservatives I know (and those I only know by association) posted comments that were really pretty mean. I read everything from “Ellen WHO???” to “who cares? Did another idiot celebrity really need to come out?”
First of all, if you have seen the movie “Inception” then you know exactly who Page is. If you haven’t seen that movie then you should be slapped silly. It’s amazing.
Second, it is unfortunate that it is still important for celebrities to come out of the closet.
In the last six years, I’ve run more calls than I can remember. I’m in public safety. I talk to a lot of different kinds of people. I’m not allowed to give details, but I have met a hell of a lot of people – teens and adults alike – who have battled depression second to the bullying they are dealing with for being gay or lesbian. I’ve talked to kids as young as 13 and adults as old as their mid-40’s who are still fighting to be accepted as human beings. Most of the kids haven’t even figured out whether they’re gay; some know they aren’t, but other kids (and sometimes even teachers) are bullying them because they simply appear to be gay.
Bullying takes many different forms. I was bullied for a lot of reasons. The fact that I was a huge tomboy was only one of those reasons. I have told my story before; I was the loser that other losers used to pick on and beat up. I was a tomboy, I was a girl who played guitar and bass, I was a science nerd, I was a history buff, I was terrible at sports, I was awkward, I just wasn’t cool enough…I was never good enough. I often still feel like I’m not good enough, but that is par for the course when you see the way I grew up.
The belief that I was a lesbian when I was a kid was one of the reasons I was bullied, though, and it was huge. Nowadays kids take school bullying home with them on their smartphones, where they endure a continuous stream of hate through Facebook, Twitter, and a myriad of other forums. I’ve talked to a lot of those kids. They’re afraid to tell their parents at least partially because they know the bullying will only get worse when they tattle. More than one kid has looked at me and asked, “did your parents hate you when you came out?”
No, they didn’t hate me. It wasn’t easy for them to accept at first, but they didn’t hate me. The first time a teenage boy sat in my ambulance and asked me to help him tell his parents because that was why he was sitting there with serious injuries from a beating, I wanted to disappear. How do you do that? How do I sit down with this kid in his hospital room, look his parents in the eye, and tell his crying mother that he needed to tell her something? Once I’ve said that, how do I stand there and mediate while he tells her something she probably never expected him to say because he was such a good religious boy?
Even the most well-meaning conservatives among my friends who are straight don’t understand how hard that can be. It took me months after my horrible self-realization to finally tell my parents. It’s still a stigma in society. It’s a stigma at home. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear that Ellen Page is losing work because of her announcement, but a lot of actors and actresses in the past have watched their careers tank after admitting to the world that they were gay.
It took a lot of courage for Michael Sam to come out. It took a lot for Ellen Page. It took a lot for Chely Wright (who immediately saw her career as a top-ten country artist evaporate). It took courage because, even in a society where being openly gay is becoming normal, there is still enough stigma and enough bullying to make one’s life very difficult. Being true to oneself is important; when those around you decide that they can’t stand your true self, it can be devastating.
I look forward to the day when we won’t have to “come out” anymore. Until then, I will have a lot of respect for those who come out and tell the world that it’s normal for some. We’re still people. We’re still just like you, and we’re not insignificant.