Onision, we are all allowed to love

4 March 2010

Video | ZJ on YouTube | Subscribe

ZJ: Hi, Onision. Having seen your videos about teenagers who might be gay and whether or not they should come out, I think there are a few things you should be aware of. Your suggestion that they probably shouldn't come out until they're older because their feelings may be transient and people may react badly is, at least, safe advice. But that safety comes at a price, and I think you should know that before you tell gay teens they shouldn't let anyone find out.

As a straight person, there are a lot of issues here that you will never have to deal with, and perhaps that makes it harder for you to truly understand the implications of what you're suggesting. See, heterosexuals have a certain luxury. As they grow up and start dating, regardless of what their family may think of their specific love interests, it's no great controversy for them to simply have a love interest.

But gay teenagers do not have that luxury. Instead, they're confronted with the attitude that no matter who they love, it will always be wrong, and it will always be unacceptable. Can you imagine living like that, knowing that you will always, invariably face widespread disapproval and hatred because of who you love? This is something straight people are never subjected to.

Yet even your own videos still contain subtle traces of this kind of attitude. I'm sure you would never say that it's, quote, "incredibly premature and unwise" to let people find out that you're interested in the opposite sex. And I really doubt you would tell straight teens that their heterosexuality might just be, quote, "significant confusion", or something that could be transient, or something that they should wait to confirm before being open about who they are. The very title of your video, "teens going gay", suggests that they used to be something other than gay, and it's a new development that could fade away just as easily.

You won't see anyone expressing these kinds of views about heterosexuality. And what you've said here does imply that being gay is somehow less legitimate, less substantial, less real than being straight. And that kind of doubt makes it much easier to write off being gay as something that can be disguised, hidden and kept secret, and perhaps even should be for the sake of convenience, as you've recommended here.

This is a terrible expectation to impose upon anyone. Love is a universal, fundamental component of the human experience, and to ask gay people to deny themselves that is simply inhuman. The foray into romance is a part of growing up, and it's not just for straight people. In those crucial, formative years, it is insane to expect gay teens to exclude themselves from this wonderful dimension of life.

If you've never been closeted, you don't know what it's like to live this way. It hurts. It's a deep and enduring pain that comes from crippling a part of yourself. It's not just depriving yourself of love and romance, it prevents you from being open and fully honest with other people.

It means developing a habit of constantly lying about who you are, either explicitly, by pretending to be interested in the opposite sex, or by omission when you don't correct people's assumptions. It's a pattern of deception that extends to everyone around you: your family, your friends, the people you should be able to trust. And as long as you aren't honest with them, there will always be that wall there. When you have to keep a secret like that from the people you care about most, it's unbearable.

You said, quote, "telling them could change your relationship with them for the rest of your life". And it might, or it might not. But if your relationship with them is so heavily reliant on the assumption that you are someone who you're not, then maybe there should be a change.

You also warned that "if you do come out of the closet prematurely, you're going to look back and say, 'why did I do that?'" But if you do decide to stay closeted, what have you accomplished? Not only have you denied yourself the kind of love, fulfillment and openness that straight people are free to enjoy, you've made this sacrifice just to ensure that bigots will never have their intolerance challenged by the reality of who you are.

Do you think that's worth it? Can you imagine living like that? Should you have to? Should anyone? I think you know the answer.

To be clear, I completely agree that every person should decide whether to come out based on their individual circumstances, and sometimes, coming out may have too great a cost. But not coming out has a cost, too. It may not be so visible or noticeable, but it is real. It's pernicious, it's painful, and it eats away at your life. Please don't ignore that.

I'll leave you with a quote from Sydney J. Harris: "Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable."

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