Researchers say that for many people, five minutes or less pass between their making the decision to end it all and making the attempt. Was yours a snap decision, made when you learned your mother had discovered your secret? Or had you been toying with the idea of suicide all along? I can imagine you worrying it like a loose tooth, pushing it back and forth in your mind as I did, weighing its merits as a way of reconciling your being gay with your strongly held religious beliefs.
Seductive, the idea that death would end the pain and torment, free you from never being good enough, from knowing that who you were at the very deepest level was flawed, dirty, sick, beyond redemption. Not that you didn’t try. Not that you didn’t pray. Not that you didn’t fast and flagellate yourself and exercise all you knew of faith. But God did not answer your prayers, relieve your suffering or take away your persistent attractions. And you got the message in countless ways from parents and peers, church and society, that same-sex desire is wrong, shameful, depraved.
You learned to make the hangman’s noose in Royal Ambassadors, the Southern Baptist knock-off of the Boy Scouts. Did you approach knot-tying with the same fervor you brought to religion? Did you do it well enough that yours was a quick death? From what I read, it’s easy to bungle hanging oneself. The resultant death by strangulation can be excruciating. Three months ago in Oregon an openly gay 15-year-old who’d complained of being bullied hung himself on the school playground. He died two weeks later, after being taken off life support. I can’t imagine his parents’ pain. Nor his. Nor yours.
I remember mine. Morning of my 35th birthday I wrote a suicide note to my wife and young sons. I had a plan. Had tested it. Knew it would work. I’d had all I could take. Believed my death would be best for my wife and children. Soon as they left for town, I was going to take my leave, as well. Like you, I could in no way reconcile my religious beliefs with who I had discovered myself to be.
You directed your last prayer heavenward. “What did I do that was so wrong?” you cried in anguish, tears wetting your face. “Why can’t you love me?” Then you turned and took up the long white rope.
Although I didn’t see you die, I did hear your mother’s scream when she found your body. The entire theatre audience did. Many of us sat there in silence, stunned. Some of us wiped our eyes. We grieved your death—you who only ever lived in our imaginations.
You’re a fictional character, Andrew. In a play. You die every time Dell Shore’s Southern Baptist Sissies is presented. Though you’re a work of fiction, you’re an all too real stand-in for LGBTQ youth across this country, across this world, who every day face disparaging messages from friends, family, religious systems and societal institutions.
Suicide isn’t the answer. Killing yourself resolves nothing. If it’s death we need, it’s the death of small thinking, entrenched prejudice, bigotry and hatred. And it’s happening all around us, due to quite natural causes. Even conservative pundit George Will sees it. “Quite literally, the opposition to gay marriage is dying,” he told ABC television’s “This Week.” “It’s old people.”
Younger people support gay and lesbian equality in far greater numbers than do their elders. Change is coming, Andrew. A new wind is blowing. I wish you were here to experience it.
This essay appeared in the April issue of The Community Letter