(October 10, 2010) This was written and posted on one National Coming Out Day.
As a gay man who came out years ago, my humble opinion is that on this day of learning to be honest about our sexual identity, it is time to be honest about what happens when gay people commit suicide.
Both mainstream and new media coverage recently has spread the news far and wide about numerous young males in several US cities who took their own lives in apparent response to bullying. The central focus on WHY these young men were bullied has pointed out that prejudice against us gay people was the cause. One response to these tragic, self-inflected deaths has been a call to raise awareness about the negative effects of unchecked bullying and the follow-up encouragement for young men not to end their life as a response to anti-gay prejudice that they experience in life. The most notable of these social marketing efforts comes from journalist Dan Savage, who is response for the IT GETS BETTER campaign.
The Choice and The Consequences
But, I want to focus attention upon the act of suicide as a choice that a gay person may make in response to experiencing nonacceptance, overt prejudice and even violence. I want to explore why taking one’s own life is the choice some people make. I know from personal experience that when someone close to you kills himself, you may never get over it. Your family may never get over it. The deep, negative emotional and psychological impact of suicide upon a family can ripple forward in time for generations.
I was born into and raised within the teachings and dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. Before I became a teenager (many years ago), I became convinced of the validity of Roman Catholic Church teachings that if you took your own life—no matter what the reason—after your death, you will go straight to Hell for all eternity as suitable punishment for what you did. While I do not consider myself to be a follower today of the Roman Catholic Church or its teachings, the one warning about suicide stuck with me into my adulthood.
When I was being educated in Roman Catholic Church owned and operated schools, I was not taught much substance by the priests and nuns about how other religious faiths truly are. No surprise that from a Roman Catholic Church education vantage point, there would be no objective treatment of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or other major faiths on our planet.
One-Sided Religion-Based Education
In the US, a focus upon one particular religious point of view is just how it goes for the young people who attend religion-based educational institutions. But, I have come to believe that kind of one-sided teaching of world history and culture that is filtered through one religious viewpoint is crippling. We have all heard vocal criticism of Islamic schools in the US and elsewhere in the world that teach the beliefs and dogmas of Islam to young people, for instance. I believe that any kind of religion-biased education (whether it be Christian or Islamic or whatever) cannot help but produce people who emerge with insufficient education to succeed in real life.
When it comes to a deliberate choice to take your own life, what is it that informs and guides people who face that choice?
The formal education that one receives is only part of what informs and guides a person. If you are well educated and you have studied world history and international cultural norms, you will learn that taking your own life is viewed very differently in some corners of this world of ours. It was very shocking to me as a young man, who had been taught a person goes straight to Hell if he kills himself, that some cultures practiced ritualistic suicide. It’s probably mundane and lazy to give you a Wikipedia link, but here goes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hari_kari so you can learn quickly about seppuku—the Japanese word for stomach-cutting—if you don’t already know about this cultural fact.
As a young man, I could not understand how could any powerful and centuries-old society would tolerate such a cultural phenomenon as deliberately cutting your own stomach to bleed out and die. But, I felt having learned about such violence gave me a broader worldview than the limited perspective that a Roman Catholic Church education from grade one through twelve had given me.
Most of you already know about the militant aspect of this death ritual: Kamikaze is the Japanese word for divine wind, which is very commonly known from World War II to describe the practice of Japanese aviators that deliberately crashed aircraft into the enemy to kill themselves while killing as many of the enemy as possible. Most also have heard of the well-known term suicide bomber, which descends from the exact same concept of inflicting terror, injury, and possibly death upon the enemy in the process of killing yourself.
If you saw the movie and the television series M*A*S*H, you were given the opportunity to hear the theme song, which is entitled “Suicide is Painless.” The lyrics were written by a 14 year-old boy for his father’s 1970 movie. That teenager apparently was either very smart or sarcastic to reveal this perspective in song lyrics at such a young age. Here are just some of the song’s lyrics:
Through early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…
That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.
I try to find a way to make
all our little joys relate
without that ever-present hate
but now I know that it’s too late, and…
Suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.
The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
so this is all I have to say.
The only way to win is cheat
And lay it down before I’m beat
and to another give my seat
for that’s the only painless feat.
The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn’t hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger…watch it grin…
Suicide is Painful and Very Selfish
The song written for M*A*S*H is totally wrong. Suicide will hurt you when you are doing it. Suicide is also very selfish because it will hurt people who love you. Any survivor who has to live with the deep, negative emotional and psychological impact of suicide may not be as blunt as I am, but these are truths that need to be shared far and wide.
Parents should be mindful that their kids may be growing up to be bullies. The truth is that schools cannot stop bullies. Good parenting can.
An end to anti-gay prejudice, nonacceptance of gay people, and violence towards gay people cannot be implemented through legislation or organized religion. Such an end must be brought about through social change. Thankfully there are people like Dan Savage who are helping to do just that.
It may be politically incorrect to write this, but it must be written: Anyone who may be considering suicide as a way to escape the pain brought on by anti-gay prejudice or bullying needs to face the utter truth. While suicide may end your own suffering, taking your life is only the beginning of the suffering that you certainly are bringing upon the people who love you. There are plenty of alternatives to killing yourself. Seek those solutions for the sake of your own life and destiny. Stay alive so you can have far greater impact. –Madeira Desouza
Readers’ Feedback to Suicide Commentary
I don’t know… no one will care. Both my parents believe being gay is the lowest and deepest sin there is. I dont get bullied at school because i dont dare come out. its my own personal life and i cant run from it. death seems like the only option. dont tell me its not because it is. help? its a load of crap. i dont need to listen to people talk about my ‘problem’ — Aidan
Madeira Desouza’s reply: While suicide may end your own suffering, taking your life is only the beginning of the suffering that you certainly are bringing upon the people who love you. Imagine that what you choose to do today in 2010 goes forward in time to the year 2070 and what you did is remembered by many of your family members in the year 2070. This is not made up. I, personally, had a family member (grandfather) kill himself 60 years ago and our family still remembers it and thinks about it even though he has been dead and gone for six decades! This is the truth. Remember also: There are plenty of alternatives to killing yourself. Talk to an adult near you (other than your parents) face-to-face. This conversation must take place face-to-face. Listen to what that adult says to you. Really listen. You may think nobody cares about you or your suffering, but that is not correct. Find just one adult (other than your parents) to talk to face-to-face and you will discover the truth I am writing here. Seek someone like that (an adult other than your parents) for the sake of your own life and destiny. Stay alive so you can have far greater impact in this life.
I care. What some may classify as a ‘problem’ may not actually be a problem at all. Don’t let other people’s words define you.
I believe that everyone has worth and something to offer. I’ve struggled with suicidal ideation for years, but I keep something in mind that keeps me in the game. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary challenge. While continuing to stay in the game may be painful and hard, try to remember what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger and more capable of helping someone else with similar struggles.
People aren’t perfect. Parents are people and they make mistakes too. Are your mom and dad’s beliefs based upon religious teachings or texts? Those things can be misunderstood or misappropriated, even with the best intentions. Whether or not living gay is a sin, isn’t as important as you are as a person who I believe God loves, just the way you are. There is no sin deep enough that the love of God cannot reach far beyond.
I realize that Christians have done so much to hurt gay people. I’m so sorry for that and I apologize for what they’ve done and continue to do. I want you to know that regardless of where you’re at or what you think, God loves you. You’re in my thoughts and prayers, Aidan. You do make a difference.
I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case. My God, I thought you were going to chip in with some decisive insight at the end there, not leave it with ‘we leave it to you to decide’. –John
Madeira Desouza’s reply: John, you probably did not read everything that I wrote. I explained that there are plenty of alternatives to killing oneself such as talking to an adult (other than one’s parents). Seek such a conversation for the sake of one’s own life and destiny. Doing so will help a person to stay alive so that they can have far greater impact in life versus having an impact in death.