I know most of you come here for the cute teddy bear pictures and vacation tips. But today I have to share something personal with you: something that is not happy. It's not something I ever intended to do on my blog, to get up on a soap box and share my actual opinions with the world. But I feel like I need to speak out about something important that just happened: on Saturday, a good friend of mine chose to end his life. I woke to a buzzing phone, and frantic messages from mutual friends who had seen a distressing image posted to Instagram. Panicked discussions of "what do we do" and "who do we call" until we learned that it was too late to do anything at all. There are no words to describe the loss.
To get back to 'normal', I thought I would force myself to sit down and write the posts I had planned--- about the fun weekend we had at the Michigan Renaissance Festival. But it felt wrong to pretend like something seismic hadn't happened. Then, I came across this picture and I remembered something awesome that had happened that previous weekend at the RenFest that was worth sharing now even more:
Meet Mica (name changed). He participated in the children's costume contest at the Renaissance Festival along with my girls, dressed as a blue fairy with sparkly wings and the biggest smile you have ever seen. I don't know Mica, or his family, but seeing him in this picture brought me hope today.
Because Mica's parents bought him a sparkly fairy costume! And let him wear it to the Festival! And entered him into the children's costume contest! And because not one person in the audience batted an eye about it or had anything nasty to say! The orchestrator of the event treated him like all the other children who were dressed up as fairies (asking him to do a turn and to wave his fairy magic over the crowd) and he seemed so happy.
I'm not going to speculate on Mica's future sexuality; I don't think that a child's interest in frilly clothes says anything about who they will become. But my friend who took his life this weekend was gay for as long as I knew him, since he was little. It just was part of who he was--- and that was something very difficult for his parents to accept, I don't know if they ever came to terms with it. I hope they did. We grew up in a town where being gay wasn't an acceptable thing, and my friends' life was never easy when we were little; he was bullied in school and by the community we grew up in. His family moved away during high school (not because of the bullying, but because of other reasons) and we lost touch for a bit. When we reconnected as adults through social media I understood that things had never really gotten any easier for him and we talked at length about his experiences with gay rehabilitation therapy. The intolerance he experienced broke my heart then and continues to breaks my heart now, because he was the kindest, sweetest, gentlest, most wonderful person I knew and if anyone deserved effortless happiness, it was him.
Mica's picture gives me hope because his parents seem to get it. And I'm certain it's not easy for them to put their son up on a stage in a sparkly fairy costume, but they did anyway! I wish I had tracked them down afterward and told them I think they're doing this parenting thing absolutely right, and that it makes me so happy to think that the future is brighter for this little boy than it was for my friend growing up, whether he keeps his love of sparkly dresses or not. We've come a long way in tolerance and understanding for gender norm differences... though we aren't there yet, we are certainly moving in the right direction and things are so much brighter than when/where I grew up.
I am hopeful, because people are talking about this: publicly, openly. Moderate people. I felt like I needed to add my voice to theirs: publicly, openly today. Though there are still lots of horror stories like this one of a child being rejected by their families and evicted from their homes (though it has a sort of 'happy ending', still awful), we are now also seeing brave stories and outpourings of greater tolerance like this minister's moving blog post, this dad who wrote 'My son wears dresses and that's OK with me', and this dad who started wearing skirts in solidarity with his son, that I don't recall seeing even a decade ago.
I am hopeful for Mica. I am hopeful for all of us.
May we learn to love each other better. May we let those we care about know how much we care about them. May we have the strength to reach out to each other when we are struggling, and not turn away from those who are struggling.
I don't know that it was my friend's struggle with his sexual identity that led to his choice to end his life; I understand that depression and suicide have a lot to do with brain chemistry, but the LGBT community is at a higher risk than the broader population for self-harm. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please take it seriously and seek help. Write down this number and keep it close:
I understand that this is a controversial opinion, and I respect your right to disagree. That said, I've disabled comments on this post because I know it's likely to draw out the worst of the internet, and frankly, I have seen enough ugliness this weekend to last me a lifetime.