We just had that time of year when families gather together to celebrate the holidays, and most importantly, to celebrate each other. The celebration of family, and the gathering of loved ones under the same roof, that is the best part of the holidays. During that time of celebration, and melodious carols, it can be easy to look past many things around us. While the adults are busy with their “special” eggnog, other may be dreading family encounters that they know are inevitable. Some are less fortunate than others, the holidays aren’t always pleasant for everyone (despair doesn’t discriminate). The presents of queerphobic (homophobic, biphobic, transphobic) relatives can be enough to cause LGBT teenagers to retract into their oversized winter sweaters, and seek refuge for the duration of winter. Does any one want to be in the presents of their ignorant relatives, or friends? Being around anyone who would put coals in you stocking because you are being yourself can be frustrating, and degrading. It’s no wonder why suicide rates among LGBT teenagers are higher. People can sing about the holiday blues; but, for some the holidays can be a seriously frightening time. Degrading comments about the LGBT community are shot off by so many people (whether these comments are meant for a specific target, or not) that it can be difficult to understand how someone could say such negatives things with a minimal awareness about who they are saying it in front of, and the effect their worlds really have.
Whenever the difficulties of LGBT youth are discussed, the ignorance of some people can be heard in the distance. People who have never experienced LGBT specific difficulties chant, “Just speak up! Let your voice be heard!” It would be nice if things were so simple, but in reality, things don’t work like that. As a child you are taught to respect adult, regardless of their actions. But, what if an adult is carelessly reciting their ignorance, speaking about how your very being is wrong? Well, you could speak up for yourself, take the risk, hopefully someone around you will back you up, hopefully you won’t get ostracized. For those who cannot speak up, and live in a family that is does not accept individuals as there are, an act of nonchalance works best in the wake of one’s self-esteem. This is, at least until a safer time comes.
As LGBT youth bite their tongues (God forbid they succumb to word-vomit and retaliate against bigoted remarks), they bring a whole new meaning to Silent Night. It can’t be healthy to one’s morals, or self-esteem to have damaging comments exchanged between people during holiday dinners or activities while having to remain silent. ( For those who are out it can be like being in the closet all over again.) If anything silence in the presents of ignorance results in a person becoming jaded; they become tired of the monotonous droning of tipsy Boomers, ranting about how their religion constitutes hatred. It wouldn’t be a good idea to enrage the relatives by hinting at some acceptance. For those who have not emerged from the closet yet, and do not have a strong support group, suggesting, or demanding that a person thinks about acceptance can lead to more troubles.
It seems that as part of our society progresses, another part lingers in the background, refusing to become conscious of the changes happening around them. Is it their “extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people” (as the Merriam-Webster dictionary puts it) that keeps these people from progressing with the rest of the world? The ignorance that some experience must really be bliss. The mix of ignorance and bigotry comes in its worst form from those who are aware that there is an LGBT teenager in close proximity to them, yet in a proclamation to the world they remind everyone of their rejection of the LGBT community, and anything that isn’t heteronormative, or in the confines of our societies norms. Some grown adults still cannot hold their own tongue (or be polite) when any signs of society being accepting of stereotypical gay actors/actresses, show hosts/hostesses, and public figures are shown. The saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” must have been pushed aside to make room from Bible quotes and passages. What would happen if LGBT people, feminine men, and masculine women, opened their mouth every time they were subject to the norms of society, or witness something that different from themselves? How would “normal” people react if we voiced our opinions every time we disagreed with the hetrenormative expectations that are so prevalent? After all, not everyone agrees that men must be masculine, and women must be feminine. When unfair, sexist stereotypes are witness people in opposition do not yell at the T.V., “She doesn’t have to make you a sandwich.” They are not inclined to subject others who do not think the same with words that do more harm than good.
These are the types of conflicting thoughts that run through many peoples’ minds as they are forced to be in close proximity of relatives they so gladly keep their distance from during most of the year. For some, conflict may arise as self defense against one’s personal being. There is only so much one can take. You can’t hide and stay in bed forever. Perhaps, for one’s sanity, it is better to keep away from certain family members. For some LGBT youth, December could mean dressing in button up collared shirt, or long dresses, going to church, and conversing with people who hate who you really are. It could mean listening to family members talk in bigoted way, and be helpless to do any thing about it. Is that OK? It’s definitely not OK, but for some people that is the reality of their current situation.
Jerry Javier, an LGBT teenager born and raised in Puna, is a senior at the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science. He is also an aspiring advocate for LGBT youth.