Under “gay,” my thesaurus lists a few synonyms for homosexual and then with a charming example adds:
2. dated Her children were all chubby and gay See Cheerful
In every definitional sense, I was gay—and coincidentally very chubby—throughout my middle school years. Teachers and my friends’ parents tended to adore me, and most classmates found me tolerable, sometimes hilarious. I coasted through a voice change and peach fuzz mustache while secretly liking boys and openly liking to laugh. Contrary to most middle school experiences, mine were happy years, in the dated and contemporary sense gay as a Judy Garland film.
Halfway through high school this changed, and I found myself contributing to that statistic so often thrown around among sociologists with concern and family values advocates with references to a depraved lifestyle: gay [contemporary] individuals tend to demonstrate higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior. Within two years I transformed from being chubby and gay [dated] to suicidal and full of an angst that most people for good reason considered unbearable. My popularity waned as my demeanor grew bitter. I hated my old friends, my parents, their church, and too many other things to list. The transformation was sudden but authentic. I was depressed, and I’ve been depressed off and on for nearly a decade since.
Like many LGBT individuals and quite a few people of faith, depression is an integral part of my life story. It was a near suicide attempt that resulted in my encountering God for the first time; a less serious episode prompted me to finally come out to friends in college. I have lived with it for so long that, just as people who amputate a leg eventually must, I forget about my early life, unimpaired. So many correlations have been drawn between homosexuality and depression I sometimes ignore my life in middle school and believe their relationship is causal.
I can say with some authority that’s wrong. The years following puberty were certainly confusing but overall positive. As much as I’ve analyzed my depression in therapy, it was a horde of factors that pushed me off the precipice of emotional stability. My best friend was an asshole who treated me as assholes do; my school was politically charged and biased toward football players who were the one faction to always hate me; my parents called me a commie pinko fag because I cared about the environment. Developing a crush on a male classmate was a part of that whirlwind, but not the sole force by any means.
I think that’s important to remember, both personally and culturally. Studies now predict those higher rates of depression may trace back to discrimination, not the essence of being gay [contemporary]. My past supports that theory. A depressive episode didn’t follow the first time I kissed a man, but one did come after being told said act was “the worst thing a Christian could do” by a screaming, abusive employer. To culturally recognize this could result in more sensitivity, which has been in short supply by the Church and, not coincidentally, at least one major political party.
From a personal standpoint, though, it’s an encouragement to recall those middle school years, gay in the dated and contemporary sense. When I’m depressed and consider homosexuality and depression bound together, I can’t help but feel imprisoned, hopelessly barred from a life without joy. Depression is, among other things, horrifically short-sighted. I’ve enjoyed many weeks, months, and almost years without one suicidal thought since surviving high school. The goal, of course, is to stamp out those thoughts forever, but at the very least I should remember that though I always like men I’m not always depressed. And though I’ll always be gay [contemporary], it’s possible, some would argue natural, to be cheerful oftener than depressed on account of it.