Must-Reads for LGBTQ Youth: 'GIOVANNI'S ROOM'

My first proper boyfriend was an Italian guy named Icilio.

We met at college -- well, in the changing rooms of the swimming pool at college, to be precise – and he followed me home. At the time, I really wasn’t that happy or confident as a gay man; we were about the same age but he was a lot more comfortable in his own skin than I was.

He was very patient with me but I was a terrible boyfriend.

Eventually, I decided to call it off. I can’t remember why -- whatever it was, it was an awful decision and one that I’ve often regretted. As a break-up gift (if there is such a thing), he gave me a copy of the novel Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.

It may be overstating it a little to say that this book changed my life, but I read it at a time when I was struggling to work out who I was and who I wanted to be, and somehow this book became very much part of that process.

Giovanni’s Room isn’t a new book: it was first published in 1956. It is the story of David -- a young American guy left alone in Paris while his girlfriend is away traveling.

While abroad, meets Giovanni, an Italian bartender. They enter a passionate but uneasy relationship as David constantly tries to prove his heterosexuality and push the high-strung Giovanni away. I won’t give away all of the details of the plot, but in so many ways it is an incredibly sad story and nothing really ends well for anyone.

In many respects, Giovanni’s Room is an astonishing work: From its vivid portrayal of gay life in Paris at that time, to the exploration of the complexities of gay identity, sexuality, and relationships, to the sense of alienation -- but also freedom -- that traveling to different countries can present.

What is fascinating, too, is that the author of the novel, James Baldwin, was a black American man who emigrated to Paris. He did it to deliberately move away from the racial prejudice he was experiencing in the United States at that time, but also to find a new identity for himself as a gay man.

While it is easy to identify elements of this story that may feel a little dated compared to our lives today, there is a lot about this book that makes it essential reading for any young gay guys trying to figure out how to be authentic and have honest relationships with other people.

Location-based dating apps may have changed the game for how guys meet other guys these days, but that doesn’t change the harsh reality that relationships aren’t easy, building a life with another person isn’t easy, and sometimes people get hurt if you’re not ready to give them what they are looking for.

Read Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. It is a beautiful book, it is an incredibly sad book that will make you cry, and it makes a really good break-up gift.

 

Photo credit: Flickr.

"There Are Many Genders!": A Comic about Nonbinary Genders

Genderqueer artist & student Ela Thompson drew this handy comic to remind us: GENDER IS ENDLESS!

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"What Even Is Gender 101?" by Ela Thompson

Comic text: Hello, friends! Did you know gender isn't limited to the binary boy/girl? There are MANY genders!

Your gender identity lives in your head! It's a private sense that only you can experience. :)

No matter what someone looks like, you can't tell what gender they are. So ask for pronouns! [he, she, they, ze, etc.]

Gender is like a plane from your mathematics class... And there are ENDLESS combinations!

"Genderqueer" is [an] umbrella term for non-binary genders.

Many people don't know about non-binary genders, so they don't identify with them.

So if this PSA sparked your interest, feel free to do more research on gender identity!

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Header photo courtesy of Flickr.

Sure, You Have Free Speech. But When It Harms LGBTQ Youth, We Need To Talk About the Consequences.

Sometimes the topic of free speech really bugs me.

It's one of the great ideals on which this country was founded, and rightly so. Enjoying that right, however, doesn't mean we shouldn't debate the consequences of our words before we venture to open our mouths. Some opinions inevitably give birth to the severest of consequences.

You and I should never have to feel pain -- any kind of pain, whether physical or emotional -- because of someone else's beliefs.

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It seems that with each passing day, people are more likely to use their right to free speech as an excuse for derogatory comments, beliefs, or behaviors. I've lived most of my life listening to the opinions of those who think homosexuality is a sin, immoral, vile, or unnatural.

I'm gay, and as such, I have been acutely aware of the way society feels toward the gay community.

We hear it every day. We see it in facial expressions, violence, political maneuvering, and deeply entrenched in the language we use. Seeing, hearing, and feeling this pressure each and every day of our lives can be debilitating. Few other minorities experience the same level of disrespect. Many of the opinions expressed on the topic of homosexuality are nothing short of communal bullying.

Research shows that LGBT youth:

·       Experience heightened level of rejection from their families, and are eight times more likely to attempt suicide.

·       Between 30% and 40% of LGBT youth have attempted suicide.

·       About a quarter of students and employees have been harassed based on sexuality.

·       In many states, it is still legal to terminate an employee for being gay. LGBT students are three times more likely to feel unsafe at school than their heterosexual counterparts.

The list is endless.

Many people list those same statistics to insinuate that ours is a sinful lifestyle. In other words, the fact that we are more likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol, or feel afraid, or take our own lives is seen as an inherent part of our nature. To me, of course, this is completely absurd.

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When others dismiss us as immoral or unnatural simply for being; when they make us feel unsafe; when they attack us and beat us and take our lives without remorse; when they tell us that God has no love for us; when they make us wonder whether or not our friends and family will still care about us if they knew the truth; when they place all of that pressure and the unanimous weight of society's continuing and communal belief that we are second-class citizens when compared to our heterosexual counterparts -- when they do all of that, then how can they be so surprised that we are more likely to drink or do drugs or try to take our own lives>

People do those things to kill the pain when they're without hope. And some of us have had pain inflicted upon us every day. Many have us have been left without any hope that it gets better, even though there is another community out there desperately trying to assure us that it does get better (and it really, really does!)

We might drink, do drugs, and take our own lives because we look for escape. Not because it's our fundamental disposition. We were born this way, but we certainly weren't born sad or scared. Those feelings have been reinforced by those whose pointless hatred we're forced to endure.

As a community, we need to make more of an effort to educate those who are biased and bigoted. We need to make more of an effort to protect ourselves from the words and actions of bullies. We need to help one another.

We need to stop empowering those who are biased by turning to drugs or taking our own lives. We need to help our gay friends and family understand that it does get better, and that self-destructive acts will only make the resentment stronger on both sides. Do what you can to help! Even a hug can pull someone out of the pit of despair.

Don't let them hold us accountable for their actions or their beliefs. Seek help. Be strong. And most importantly, be patient. Things are getting better, little by little, day by day.

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr.