Growing a Thicker Skin
Experiencing hateful and hurtful comments, Erik Alexander had to learn an important lesson: how to ignore the trolls.
Twenty years ago when I came out, it was unbearably hard. As I have written before, I am from the Deep South. Anyone who dared to deviate from social norms was sure to be ostracized. It's not that these people were born hateful or mean; rather, it probably had more to do with them not being subjected to other lifestyles. Anything different from their own experiences sparked fear and confusion. Homosexuality, interracial relationships, religious differences – these were all unfamiliar territories to the average person I grew up around. Thus, growing up was particularly difficult.
I remember lying in bed at night when I was a little boy. I would pray and beg God to not let me be gay. Every single night I would end my prayers with "... and God, please don't let me have nightmares and please don't let me be gay." I remember crying myself to sleep many nights. I was embarrassed and ashamed. And I wanted God to cure me.
Growing up, I remember thinking it took a really strong person to embrace their true selves and to have enough pride to show it off for everyone to see. This was their life and they had the right to live it how they wanted, regardless of what the rest of society thought. I secretly admired that so much. I still remember hearing snide remarks about interracial couples holding hands in the mall. I remember thinking how incredibly bold those couples were to not be intimidated by anyone. I felt that it took a special kind of bravery to place their affection on public display... if only I could be like that one day.
Indeed, my time would come to rise up and embrace who I truly was. Defying social norms is risky business. All I could think about was being shunned by my family, church and friends. Well, as it would turn out, those fears came to fruition and actually happened and it shattered me. People turned their backs. They said awful and hurtful things. Even some of my closest friends did this. But do you know what? Today I have grown to understand that I didn't need those people in my life. Unconditional love isn't something that you reward someone with. It's something that you give regardless of any outcome or expectation. If someone doesn't give you their unconditional love and respect, then that person isn't worthy of being in your inner circle. THAT TOOK ME YEARS TO LEARN. There are many other people out there waiting to get to know you and give you what you deserve. You just may have not met them yet. When you do, you'll know it.
Looking at society today, I cannot imagine what it is like growing up with social media platforms all around. I still have trouble with understanding how people can be so hateful as they hide behind their computer screen. After I came out, I thought it was difficult hearing other people's opinions about my personal life. With today's social media, hateful people are able to stand on their soap boxes and lash out in a wide range of social groups and contexts. I remind myself daily that those hateful people will always be there and I shouldn't take offense to what they may say. I knew trolls were around, but I didn't know how prevalent they were until my writings started circulating around different websites on social media.
In the beginning, I felt I needed to write about my journey. Metaphorically speaking, I like to look at my writings like I am straying from the main road to leave a trail for others that may need hope. Helping to light a way for other LGBTQ people in our community is crucial in today's society. I feel like it's a personal calling and I passionately follow it, and I'm sure many of you do the same. People need to see that living our best and truest lives opens doors to so many beautiful opportunities. Young people who are questioning their sexuality need to see the beauty of what can happen when a person comes out and chooses to live their true self, boldly, proudly and unapologetically.
Unfortunately, having my writings picked up by popular websites leaves my work vulnerable to anyone that disagrees with my life. Although it's exciting to have the exposure, it definitely isn't without its share of disappointments. Hateful comments and messages from strangers still hurt. It reminds me that mean people are still out there. It also helped me realize that I needed to grow a thicker skin. Yes, I am living my best life and I am damn proud of it. Why should some hateful and repressive comment hinder my growth? Why should I give trolls the power to tear me down? I don't even know them. Who cares what they think? What I do know is that I am a good father, husband, friend, son, and brother. I AM good enough. That is ALL that matters.
But I am also a sensitive person, almost to a fault. I always have. So, trying to learn how to grow a thick skin has been rather difficult. I know I should let comments just roll off and move on, but instead I find that I overthink and dwell on them. It is super frustrating. In life, I have found that people are mean for different reasons. I don't know why, nor do I need to know. They just are. Were they not loved enough? Who knows. The bottom line is that I must move on. Those people are for some reason struggling to find their compassion and kindness. They lash out because anger and confusion are their default emotions when they do not understand something, and I need to remember to not take that personally. In fact, that's the solution – I shouldn't take it personally. All I have to do is be the better man and turn around without retaliation. I wouldn't be able to change them with anything I said anyway. It would be futile. I just need to be the bigger person. In doing so, I don't give the trolls the twisted pleasure of seeing that they have elicited a negative emotional response from me. I choose not to give them what they want. You can do this, too.
Photo Credit: BSAphotography.com
National Coming Out Day is important because it allows people who are questioning their sexuality to see the support from so many people all around the world. It gives them the chance to see that it really does get better. And y'all, it gets soooooo much better. Trust me. When you go to sleep at night, do you try to pray the gay away like I did? You may even cry yourself to sleep. It's okay to cry, just don't give up. Keep moving. Just keep swimming. Life WILL get better.
If you're a teenager, you will find that it can be very, very hard sometimes. It isn't always going to be like that. Although it may feel like nothing will ever change, trust me, it will. Have faith. Your life means something and you matter. Find your tribe. Find the people that lift you up and embrace your quirkiness. Find the friends that love you for who you truly are, inside and out. Find the places that make you thrive. Find your passions. Paint. Garden. Cook. Workout. Laugh. Watch Ellen. Be kind to one another. Kindness is everything. Remember that your kindness today can be someone else's strength tomorrow. Life is beautiful. And it truly gets better. Just push forward, fight, and I promise, you will see that.
- LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.
- LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
- Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGB youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth.
- Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.
Our support for LGBT and questioning youth is vital.
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