By Jeff Walsh, Oasis Founder
Thomas Jean is a man with a mission, or was one anyway. Until recently, the 17-year-old Killeen, Texas resident was involved in just a few gay community and student groups.
He was a member and served in various positions in these different groups: The Gay Lesbian Alliance of Central Texas, P-FLAG Waco, P-FLAG Austin, Out Youth Austin, Houston Area Teen Coalition of Homosexuals, The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Young Adults of Dallas, the Teen Project of Forth Worth, Respect All Youth of Dallas, and the Killeen High School Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Student Union.
When Jean, who wrote for Oasis when it first launched, spoke with Oasis for this interview, it was less than a week after he decided to stop affiliating with all these groups.
"Up until Saturday my life was gaygaygaygaygay," he says. "I was never home. The only time I was home was between midnight and eight in the morning, and I would mainly be on IRC at that time. I was either at meetings, or traveling the state of Texas giving speeches.
"My goal now is to try and put Tommy first instead of putting the gay community first and trying to help myself instead of trying to help others," he says. "There's just so many lives I've touched by being open and being active and on the Internet. I never really took time for myself, and I want to do that now."
Jean is starting college in the fall, and plans to major in business administration.
Jean's jump into the gay community was rapid. It began when he ended a three-month stay in the hospital for 27 consecutive suicide attempts.
"After my last suicide attempt, I realized there must be a reason that God kept me alive all this time," he says. "It clicked to me that the reason was to be a gay activist in Killeen, because there are not any. So, I got out of the hospital, came out to my parents in my freshman year and became a gay activist."
His motivation was simple.
"Just knowing that there's gay youth here in Killeen going through what I went through is what prompted me to do more for the community and then I found Out Youth, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance and P-FLAG and just started getting involved. And I had determination, ideas and drive, so they took me on board."
In this Texas military town, there was only one other gay activist. The gay community rallied around him, though.
"Everyone was like 'There's this gay youth in Killeen who's very active and gets things done,' so they were all for me in the gay community," he says.
Jean's coming out and activism have not all been positive. This past year, he had his first encounter with gay bashing.
"I moved to Dallas in May to try and find a better life and be able to be out in high school with more people, because I was the only one who was out [in Killeen]," he says. "I wasn't the only one at the school that was gay. And I got up there and I found out there's only one other gay person, so I dropped out of school up there."
Jean moved back home in October, started back up as a student at Killeen High School, where all his family members have previously graduated. He had to make one sophomore year class up, despite being a senior, because he had failed the class previously. It was in that class, that he was harassed.
"I was dealing with a lot of verbal harassment," he says. "I reported it and got the kid suspended."
Shortly thereafter, Jean was in his car with the window down and music on, waiting for his cousin before driving home from school.
"The kid that got suspended came up to my car, and I wasn't paying any attention," he says. "He came up and put his hand through my window, and hit me in the back of my head and said 'You fucking faggot, you got me suspended.'"
Jean pulled the car around to the campus police department, and the kid was expelled from school and is now in jail for a hate crime in the state of Texas. Unfortunately, Jean thought this would be the end to his trouble at school.
"The next day, I went back and the gang he was in, that I had no idea about, said, 'You better watch your ass, faggot, because we're going to kill you,'" he says. "I went home immediately after that, just left school, told my mom to check me out of school and two weeks later, I got my GED."
Jean was upset that he had to leave school, because he wanted to rise above statistics of gay youth high school dropouts.
"I didn't want to prove to be a failure, because the dropout rates of gay students and suicide rates of gay students are extremely high," he says. "I didn't want to be part of that percentage. And, I wound up being part of that percentage."
Jean's suicidal tendencies occurred in the eighth grade, when he had started coming out at school, but not to his family.
"I was dealing with a lot of verbal harassment and I couldn't tolerate that," he says. "I had just gotten back from a two-week trip to California to see my sister's daughter being born, so I was with my Grandma, and me and her got in a fight and I just got tired with it. I made a suicide note, took 50 Advil and went to sleep."
He was hospitalized after that attempt.
"While I was in the hospital, I tried committing suicide," he says. "After being in for like three weeks, I got out and tried again. Went back in, tried it in the hospital, went back in, tried hanging myself at school... the list goes on and on."
He finally came out to his parents in his freshman year, after giving them clues they didn't respond to. He has now been out to them for four years.
"They dealt with it OK. I dare say my father was a preacher before he became a doctor and before I was born," he says. "There was a lot of religious issues behind it, but now they're very accepting of it. They welcome my lover into my life like we were married."
It was his Christian upbringing, he says, that made him stop trying to kill himself.
"I'm not one to think that homosexuality is wrong according to the Bible," he says. "It was just something that clicked in my head that after 27 suicide attempts, God was keeping me here for a reason. And I've fulfilled my reason."
And he's spent a lot of time since then talking to other suicidal gay teens on phone help lines and on the Internet using the IRC handle TXTommyJ.
"It's honestly not the answer. And many people hear that and say, 'Oh, I'm tired of hearing that,'" he says. "But take it from someone who's actually been there. It's not the answer. It's a permanent solution to a simple problem. And people get so tired of hearing that, but honestly, you're killing yourself, taking yourself out of this world and missing everything that you could have experienced whether it was good or bad, because life is unfair.
"By taking your life, you didn't hurt the people who were hurting you, you hurt your family, your friends and you have no future now."
He also doesn't see why people should hate themselves so much for something over which they have no control.
"I didn't choose to live this lifestyle. I was born this way and I chose to be open with my lifestyle," he says. "Honestly, if God hated gays, he wouldn't have made so many of us. And nowhere in the Bible does it say God hated fags. The Bible is all a translation. I believe my God loves me no matter who I am."
Jean also goes against the common activist philosophy urging everybody to come out of the closet.
"Many are people are mad because I'm a gay activist and I don't urge people to come out," he says. "I don't want anybody coming out of the closet until they are ready to come out. It is a major emotional step in your life and you have to put up with a lot of shit."
Having gone through a lot in his youth, Jean is now looking toward his future, one that is looking quite bright.
"I'm content," he says. "I have a wonderful lover. I have a wonderful family that supports me and I have every basic need in my life fulfilled."
Jean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; his Web page is at http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/3979/
©1997 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.