June 1998

"Freaks," Homosexuality, and Coming Out

Chris O'Leary's May column brought up an interesting question. Why does it seem like most openly gay people in high schools are "freaks?" Now, I put "freaks" in quotes because this label still hasn't been defined yet. I hate to use labels, but in this case we need to figure out what we are talking about, so, let's start with "freaks" and just pretend for the present moment that it as a title doesn't have any negative connotations whatsoever.

The opposite label we will be using is the "normal" label. Now, my personal philosophy says that "everything is normal, you just might not like the way things are." But for our purposes today, we'll just use the word normal to describe this ambiguous group of gay teenagers who seem to be addicted to the closet.

We already have a given idea of what "freak" means. Freaks tend to be people who are stoners, dress in the grunge or gothic or other non-mainstream fashions, do not succeed academically, do not participate in school activities and sports, are morally deficient, and are compulsive slackers and delinquents who think that "work-ethic" sounds like college level vocabulary.

"Normal" people work, and they work hard. They dress normally and present themselves in a diplomatic and professional fashion. They try harder. Even if they aren't naturally gifted with strong intelligences, through a strong work-ethic, they are able to succeed academically. They are involved in sports and activities. They are life-long learners who engage themselves in a well-rounded assortment of extra-curricular activities. They work at maintaining positive, mutually beneficial relationships with friends and more-than-friends.

Now that we have a fairly good idea of who these "freaks" are and who the "normal" people are, we can try to figure out how to better categorize them. It seems like the "normal" people seem to be fairly successful. So we'll refer to them as successful people. On the contrary, the "freaks" seem to be fairly unsuccessful. We'll refer to them accordingly. No one actually fits in either of these categories. We are all somewhere in the middle; we are all a mixture of success and failure. So why is it that those who are less successful seem to come out of the closet sooner?

I think that the problem has to do with self-esteem and the potential consequences that exist for people who come out of the closet. Let's look at successful people. If you have a high self-esteem and come home every day, look in the mirror and think "I'm awesome! I am so incredibly successful I can't believe it," then you, most likely, are not interested in losing that success. For hundreds of thousands of gay teenagers throughout this planet, visions of alienated parents, disgusted friends, homelessness, a loss of possessions, and a general loss of success loom as potential consequences over any coming-out acts. On the other hand, if you have a low self-esteem and consider yourself to be fairly unsuccessful, and come home everyday, looking in the mirror thinking, "What do I have to lose," then coming-out becomes an option with a much lower liability.

If you take a further look at "unsuccessful" and "successful" people, you will see that they all have many problems in common, although the level of privacy each group has regarding many problems is decisively different. Take tobacco, drug, and alcohol use, for example. Many high schools have what have come to be known as "smoking sections" or "smoking streets." Take a look at those people some time. Do they, the people who are skipping class so that they can relieve themselves of their "nic-fits" seem to be, for the most part, successful or unsuccessful? That's a rhetorical question. These same people are commonly involved with other drugs, such as alcohol. Because there are often many unsuccessful people smoking, drinking, and doing drugs quite visibly at high-schools everywhere, many people believe that this is a "disease of the unsuccessful teenagers." That is a false generalization. Some even take it a step further and claim that smoking, drinking, and drugs are "diseases of the underclass." That is an even falser generalization.

There are fairly successful teenagers who drink, smoke, and do drugs. Everywhere. But they know they are successful. They might have the friends, they might have the athletics or the academics or a little of both, they might have the personality, and they might have the parents. In any case, they have enough success in their lives to feel good about themselves to the point where they are worried about losing that "feel good" feeling. These teenagers might be getting high just for fun or because they just want to "be cool" with their friends. But they take steps to ensure their privacy; to protect the success that they have.

I'd like to thank all the people who took the time to e-mail me about my May article. If you like what you've seen, or if you don't like it and feel like flaming me about it, go ahead and drop me a line at jyesnap@hotmail.com. Enjoy the rest of the school year!

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