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It was already too late

When I read this recent article in the Guardian – Dominic Crouch: ‘I’m so, so sorry for what I’m about to do‘) – I found the initial shock and sorrow of reading about the teenagers suicide, almost eclipsed by the secondary tragedy of the father doing the same. What occurred to me in this devastating situation was that ‘it was already too late’.

The father threw himself into campaigning to stop homophobic bullying in response to his own loss. It was already too late. It was too late for him and his son. The tragedy had happened and the price was going to be paid by father, son, mother and daughter. To bear the knowledge that events have taken over and that it is too late to alter the course is devastating.

The teenager did not take his life on a whim. Factors must have been in place for many years prior to his untimely death. This was no accident. The suicide of the father, likewise, was not a sudden rash act. It must have been the culmination of a sustained period of intense pain and suffering. And the daughter and mother? They live and experience on a daily basis the scars and suffering of the whole family.

To go back to ‘source’, to look for the root of this unbearable tragedy we must compassionately investigate. We must look way back and search for the causes of this tragedy. Alongside the very real problem of homophobic attitudes at school, at home and in society (at all levels from obvious abuse to the subtlety of non acknowledgment ) we need to understand that a childs ‘sense of self’ begins from a very early age.

‘Sense of self’ is the term I use as opposed to ‘sexuality’. Too many times people get hooked into a debate that focusses on the appropriateness of  ‘sex’ in the word ‘sexuality’, arguing that a child of 2,3,4,5,6 years onwards does not yet have a sexual identity and therefore it is not appropriate to discuss such matters. Very often the view is that children are ‘just exploring’ and ‘playing’ at this age and therefore to introduce the idea of sexuality is misguided at best and offensive at worse.

So I feel it is appropriate to use the term ‘sense of self’ when looking at the development of very young children. From our earliest years we learn through what we see, hear, are told and sense. A baby senses danger, a toddler witnesses aggression, a youngster is told what is acceptable or not. Through play children get to rehearse these things. Playing ‘house’, drawing pictures of mummy and daddy and dressing up and interacting with toys helps very young children make sense of the information they are receiving.

The absence of information and therefore the inability to ‘play’ with the missing ideas is as damaging as exposure to negative information regarding an area of life. In other words- the absence of information that is pertinent to the child can be as damaging as the presence of negative information.

In a case where a child receives positive information about a subject that in the wider world is considered unworthy or taboo and thereby creating a ‘selective’ presence of information can also be the cause of conflict or upset for the child. So relating this to Dominic, the teenager in the article, it is undoubtedly true that he was born into a world that as a baby and young child did not acknowledge same sex relationships and scenarios.

It is highly unlikely that any bedtime story ever described princes scaling the side of castles to save another prince. It is unlikely that when he drew 2 boys with crayons the grandparent would have cooed  “oh what a lovely picture, is that two brothers? Or a daddy and daddy who live in the same house?”

It is unlikey that when he plays in the dressing up box at school and chooses to wear a dress that the teacher will say ‘ what a pretty colour!’

It is unlikely that when he has a close friendship with another boy that the adults will smile and say to themselves “maybe there will be wedding bells’

Throwaway lines like ‘he’s such a boy’s man! He is going to break a few boys hearts in his time, he’s a real charmer with the boys’ will rarely, if ever, get uttered let alone heard by him. To exclude any recognition of same sex relationship possibility and affection at this key stage in our emerging sense of self lays the foundation for what can become a dysfunctional sense of self that can, for some, mean it is already too late by the time they are teenagers. And for the rest of us, will mean that there will be an awful lot of work to be done to develop a healthy relationship with a part of ourselves that is so central to who we are.

That is, in part, the work that ‘The Quest’ undertakes. To peel back the armour that we, as gay men, have created in order to protect a self that was left to flounder. We go back to those years when survival of our ‘self’ caused us to lie, manipulate, hide and compensate for that which we learnt was so shameful it was never shown, mentioned, witnessed or explained for most of our formative years. We are the walking wounded. Many believe that from this position the best can we  expect is damage limitation.

But what of those who are just embarking on their life path? What chance is there to prevent the damage in the first place? We have a long way to go.

Just as the drag queens were the frontline warriors in the fight for Gay liberation, so now the same sex parents, partners and married couples are on the frontline of Self liberation. While the two ‘battalions’ look , sound and challenge the status quo with very different styles, their task is similar in challenge and requires considerable amounts of courage.

For all parents to avoid the tragedy of finding it’s ‘too late’ for their son or daughter, these are the people to turn to as your family begins to grow. Seek out the warriors and develop friendships with them. Encourage your off spring to mix with families that reflect all possibility, for in doing so you are demonstrating the acceptance and possibility of relationships. Actively talk about all forms of love, bravery and fairy stories.

When the word gay or lesbian is raised be sure to repeat the mantra ‘and that’s a good thing’ to counteract the tidal wave of negativity that still surrounds these words. Proactively and consciously include same sex options in dialogue with children of all ages for in doing so you are helping to create a world where a family does not have to live with the painful burden of knowing that for their child it was too late.

And if your child turns out not to be gay, you will be giving them the gift of them never having to experience a similar tragedy in their family when they grow up.

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