I spoke to Thomas for the first time last Wednesday. We’ve never met in person. He had never even heard my name before that day. I’d only learned his the night before, when a woman who knew me in high school reached out for help communicating with him. She knew he was having a difficult time with his sexuality, and was concerned he might not be dealing with the pain in a healthy manner. I sat there staring at his email for nearly two hours before trying to pen a response that didn’t feel like an excerpt from a self-love pamphlet.
How do you ask a sixteen year old not to kill himself because he is gay?
How do you explain to a child that things will be better after high school -- once he is living independently and has had a chance to become the man he wants to be? How do you ask him to put down the razor blade and the handfuls of pills, even though they’re the only things numbing the real pain that he feels inside? How do you convince him to trust you and believe you when you say that life won’t always hurt this much – especially if you’re not sure you believe yourself?
You see, Thomas lives in the South. He grew up in a conservative Christian household with parents who love him, but would not accept him living a “homosexual lifestyle.” He can count on one hand the number of people he’s been able to talk to about the depression that, according to him, he “sinks deeper into every time he blinks.”
He makes good grades, and scored above average on his first attempt at the ACT. He has dreams of majoring in Linguistics at a prestigious University, but he has zero self-confidence. Thomas is a really great kid, and has a really bright future in front of him. He just has to get past the twelfth grade.
I can’t tell Thomas that things will get better at school. I can’t tell him that his friends will understand, or that his church won’t kick him out of the congregation based on his sexuality. I can’t tell him that there is no chance that his parents might put him in a “Pray away the Gay” program if they realize he is gay.
What I can tell Thomas is that he’s risking his future with drugs and self-violence; that neither jail nor a mental institution would be as fun as college. I can send him lists of Universities with notable Linguistics programs. I can encourage him to spend the next two years perfecting his admissions letter and locating and acquiring enough scholarships to independently fund his education - just in case. I can remind him that he is not broken. That he reminds me of myself, only a brighter, more talented version. I can tell Thomas that he is not alone.
What I would like to do is prove it. Tell Thomas that you are with him. That he is not broken. Tell Thomas your stories, your hopes and your dreams. Tell Thomas that life is beautiful, and that two years will go by faster than the blink of depression.
Thomas is just one of many young people who need to hear that it’s all right to be alive and to be themselves. That they don’t need permission to be happy.
Tell Thomas he is not alone. Use the hashtag #TellThomas to tell them all.
is a writer, artist and human/animal rights activist based in Echo Park- Los Angeles, CA. The Stephens College graduate loves poetry, camping with her rowdy friends and tequila of many varieties.