Thursday, January 21, 2016

My first suicide

Like too many other gay kids, I too once thought suicide was the only way out. 

I came of age during the late 1970s and early 1980s when we had a president (Reagan) who couldn't bring himself to say the word AIDS despite the alarming number of gay men dying from it. Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority were gaining steam and a tiny group from the Westboro Baptist Church began to protest at funerals for victims of AIDS by carrying signs that read GOD HATES FAGS and FAGS DIE/GOD LAUGHS.

I had learned what every child learns: It's okay to be yourself just as long as you're like everybody else.

The child of a broken home, I faced the terrors of being gay alone with no support from family or church. It was a confusing, frightening time, and one evening, when I could stand it no longer, I decided it was time to end it.

I was a cutter. That was another word one didn't hear at the time. It was a strange, mysterious thing to cut yourself with razor blades, to watch yourself bleed. Surely no sane person would do such a thing and the idea that one engaged in cutting as a way to take control of one's own body was quite unheard of. 

I dabbled in suicide too. Half-hearted attempts. 

But that night ... 

I had purchased three boxes of sleeping pills. I popped them two and three at a time until I could swallow no more. I managed about 40 pills in all. Then I lay down on my back on the bed and waited. 

After ten or fifteen minutes, I realized that if I was going to save myself, I was going to have to get up, call someone, go the emergency room, do something.

But I did not. I had made my decision and was sticking with it. So I lay there, thinking I would simply fall asleep and that would be it. I was not afraid of going to hell. My life was already hell. What difference would it make?

Why did I want to die?

It wasn't just being gay, although that was part of it, especially the intense shaming I received at the hands of the Catholics. I felt ashamed of myself, humiliated and certainly not loved by God. I felt like a moral failure. 

But it wasn't just the whole problem of being gay. It was the broken home, being let down by parents, the childhood abuse, the violence, the neglect, the agony of trying to parent yourself and survive when you have no idea what's going on inside you and all around you.

But a funny thing happened on the way to my doom. I had apparently watched too many television movies. I didn't realize that over the counter sleeping pills could not kill you. You needed prescription-strength stuff for that. Barbiturates, they were called. 

Not only did I not fall asleep, I could not sleep at all. I was completely wide awake. I felt a weird sensation in my chest. Later, I would discover that by lying there for so long on my back, the pills had gotten stuck and burned a hole in my esophagus. I still have trouble eating spicy foods.

At some point, I got up and played records. The next morning I went to work and never told a soul about it. 

In fact, I've never told anyone about that little escapade ever. 

Until now.

I'm glad I failed at both that attempt and several subsequent attempts. My life would have much different if I hadn't. 

Which brings me to the point of this post, which is tell you a little bit about Bilal Abu, the young Muslim boy in BILAL'S BREAD. Bilal's story of intense homophobia at the hands of fundamentalist brother isn't my story. But then again, it is. Bilal is a cutter. The victim of sexual abuse, he somehow cottoned on to the fact that by punishing his body, he could exert control over it, control that was denied by his abuser. By hurting himself, he could make the decision about when the pain would end. 

Bilal also faces the problem of coming to terms with his sexuality. A quiet boy, he finds it hard to speak up for himself, to make himself heard. And how can he? The voices in his household are so loud and so strong, he is easily overpowered. (And what was a young gay man like myself to do when confronted with Rev. Fred Phelps and his protesters screaming that GOD HATES FAGS?  What do you do when your church thinks you're a pervert who's not much different from someone who likes to have sex with dead bodies? How do you make yourself heard when no one is listening?)

Eventually Bilal finds his voice. It happens when his school participates in a poetry hoe-down sponsored by the school district. He decides to get up and read a poem. 

I want to share that poem with you. It was written a long time ago, but it still rings true. 

If you've ever thought suicide was the way out, I want to assure you it's not. What needs to die is "homophobia" and bigotry and the lies we tell ourselves about who we are and what God thinks of us.

The truth will set you free, but sometimes you will pay dearly. But it's worth it. 


my first suicide
was on an evening in July
and pills were the plan
they were sticky in my hand
as I, in twos and threes
gulped them down with Lipton tea
but death was not to be
not yet
not for me

then came razor blades
as further murder plans were made
to end my misery
to bleed my way to peace
and I, despite my best
created only one more mess
and death was not to be
not yet
not for me

these empty places, empty spaces
all these holes that must be filled
how much better, how much faster
if this body I had killed
instead it’s endless hours
endless days and endless haze
as bit by bit and piece by piece
I make my way to my release
and I, despite my best
long to die and take my rest
but death is not to be

not yet
no, not for me

you see:
you got the ball, I got the chain
you got the sun, I got the rain
you live in light, I live in pain
for me to die would be to gain
I know such words ought not be spoken
just as true things rarely are
and what’s the use of too much hoping
when each day brings yet more scars?
yet hope I do, I can’t resist
I long to know much more than this
I long to know some happiness

a chance is all I’m asking
a chance to do my best
a chance to love somebody
to put my heart to rest

you tell me I’m not normal
you tell me that I’m queer
you tell me that the folks like me
aren’t really wanted here
you tell me it’s a crime
if I should feel the way I feel
you say my love is shameful
there’s no way it could be real
but then, how would you know
when these shoes, you’ve never worn
but still that doesn’t stop you
oh how easy falls the scorn
the hatred and rejection
how they wound and how I bleed
cause love is not to be
it’s not allowed for folks like me

well, where then should I go
back to pills and razor blades?
and what then should I do
to take this pain away?

and would it make you happy
if you put me in the ground
if you silenced me forever
with that silence so profound?

Still I, despite despair
offer up this fervent prayer
that death is not to be
not yet
not for me
the kind that comes from trying
to be what I can’t be

you see:
my first suicide
was on an evening in July
and pills were the plan
they were sticky in my hand
and only now when I look back
do I understand
why life was meant to be
why the truth can set you free
so let truth be spoken here and now for all to hear
let the truth be said
I am queer
Yes, I am queer

And let this be a suicide
a death to lies and my deceit
a death to furtive hiding
a death to dishonesty
cause life is meant to be
both for you ...
but also for me


  1. I have known many social workers who say "no one really knows" why kids "cut" or what they get out of it. Most young people who are cutters or who are suicidal probably cannot articulate their thoughts and feelings anywhere near as well as you have done. This little story has the makings of a very powerful tool to help these young people! If you ever need to quote me, or use my words as a blurb ... feel free.

  2. I want all young people, no matter their years may number 70 or more, to understand that life is precious and every living thing is a gift to the universe. It doesn't matter that you are different, each of us is unique and different. There are people who love you without reservation. Nick has captured some of this love in his book. Read Bilal's Bread and see.