Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In Memory of Joseph Jefferson

"I could not bear the burden of living as a gay man of color in a world grown cold and hateful towards those of us who live and love differently than the so-called ’social mainstream"
                                                      Joseph's Jefferson's last entry on his Facebook page
On October 23rd Joseph took his life. When I heard the news it was like being hit with a tidal wave. How could it be as I just spoke to him two days ago on the phone and never once during the conversation did I even pick up the feeling that he was that unhappy. In fact it was the opposite, he sounded like he was in a good mood. But knowing about suicide, it makes sense as once someone makes that final decision they have a sense of euphoria as they know that soon their pain will be over.
Meeting Joseph for the first time, he was a new hire here at our agency. I have to admit I welcomed him at  the agency but being that I was much older as he was in his twenties and I was in my forties, it was strictly a co-worker basis that involved little interaction. Looking back it brought up a issue that happens so often in the community, whether gay or straight. Instead of playing the role of elders we dismiss anyone younger than us. I wonder if things would have been different if myself or someone else took him under their wings.
But in time we did interact and always played jokes on each other. What I admired most about him was that he was an advocate for LGBT issues. He was outspoken which sometimes didn't sit well with some people but that shows he was making a difference as I believe when you make change you will meet resistance as people are used to that comfort. As they say if you're not making enemies you're not making change.
Suicide among young LGBT is rising and there's so many factors but I think Joseph said it best in his last entry of not being able to just be himself. Here in NYC I can not imagine what young people go through as there is so much machismo that exists on the streets. The thing here is to look hard or try to fit into that thug looking mode. If you're look anything outside of that cutout then you must be gay. Even for myself, if I dress nice or express myself differently through my dress than others on the subway give me that 'the look". But again being older I  brush off the looks as I've been through to much to be let a stranger place their value on me. especially a person that once I exit that train I'll probably never see you again in my life. For a young person people may think they should have a thicker skin but it's really not that simple when it feels the world is after you.
You would also think with the many images and movies of gay people in the movies or on television as well as just the overall discussion of LGBT issues that it would be easier. Unfortunately there's a double edge sword to the exposure. Some youth may see themselves in a media program and feel affirmed and come out and then are hit with the rejection of family. I can't tell you how many young people I used to work with who were kicked out of the home because they were gay, and we're talking about being as young as 13. The other message young LGBT may get from media with LGBT characters in it is a question of why can't my life be like that? Why can't my father accept me for who I am like the character on the television show Glee who's father accepts his gay son.Why not me?
It's unfortunate but being gay and young sometimes the only way you're accepted is if you're the comedy act in the class. But after the laughter is gone you're left feeling like nothing. I speak from experience as I once tried to take my life when I was 19. I just felt that no one was there for me. What everyone saw was the laughing joking Aundaray. People thought I was the life of the party, but they didn't see or ask about the pain I was hiding under the laughter. Because of my sexuality I couldn't share how i really felt. I felt like I was living in a world that only accepted me on one level.As far as my suicide attempt God was really working that day because I got a phone call from a friend who had never called me before to say hello. Usually I was the one always doing the calling. But she did call and I told her what I did, which was swallow a bottle of pills and my life was saved. Was it a cry for attention? Yes. It was a cry that I'm tired of being what others want me to be. It was a cry that I wanted to be accepted for who I am. It was simply a cry. But I feel I went through it for a reason as I can share with others that the storm won't last for long and although the fight seems never ending you'll make it. 
We have to start listening and accepting our children. Even if you have no child, the kids you pass on the street cussing and making noise, the kids who you pass by and don't acknowledge, they're your children. What they need is to be made visible. As adults rather than using your energy to shake your head in disgust to someone who expresses themselves as themselves remember use it to open your heart to acceptance.
Joseph you left us to soon but you'll be remembered and i hope that someone who's reading this reach to and ask for help or someone reading this check in with someone who you know is gay and really ask how they feel right now in life. Don't let them push you away with jokes. Really break down that wall and let them know that you're there for them.
       "I could not bear the burden of living as a gay man of color in a world grown cold and hateful towards those of us who live and love differently than the so-called ’social mainstream’" as told by Joseph Jefferson as it bears repeating.
Stop the hate.

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