A Letter in Support of ASIJ's Gay-Straight Alliance
I wrote this on October 1, 1998, in support of the Gay-Straight Alliance which had recently formed at my old high school, the American School in Japan. Some at the school were skeptical of such an organization, so the faculty organizer, Vicky Downs, had solicited statements from gay ASIJ alumni in support of the group. This is what I wrote. It sums up well my feelings about being gay in high school and in college.
I am currently a third-year law student at the University of Virginia. I'm not straight, but you'd never guess by looking at me.
I came to ASIJ as a sophomore in the fall of 1988 and graduated in 1991 near the top of my class. In high school I was always aware of my feelings towards other guys. I would develop a strong crush on someone I knew in class, or someone I knew from an extracurricular activity, or on someone I'd see in the halls. I knew that most people who felt this way were called "gay," but I didn't want to give that name to myself. For one thing, I would have occasional crushes on women, too; yet my feelings for guys were emotionally stronger. I had no idea how to classify myself. I knew of only one person at ASIJ who was "out." I never heard anybody talk about him, and I wasn't about to start up a conversation about him myself, for fear of what my friends would think. Everyone thought I was a star student and a talented guy; I worried what students and teachers would think of me if they knew my secret.
I went through three years at ASIJ with a murky awareness of my sexuality, postponing a confrontation with myself until later. "Later" finally occurred back in the US, at the end of the summer following graduation, a week before I began college. One night I wrote in my journal the words "I am gay." I then modified it: "I am partly gay. I am bisexual. I don't know what I am. But I know I'm not straight." I felt a guilty rush of excitement at putting these words on paper. Until then, I had been my own enemy, divided against myself. I had seen my sexuality as some foreign presence. But the act of admission made it a part of me. I admitted it to myself in both senses of the word - I consciously acknowledged it, and I let it in. From then on, I knew that my sexuality had not been a foreign presence; it had always been a part of me that deserved attention.
But it was just a temporary victory. During my first week of college I had a personal crisis. I was on my own for the first time, dealing with myself by myself. I was seriously considering suicide and nearly attempted it, partly out of an inability to fully understand or deal with my sexuality. I ran the full gauntlet - from a dean, to my RA, to my dorm's senior resident, to an emergency room counselor - and wound up finding a therapist. Six months went by before I told him about my sexuality. At 18 years old, in my first year of college, this was the first person I had ever told.
Why did I wait so long? I waited because I never knew that anyone would understand or accept my troubling feelings. The subject was never mentioned at ASIJ, as if it were taboo. I knew of no teachers with whom I could discuss it. This at a school whose stated mission was to prepare students for "global responsibility." ASIJ generously accepts the world's diversity, and indeed encourages it, by bringing together people of various backgrounds who cannot be conveniently labeled. Statistically, there will always be gay or bisexual students at ASIJ. And graduates of ASIJ will encounter people who are gay or bisexual. ASIJ students have seen a great deal in their lives; an organization encouraging acceptance of sexual minorities will not expose them to information they wouldn't learn somewhere else, except that it will do so in a positive way. Making everyone aware of different sexual orientations while in high school would fit well within ASIJ's mission of preparing its students for global responsibility. It would help everyone - gay, straight or in between.
Self-acceptance begins with the realization that there are others like you - that you are not alone in the world. Knowing this in high school would have saved me lots of grief and anxiety later on. It's still not easy. I've told my parents, and although they love me, they haven't really accepted it yet. But I don't want anyone at ASIJ today to have to experience what I went through. As a gay friend of mine said, "it's not easy being gay. But there's a lot we can do to make it easier."