The first time I contemplated and attempted suicide, I was a high school freshman. An email circulated around my friend group that said I was gay, and was posted up by the lockers. The school administration worked with the IT department to track down the source of the email. To use the computers, you had to sign in to the system and it tracked students’ online activity. The email was sent was signed by a boy named George, but it wasn’t sent from George’s account. It was sent by my best friend and homie, Justyn. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I'd never told Justyn that I was attracted to guys and girls. However, he did know that nothing about how I acted screamed intimidating or hyper-masculine. Back in earlier grades, he’d seen me get bullied because I wasn't on any sports teams, enjoyed performing arts and student government, made friends with girls easily, avoided fights, and when picked on, got quiet. He’d also seen me get escorted to class for a week, because I didn’t know how to fight back when some of my peers tried to jump me the week before.
Fast Forward to Freshman Year
I was 14 and more conscious of my bisexuality and queerness, but I didn't have the language to even claim a bisexual or queer identity. And heaven knows I didn’t possess the courage or the support to be assuredly proud. I knew I wasn't straight. I knew I wasn't gay. And I was aware that I enjoyed making out with the girl I had a crush on, while also hyperaware that there were a few guys I found attractive. Internally, I felt incredibly frightened and morally repulsed at the notion of acting on that attraction. Based on my understanding of righteousness, holiness and Godliness, I would be damned to hell if I did. But I didn't know anything outside of that. Bisexuality wasn’t an option in my house. And homosexuality wasn’t either. At home, my parents made me fast without food, for days, to put my flesh “under subjection,” go to altar calls asking God to take away my urges and to give me sexual purity, read books on how to stay pure and have sexual integrity, and to memorize scriptures. My parents’ strict beliefs about gender, sexual orientation and sexual behavior were deeply steeped in Christianity and pastoral ministry, and provided no space to work through my identity development, explore it, question it or make peace with it. And what kind of pressure is that to put on a 14-year-old?
Suicide Seemed Easier
The bullying had been going on since elementary school. And no matter how many times my mom worked with the school to end it, it kept going. As a freshman in high school, I wanted people not to care about who I liked. I wanted to not be the only one fighting for my dignity and humanity. I wanted to stop suffering, just like Jamel Myles. It broke my heart to wake up to news about the recent suicide of Jamel Myles, a 9-year-old boy from Denver who died by suicide, after he had come out as gay and a classmate told him to kill himself. There have been countless stories of other queer children either being abused, beaten, killed or attempting suicide because of bullying related to their sexuality. And everyone I hear hurts. Just as rampant as xenophobia and racism are in the Trump era, so is homophobia. And the resources that do exist aren’t even seen as necessary for young men of color. The pressure of continued policing and feeling the need to perform masculinity in acceptable ways for the community around young boys is debilitating and doesn’t exacerbate liberation or #blackboyjoy. That combined with toxic masculinity—which denies boys agency, the ability to show a full range of emotions, be visibly scared or emotional, and form deep, personal connections with other—leads to thoughts of self-harm and suicide.
Jamel Myles Should Still Be Here Today
As an educator, I envision and strive to create a world that is much safer for boys of color. One in which they don't have to fight to be seen as worthy of love for visibility and pine for love. One in which queer children don't have to "pass" so that they won't be humiliated and bullied. I envision a world where the educators and adults who witness bullying and disrespect don't tolerate it, but instead have ongoing perpetual conversations that debunk outdated notions of heteronormativity and heterosexism. One where churches don't incite violent language to queer folks that kills their spirit, mind, and soul, but just misses their bodies in harm. Above all, I envision a world in which we all take accountability for the ways that we may be oppressed, but still exercise blatant privilege that causes harm to the dignity and humanity of queer people, as well as members of other marginalized communities.
How will you work to better understand, advocate for, and love an experience and identity that you don't share? Furthermore, how will you teach this type of self-reflexivity to the children and students who cross your path? Contemplating the importance of these questions is a good start, but reflecting upon them within the context of your own life is where the real work begins. Jamel Myles should still be here today. Gay. Free. Loved. And happy. But he's not. I hope that this baby is resting in love and the highest measure of peace that he never received on this earth.
Nickolas Gaines is a veteran, national speaker, and educator. Nickolas is a prominent scholar-practitioner who has a wealth of experience, expanding over 10 years of service in local, regional, national, and international communities. He is a global citizen who has served the United States Army for seven years and has led initiatives for the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans ...