On the rare occasions that I do stop to think about my sexuality and what it means to my life, I must admit that I have felt a slight envy for the generations who come after me. Lucky them, I think, because the world is a more accepting place than it's ever been, right? Gay characters on every soap opera! Gays getting married! Gay bars popping up on street corners in the most provincial towns you can imagine! Lady Gaga self-harming in our honour! Adolescent gays getting off with their straight mates at the school disco!
Where is the pain? The anguish? The trying not to look at anybody in the changing rooms lest you're spotted staring and branded a homo by your peers? Whither the incessant cries of 'BENDER!' in the school corridors by perfect strangers? Where's the confusing feeling that something, somewhere isn't quite right, and never will be? The answer? It's still there, and it's being fed by the internet.
This week saw another entry in the ever-increasing logbook of young people killing themselves because of intolerance to their sexuality. A 14-year-old, who I so far only know by his online screen name of Jamey Rodemeyer, decided that being dead was a whole heap better than the taunts he suffered at school for being bisexual. But this doesn't happen any more, right? Homophobia is just something old people hang onto, isn't it? Well, no, it would appear not.
While we are certainly raising a new generation of broad-minded, free-spirited youngsters, we are also somehow bringing into the world a fresh set of bigots to replace those about to head off to the great big queer-bashing convention in the sky. Only a few months ago, Jamey supposedly made a video for the It Gets Better project on YouTube, where gay men and women who have got through the nightmare years of name-calling, nose-breaking and sheer isolation to become well-rounded, happy individuals make videos about how they overcame all the crap that comes with being a gay adolescent. One can only imagine what happened to Jamey to make things get worse.
Last year in the US, college student Tyler Clementii threw himself from a bridge after his roommate secretly spied, via webcam, on his gay 'trysts' in their shared dorm room. In probably the most misguided use of social networking since Kim Kardashian's first tweet, the dorm mate shared the videos on Twitter and invited his fellow classmates to join him in the shocking spectacle of a young man kissing another guy. Faced with this humiliation, Tyler took the option of hurling his sad, confused self from a bridge rather than talk it out with campus authorities or counsellors.
Stories like this make me bitterly regret my mean-spirited flippancy toward the new generation of young gay men coming out. For every one that does, likely three or four stay firmly wedged in the closet, lodged somewhere between 'miserable first romance with girl you don't fancy' and 'longing to be kissed by anyone who's not female'. The insecurities, the depression, the bullying are all present and correct in this suppose age of enlightenment.
Talking to friends, they generally think that society at large has changed, that sexuality isn't 'a big deal' and that gay people are more accepted than ever. And on first glance, I guess it would seem that way. Making homophobic comments is a crime, gay stereotypes have all but vanished from the airwaves with only a few notable exceptions, there's a gay pride march practically every weekend and talent show winners are falling over themselves to bravely announce that they have a predilection for the pink oboe. Yet, that is just the surface. For every aspect of gay culture that is being openly feted and embraced by Joe Public, how many are being resented and scorned?
I don't believe in gay role models or that famous people should queue up to reel off their homosexual encounters, but I do believe real people with non-Hollywood stories to tell can make a difference. If you're a boy who likes boys, a girl who likes girls or someone who likes a bit of both, why don't you make a video for the It Gets Better project too? Or if you're straight, watch one or two. Yes, some are cheesy or heavy on the saccharine, but all are sincere. You never know who's watching from the edge of the bridge.