Thursday, October 21

It Gets Better

I wanted to write a post about my birthday bash (which was airwolf, by the way), but as I was browsing the net this morning, I came across something much bigger than me, happening on the same day: Spirit Day 2010.

Spirit Day, with its theme It Gets Better, is aimed at giving support to gay youth who are bullied for what they are. A support website has listed statistics pertaining to gay teenage suicide, which can be accessed here. Homosexual teens are 3 to 4 times more likely to commit suicide compared to heterosexual ones. 8 out of 10 homosexual individuals suffer from isolation, and a significant number are subject to physical and/or psychological oppression.

I am a Muslim, and Islam views homosexuality as a sin, as an unnatural deviation of human nature. Hawa (Biblical Eve) had been created to complement Adam, to be his life companion, and to produce future generations so that the human race will survive. I think most organized religions share the same view. However, recent studies have shown that a person may not have a choice in his or her sexual inclination. Sexual preference is a mixture of biological (genetic and hormonal), development and environmental factors. Because of this, people argue that homosexuality is not a choice, not an 'alternative lifestyle'. It is a medical condition, though not necessarily an illness.

So where do we go from here? Science or religion? Let me use a different element as an example. Everyone knows smoking cigarettes is bad for the smoker, but more so for people around them. It is scientifically proven. What's more, Islam considers smoking sinful, as it is hazardous to health. But people have been smoking out in the open for ages, it is considered a social norm. Sometimes, in certain social circles, it is a prerequisite. Some people (like me) are not even the slightest bit piqued by cigarettes and the act of smoking. It's as if we have a mental block against it, and it's not even an active, conscious choice. It's just the way it is. Some people have the urge to smoke, but refrain from doing so for various choices: health, social acceptance, expense, unavailability. Some smoke occasionally, and are able to say "No" at any time. Then there are chain smokers. Studies show that these people have a predisposition to smoking addiction. Some maintain that the chemical contents of a cigarette, especially nicotine, affect the chemicals in a smoker's body, that it causes dependence. Withdrawal can cause adverse physiological and psychological effects.

So how can some people be totally immune to the temptation cigarette-smoking brings, while some cannot help but to smoke even though they're on their deathbed from lung cancer? It is really a lifestyle, a chemical-induced addiction, or an inborn predisposition?

Let me use something closer to home. Psychologists acknowledge marital infidelity as a medical condition. Some people are driven to unfaithfulness for various factors: marital discord, distance, external temptation, falling out of love with one's spouse. The list is almost endless. Some, however, cannot help themselves. They have the urge to be unfaithful even though they are happily married. People also say that men are predisposed to spread their seeds as much as possible. Again, human nature. Maybe this is why Islam condones polygamy, within boundaries. To ensure marital happiness and to avoid infidelity.

What do all these have to do with homosexuality? Say that we take it as an inborn urge. There are plenty of people out there who claim that homosexuality is not a choice. At the same time, people also claim that humans have free will, and what separates us from robots and animals is the freedom of choice. Isn't this a contradiction? People reading this may even say that people don't choose to get cancer. To me, cancer is a condition. People who have cancer, and family members of cancer patients have choices in facing that condition, whether to succumb to the illness and let it prematurely end your life, or to accept it as your lot in life, or to fight it for as long as you can, or even to help others and raise awareness. Same goes for homosexuality, smoking, infidelity, and other conditions. Some people are predisposed to such conditions. They always have a choice (even multiple ones) on how to face these.

Society, especially with Eastern sensibilities, shun homosexuality. People still get beaten to death because if it. Only a small fraction of homosexuals openly declare their sexual preference and lifestyle. Most hide in their closets, afraid of discovery and persecution. Some manage to grow up as a 'normal' person, get married, and have children. This doesn't mean their condition is cured. These people may still have the urge, but keep it repressed. Some families remain reasonably happy, while others end in divorce. But what about those who do not feel the slightest attraction toward the opposite sex, but are afraid to come out of the closet? What about people clinically depressed because of this? Isn't depression hazardous to health? Can we then say homosexuality is an abject sin if repression of the urge can cause more harm?

It's an endless debate, but I will say this: how can a person choose, if he or she doesn't have the freedom of choice? Smoking is hazardous to health, and it is a sin, but why do we see deeply religious people smoke in public, in front of children, at that? Why do people turn a blind eye at this bad influence, but when they see couples of the same sex walk hand-in-hand in public, they wait in a dark corner to jump at these couples and beat them to pulp?

In an ideal society, maybe sometime in the future, the general populace will be more tolerant toward homosexuality. If people look at it as they do smoking, then maybe people with homosexual predisposition will finally have a choice they can make without fear of persecution.

Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal society. People fear the unknown, the different. Children, even as early as kindergarten age, form social groups. This is human nature, like calls to like. And it is always the same; children who are different usually get left out. Parents actually play a big role in promoting this exclusion. I remember my dad labeling one of my friends as lembut, sotong, pondan -- Malay terms for fagot. He didn't stop me from befriending this kid, but he didn't approve of it either. Indirectly, he was imposing his view of the world onto me. He may not have meant it; he was brought up that way. Apparently my dad was not alone in this. The kid was mercilessly taunted and teased by our peers, and parents who occasionally stick around to monitor their children at school didn't do anything to stop it. Teachers didn't do anything to stop it.

In a way, I'm lucky to have my mom. On the first day of primary school, there was this boy who could not be parted from his father, and had cried loudly in the classroom. He also peed in his pants, and was somehow slower to answer questions than the rest of the class. Other kids jeered and teased him. Honestly, I couldn't be bothered, because my social circle before kindergarten was my elder sister alone, and we were extremely close. I befriended everyone in Kindergarten, even the teachers. So when I entered primary school, I didn't know how to tease and jeer. I just couldn't be bothered, because it was my first day at a new school, in a new environment, and I was overwhelmed. But my mom actually talked to the kid's dad, and made him stay out of sight, and brought the kid along with me and my then-best-friend (our mothers went to college together, so in a classroom of strangers, we became instant best friends) to eat with us during recess.

I think seeing my mom taking him under her wing prompted me to do the same. I was the runt in the class, but I protected the boy against bullies for the next six years, even though we were in different classes. I befriended other outsiders, too. I wasn't exactly the popular kid (all-boys school, go figure), but due to my academic achievements, bullies had skirted around me. Come to think of it, being a teacher's pet (there, I said it) had done the trick, not my achievements.

In school, I had helped those who were bullied. Funnily enough, as I had stated in my earlier post, I ended up psychologically bullied by my peers, and I didn't have anyone to turn to. Because I had tried taking my life when I was 13, suicidal tendencies escaped me when I was bullied at 17. I wanted to escape, wanted a way out, but not through death.

Here's my message to those who read this post: It gets better.

When I finished school, I left everything behind, even friends I used to protect, who still look up to me. When I was in school, I felt as if it was my world. It was, until I finally left it. I discovered there was a much bigger world out there. I have made friends who accept my quirks and oddities, but are still close to me even after over 11 years, friends whom I wanted around me during my birthday bash last night -- and they all came, with the exception of one.

But none of this came easily. When I entered college, I reinvented myself. I had convinced myself that high school Fadz was a loser, an outcast. I made sure I hid certain facets away, so that people wouldn't discovered what had happened. I told myself not to be emotionally close to anyone else. But that isn't my nature. To some, my revealed my true self, even though I was afraid they would run away.

They didn't.

For those who are bullied, hang in there. Get help. If people around you don't seem to care, find a constructive outlet. I found mine in writing. Don't say, "To hell with society" because we don't live in isolation. We need society, as it needs us. Instead of succumbing to despair, use your situation as a tool to succeed later in life. Prove to yourself that you are a potentially great person, and live up to that potential.

Remember, bullies are bullies because they are afraid of the different. Homosexuality, neurotic quirkiness and mental syndromes may be medical conditions, but we are free to choose how to live our lives.

Maybe, one day, society will let us choose without imposing their preset values. Maybe, one day, freedom of choice will really mean what it states.

Until then, hang in there. It gets better.