What does it really feel like to grow up LGBT+?

There is a short but striking 2016 video called The obstacle course” jointly produced by TBWA, the international advertising agency, and the main French coalition Inter-LGBT. Take a minute and share it again today on social media with the hashtag #IDAHOBIT. The video’s message is that growing up gay is similar to running a grueling obstacle course.

As LGBT+ people, we resist describing ourselves as victims of homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia, and instead increasingly portray ourselves as resilient, empowered, and proud beings. Netflix’s revisionist ‘Hollywood’ series, another gigantic confinement success along with “Tiger King,” with its heroic LGBT+ characters, is a great example of this trend. It is also the theme of our Out Leadership virtual monthlong Pride: #ProudlyResilient.

Yet, it remains important at times  to “Break The Silence” on the LGBT+ experience, the theme of  IDAHOBIT 2020, this year’s International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia [Read our May 13 article: Marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT)].

If you believe children do not have sexual orientation or gender identity, I wish you had met me as a boy. My childhood was full of boy-crushes and men-crushes. While I could not share this secret with anybody, I knew from a very early age that something was deeply wrong and perverted with me. When I stumbled on a La Redoute catalog, I would furtively glance at the male underwear section. In retrospect, that would definitely qualify as a “sign.

I understood early that this meant that my world would one day collapse and started carrying around a sense of impending doom which never really left me in adulthood. When conversations at the dinner table would turn to girls, dating, or sex, I would start blushing and sweating uncontrollably. I later developed a technique in which to avoid embarrassing conversations during family dinners; I would start bringing dishes back to the kitchen indifferent to whether people were done with their plate or not.

In my teenage years, crushes, instead of being happy and memorable experiences of first love, were secrets I could not express and made me deeply ashamed. I did not experience romantic love until I was 22 years old at American University in Washington, DC.

When I was sixteen, my parents sent me to a lacanian psychologist, at the suggestion of our family doctor, because I showed unmistakable signs of depression. Like many French shrinks of the time, he was a stern man seated in a dark stuffy cabinet who never uttered a word. He stayed silent for ten sessions listening to me complain about my parents. For several weeks, he stared at me with what felt like a mix of boredom and at times hostility. I hated it but played along until one day I finally heard him whisper from the end of his grotto-like corner in the room:

–       Shrink (clearing throat): “Ahem… But girls… Ahem… What about girls? You never mention girls.”

I never went back to his office, he never called me back either. I had my response. He had done his job. I told my parents I did not need to go anymore. I knew my revolting attraction to men was the issue.

My knowledge of what “gay” meant still remained very superficial until my early twenties. I knew Elton John was gay. I suspected the French singer Etienne Daho was gay too (even though he never came out). I knew Freddie Mercury was gay. They all featured on my mix tapes. I had also watched Tom Hanks in Philadelphia and a derogatory French movie titled “Pedale Douce. For a while, we had had gay neighbors too, an Air France steward and his pilot boyfriend. They had bought two apartments in front of each other beneath us not to awake suspicion of the neighbors but were clearly together. My mother who was prejudiced like everybody at the time had warned my brother and I not to approach them as they were pédérastes. But even with that superficial knowledge, I knew I would rather die than be gay.

After a last attempt at heterosexuality, I came to terms with the fact that that the sword was finally falling on my head and moved to the United States abandoning a collapsing world and starting anew far from it. Anything after that has been a journey to walk back from the shame and damage of childhood. I am conscious that my story is affected by my privilege and that growing up LGBT+ can be much harder for already marginalized populations and trans people.

While the vortex of discrimination and violence LGBT+ people face in the workplace and virtually all spaces remains at the core of our fight, we have to remember that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The truth is, we have only begun to scratch the surface of what true equality could look like until we tackle the family and school pieces. As I write this today, hundreds of millions of children all around the world will go to bed knowing that they have same-sex attraction or nonconforming gender identity, praying for a God to change them. Perhaps even more damaging, they are lying to their parents, teachers, and priests about it. This damage is often irreparable and will accompany them in adulthood.

On #IDAHOBIT, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the immense damage of homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia, and break the deafening silence which continues to oppress LGBT+ children.

Interview with Tamara Adrian — Deputy to the National Assembly of Venezuela and IDAHOBIT Co-Chair. Tamara is the first transgender person elected to office in Venezuela, and only the second transgender member of a national legislature in the Western Hemisphere: