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Not Thinking Straight
For Jim and John
by Madelyn Arnold - SGN Contributing Writer

Call him "Jim".
It was 1968, and he was 17 - in college, and his first time away from home. He loved his classes, had a job in the chemistry storeroom, and his roommate was an all-star wrestling champion - lithe, muscular, and handsome as a Greek sculpture. God had answered his fervent prayers, and sent him Love. Jim loved him morning, noon and night with all his heart, and no less his body. And after making love one night, the guy told him he was moving in with somebody else down the hall, before somebody thought he was Queer.

Jim missed work. He didn't come out until nightfall, when - under cover of darkness - no one could see his face. Wandering up and down the dark streets, he found himself at Campus Ministries - the only building unlocked that late. The priest, seeing he was distressed, coaxed the reason out of him ... then wouldn't take "no" for an answer. He was rough, and Jim had never had that done to him before. The next day, Jim went to work, stole a vial of barium choride, bought a Coke, and took the former with the latter. Taking too much, he began to eject it.

It was not yet clear whether he would live - he was on a respirator - and his mother came into his hospital room and said something like: blink twice if you really meant to do it. Jim blinked twice. "That's all I wanted to know," she snapped. And slammed on out of the room.

Suicide Is Icky/ It Makes the Floor All Sticky
Suicide gets a lot done in a relatively short time. It devastates those who love you, and often makes your former friends hate you - while nothing you could do would make your enemies any happier. And it's one of those gifts that keeps on giving - your younger kin wonder, during their low points, if they're destined to follow you into the dark, and this goes on at the least to the next generation ("Aunt Joanie cut her throat in college. Maybe she felt like I feel? I probably should. I'm no good anyway"), etc.

It used to be considered pretty reasonable for anyone who was homosexual (although probably not as reasonable as portrayed in the dozens and dozens of homo-sex books I bought in the New York subway) to commit suicide. After all, you gave up so much of yourself to be that one part of yourself - that part that "outvoted all the other parts" in the eyes of society. And to ourselves as well. But those days appear to be over (in much of the West).

So went statistics until the '80s suddenly presented us with "the Gay disease." The statistics began to reverse. Some men got the news, cashed in their insurance, stocks, etc., sold property and heirlooms, gathering all their money, and had one helluva big year(s)-long bash. This worked out reasonably enough for suicides, but with the advent of decent medications, suicide seemed precipitous and that "one last bash" romance proved embarrassing. And once again, statistics for Gay folks' suicides have reversed. And our strengths as citizens and a force to be contended with (read: power) continue to increase.

Not All Power Increases
What could happen today is, Jim could go to the Archdiocese, to the school - to various authorities and complain about his treatment by that one priest. After all, he was a minor and abused by an official supposedly in loco parentis. He could even go to the police in many cities and have a fair chance of being treated almost as well as a hooker complaining of rape. He could call a suicide prevention line and tell them frankly what was bothering him & and that makes a difference - not having to "encode" every communication into straightspeak at the very time he was most devastated and confused.

Statistics continue to tell us that Queer kids commit suicide at a decidedly greater rate than their straight counterparts, but Gay adults don't. Naturally, one problem for youth is that we cannot really reach out anything but words and the internet to them; we can't meet them or encourage them to come and meet each other, because parents can still prosecute and persecute us. The problem is neither new nor simple, and Lambert House is doing its best.

Jim outlived his paralysis and in 1969 came to the once-huge Indiana University, where we met in Gay Liberation. Many of us had lots of stories to compare.

Not Only Angels Above Us...
Indiana University's Gay Liberation chapter was among the very first - a few months after Stonewall, in '69, so all through the '70s we had an inappropriately cheerful view of the near and Queer (and naturally could not foretell the advent of AIDS). My small university town contained the Kinsey Institute, which was compiling its book on male homosexuals and meantime, cheering us on. I did not understand, therefore, the situation my brothers and sisters were living in, in their small Indiana town. Of course, that too is better now.

Then my 16-year-old brother shot himself. Sixteen. Before he could get out of that place, and live. Long after, I heard how my brothers were taunted with my reputation - how they were bullied, how often they fought. I know less about my sisters' situations.

Over the grave, my father said how good it was that John had died so young. While he was still beautiful & that he would be that young forever. You see, I wasn't John's only problem.

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