“In high school I worked in a Kindergarten class and loved it, but immediately thought about the backlash that might occur with a gay teacher. The perception of gay people is sometimes closely linked to perversion and I felt strongly that many would feel that I was teaching children for some sick alternative motive. However, I was uncomfortable with myself at the time and did not realize how dumb it was to feel this way. As if I could not be a teacher due to such a minute aspect of my life; however, at the time it did not feel minor. I now understand that I should not have been stopped by something such as my sexuality. I realized this when I was in a classroom last semester and absolutely loved it but remembered why I had not pursued it. It now seems foolish,” she said.
She was born this way. It’s not a disease, it’s not a curse, you can’t pray it away; it’s who she is down to her core.
Maria Clarken defines sexuality as “someone’s attraction, or lack thereof of a sexual experience that often times implies romantic compatibility as well.” She defines her sexuality as gay.
More often than not, coming out to one’s family is something that is very challenging for many members of the LGBTQ community. However, some people like Clarken have parents and friends who are supportive and have never let it get in the way.
“I came out to my mom in the car, she cried for a week then moved on,” Clarken said. “She has always fully supported me and easily changed her perception of what my life was going to entail [after that first week]. She now likes to ask me all about any girls I may be interested with and if I’m dating, she wants to meet them.”
MJ Miller is a senior political science major and a close friend of Maria Clarken. Miller has known Clarken for three years and has supported her throughout Clarken’s college career.
Miller doesn’t let the fact that Clarken is gay affect their relationship. Clarken’s sexuality was just something she had sort of always known. If anything, Clarken’s sexuality has helped Miller get through some tough times in her life.
“It made me feel like I could confide in her more because I had not shared my sexuality with hardly anyone; she was a safe person to discuss it with,” Miller said.
It is important to recognize that being gay is not something that is considered easy for members of the LGBTQ community. It can pose challenges and threats throughout their lives but they accept who they are and for many, they learn to truly love themselves.
Clarken was one student who learned to love herself over the years.
“My sexuality has made life slightly more difficult, but simultaneously has made me a better person. I cannot know fully the impact it has had, but it has shaped the social circles I interact with, the way I perceive the world, and who I have become,” Clarken said.
Some students have more of a challenge when it comes to acceptance.
“The hardest thing about being gay is feeling like you have to hide who you really are,” said Adam Caratenuto, a sophomore English major.
“I had people fight to out me in my small town while in high school and the fear of being disowned haunted me until I graduated,” said the Gilbert native.
Even in today’s society, with the Pride laws and support of the LGBTQ community, people are still homophobic and refuse to “allow” people who are different from them to live their lives. According to Caratenuto, this is a lot in part because of the church.
“Most people are brought up in church where it says one man and one woman, but if a man and a man want to get married or two women, then it’s ‘unacceptable’ because it goes against what they have been told all of these years,” he said. “Christians don’t want ‘the gay to spread’ like it’s a disease when it isn’t. We were born this way.”
Childhood can be a difficult time for students whether or not they are part of the LGBTQ community. Cyberbullying is something that affects many youth and studies show that youth going through diverse circumstances are even more affected. In 2014, Dr. Brenda K. Wiederhold wrote an article called Cyberbullying and LGBTQ Youth: A Deadly Combination. Dr. Wiederhold wrote this piece to shine light on an issue in the LGBTQ youth community that people might not know about and to give more information for those who need it.
According to Dr. Wiederhold LGBTQ youth are the group that are most affected by cyberbullying. Dr. Wiederhold also wrote that cyberbullying results in extremely serious consequences on a victim’s mental health. Tyler Clementi was the example that Dr. Wiederhold used to prove this point.
Tyler Clementi was an 18-year-old gay student who committed suicide by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge because his roommate and hall mate posted a video of he and another man kissing.
Dr. Wiederhold also provided some statistics to help show the effects that cyberbullying has on the mental health and stability of members of the LGBTQ community. One such study showed that 54 percent of a study of 444 students were victims of cyberbullying and that 350 of those students were not heterosexual. Clarken had her own experience with mental health issues after she came out and believes that her sexuality did have an effect on that.
“I believe that the added stress of being LGBTQ+ and all that comes with this does affect a person’s mental health. There was a period of time where my anxiety levels and moments of sadness lasted longer and were directly influenced by my sexuality,” Clarken said.
There have been other statistics as well that show that LGBTQ youth in the foster system are more likely to be abused and would rather live on the streets than in a foster home. Their situations in their foster homes are so bad that they would rather be homeless. Clarken has friends who have considered being homeless because their home lives are so awful and this makes her furious.
“It makes me feel sick to think about the fact that sexuality is such a negative thing to some…I have many friends who have been treated extremely negatively by their family. It’s not safe for some to stay where they are because of who they are and that also makes them more susceptible to abuse,” she said.
Abuse and bullying are just some of the things that LGBTQ youth have to go through or are susceptible to go through during various times in their lives. Due to her sexuality, Clarken believes that her life has been made harder; however, she has a very positive outlook on her ability to be true to herself.
“From how it made me feel and how I perceived myself for a long time. It still creates barriers at times when thinking about job opportunities, my ability to live anywhere, and other things. However, I am a more caring, more accepting, more open, and more confident person. I think much of that can be attributed to my sexuality,” Clarken said.
Society has made a lot of progress over the years in accepting and welcoming members of the LGBTQ community, but there are still strides that need to be made.
“I think often times there is a sense of false acceptance,” Clarken said. “I would like to see a day where people are not merely tolerated, but fully accepted in society.”
Clarken and Caratenuto offer advice for LGBTQ youth who are struggling with their sexuality and accepting who they truly are or who feel lost.
“Don’t be afraid to be who you are and never let someone repress you,” Caratenuto said. “The worst thing to do is listen to peers and society degrade you as a person because of who you like and love.”
Clarken offers similar advice.
“You are not wrong, or alone, or unwanted. Please reach out to someone because this is not something that has to but exclusively internal,” she said. “Try and accept yourself, as you would others.”
If someone is struggling to accept themselves, the Trevor Project is an available resource for them to use. Talk to friends and family as well but sometimes, people need an outsider’s view and that’s what the Trevor Project will do. According to the homepage of their website, they “provide crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth”. They offer a variety of services and involvement opportunities for people to be a part of. The Trevor Project has a support center so if you are someone you know is struggling, reach out and get help.
Growing up, Clarken faced hardships and sometimes suffered just like many teens and young adults do. However she looks back now and has matured and accepts the hardships that life gave her. She leaves a message for her younger self.
“Let yourself feel what you feel and allow it to help you grow, not define you,” Clarken said.