Like a lot of gay men I know, I’m not the kind of person who messes around when it comes to getting dressed in the morning. By the time I walk out the door, I’ve considered what I wore yesterday and the day before, and I often take into consideration what I want to wear tomorrow, so you can bet I didn’t just throw on a purple shirt today because some Facebook group told me I should, even if it was created by GLAAD (who I’m pretty sure has the power to revoke your membership to the whole gay community if you piss them off — just a rumor though).
I vividly remember the buildup to the first Spirit Day in 2010, created days after Tyler Clementi took his own life after being outed on the Internet by his college roommate. His death marked the fifth high-profile suicide of a gay teenager over a matter of weeks. Spirit Day was created to honor and remember those youths who were bullied to the point of believing that life was not worth living.
I’ll admit I was somewhat skeptical about wearing purple at first. I knew my purple shirt would not bring Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, or Justin Aaberg back to life, not to mention the thousands of other gay teens who died before them, and I thought the gesture seemed rather shallow.
“I fail to see how dispersed masses wearing a shirt of a certain color for one day could pull a depressed teenager in a Midwestern high school, accustomed to being thrown into lockers and called ‘faggot,’ away from the precipice of suicide,” Kevin Paul wrote in 2010 in The McGill Daily. His thoughts reflected mine at the time.
After much reflection, though, I realized something. The hardest part about being a gay kid in middle school is not simply being bullied for your “queer-like” behavior, because, let’s face it, children, teenagers, and many adults will always find ways to tease each other. If they don’t make fun of your perceived sexuality, they’ll happily harass you for bad skin, headgear, glasses, having an accent, being overweight, being too scrawny, being too short, being too tall … the list goes on! This is why I think the hardest part about juggling middle school and homosexuality at the same time isn’t just the bullying, but the inherent loneliness you experience when you feel like you’re the only rainbow clown in the school-yard circus. Jocks, nerds, gamers, stoners, goths — these kids are all identifiable; they find each other and group up. For a gay teen still hiding in the closet, you feel like you’re in there all by yourself. And I think anyone who has ever felt really, truly alone can tell you it’s not harassment that makes you want to die. It’s loneliness.
This is where my purple shirt has power, and I don’t mean magical powers to resurrect the dead or to wipe out bullying altogether; I mean symbolic power. Wearing purple on Spirit Day shows the world that not only are you a person who refuses to tolerate bullying, harassment, or hate crimes of any kind, but you are a person who supports and loves others, just as they are. You are safe to talk to, to come out to, to ask for advice or for help. Purple shows everyone you’re an ally; purple shows the kid in the Midwest that he or she is not, in fact, alone at all.
Though I have been “out and proud” for several years now and have family and friends who support me, plus a great boyfriend who reminds me every day why I decided to be gay in the first place (just kidding, GLAAD, I know it’s not a choice, that was another joke). Still, my own experience with being teased and feeling wildly lonely are not so far away that I’ve forgotten what it feels like. Maybe that’s why my mood is always so bolstered by Spirit Day too.
Seeing groups of teenagers sporting purple as they walk home from school or scrolling through my purple-laden Facebook and Twitter feed — it’s impossible not to smile in the face of all that compassion, love, and support for the LGBT community. And if my own spirits are being lifted and my hopes for the future are growing, I have to believe that others are experiencing the same thing. This day, this entire movement, highlights the fact that love really does triumph over hate, and that reason alone is enough to get me to wear purple on Spirit Day, from now on.
WES JANISEN is a writer and blogger living in San Francisco. Feel free to say hi to him on Twitter @wesjanisen