Last fall, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Trevor Project, which was founded in 1998 to provide crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth under 25, Hudson Valley-based nonprofit TMI Project organized a storytelling initiative called Life Lines: Queer Stories of Survival. In line with TMI Project's mission of turning up the volume on marginalized people's stories, the Life Lines series was designed to raise awareness about the struggles, dangers, and triumphs of the LGBTQ community.
What follows is the monologue developed by workshop participant and performer Sam Briton, who focused on their childhood experience with conversion therapy. The stories from Life Lines were performed live on November 5, 2018, at the Pershing Square Signature Center in New York City. Select storytellers from LifeLines will perform at the Voices in Action benefit on September 21.
A warning: This story includes references to suicidal thoughts. If you are thinking about suicide or are feeling alone and need someone to talk to, please call the Trevor Lifeline at (866) 488-7386 for immediate help. It's free, confidential, and available 24/7.
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe To bear with unbearable sorrow To run where the brave dare not go
An impossible dream. An impossible change. That's what conversion therapy feels like on the best of days.
At 11 years old, my therapist whispers to me, "You are the last gay child left alive. Your body will wither and die of AIDS. You are an abomination."
On the worst days, conversion therapy feels like a knife cutting deeper and deeper into my very essence with the hopes of cutting out that sense of myself which I hold so dear but now so desperately want gone.
And so, on a Thursday in Sanford, Florida, when I should be out playing in the sunshine, I decide I will die. I don't want it to hurt (I'm a mess when I stub my toe). And I don't want it to be messy (I am famously known in my family for crying every time my hands get dirty). I just want this horrid life to end.
I've heard if you take a lot of pills you will never wake up again. So, I look at the bottle of Advil. Two pills is the recommended dose. So, I carefully count out three pills. Yes, three.
I lie down on my 101 Dalmatians sheets. I arrange my plethora of teddy bears around me. I cross my arms like the Snow White that I dream to be.
And I begin to pray for forgiveness. "Oh, God, why did you make me like this. Why would you create this love inside of me if that love is a sin? Why would you put me on this Earth with such evil in my soul?" I close my eyes. I sing myself a lullaby. I fall asleep. I wake up, without a headache.
I sometimes imagine my guardian angel looked on as I counted out these pills. "Oh, goodness this one isn't the brightest bulb. And thank Heavenly Father for that."
In the morning, my mother doesn't know why I'm found looking like Snow White and the Seven Teddy Bears and I promise myself that I will try harder to change. I know God wants me on this planet and I will do all I can to make Him proud.
But try as I might, the change never comes. And so, my conversion therapist moves on to bigger, better, more brutal ways of changing me. First, my hands are tied town and placed in ice while pictures of men holding hands dance across the screen. As the cold intensified, so does my repulsion for ever wanting to hold a boy's hand.
After weeks of ice, we move to heating coils. They're wrapped around my hands, and as images of men holding hands again slide in front of my eyes, the heat grows hotter. But, mercifully, the heat dissipates if an image of a woman holding a man's hand replaces the previous image.
"Don't touch a boy, Sam. It will hurt. But see, girl's touch won't hurt you."
The months of hell are soon to follow. I begin to cry as electrodes are connected to my fingertips. I scream in pain as the first gay porn I've ever seen is etched into my brain while electricity shoots through my body.
"Mommy, mommy, please please make this stop."
She doesn't make it stop. I look into the eyes of a mother who loves me so much she takes me to the conversion therapist every week. She has to know it's wrong. But she's been told this is the only way to save her son. The irony that this is killing him must be cutting her like a knife.
I have just finished my last conversion therapy session. The sun is starting to set. A Florida lake sparkles before me as my legs dangle off the edge of the roof of our missionary commune. I hope that three stories of height will be enough to make the pain end. I try to calculate the impact velocity speed. I'm such a nerd.
I hear my mother walk up behind me. I don't move. I can't move. I turn and whisper, "Mommy I tried, I really tried." She cries.
"I know you did honey," she answers. "I promise I will love you again if you just change."
"I will, mommy. I will."
My heart breaks.
Oh, beautiful little Sam, I, the grown-up you, now your fairy godmother, am here to tell you that you tried more than you ever should have. There is nothing to change. You are a perfect, beautiful, little 12-year-old boy. I wish I could have been with you on the rooftop but I'm here now, to thank you for finally lying to your mother. You saved yourself from years and years of more trauma. That lie saved your life. You are going to grow up to do great things. A call to The trevor Project will save your life. You will go on to answer calls, calls from people just like you, and your voice and experience will help them too. You will speak on the floor of Congress in stiletto heels. President Obama will cry when he hears what a therapist did to you. States from coast to coast will pass laws making sure no child goes through what you went through.
You didn't take too many pills. You didn't jump. You survived, and you will live to meet Kevin. On a special day you will realize your hands are intertwined and it won't hurt. It will feel beautiful and you will ask him to marry you, and he will say yes. Live life, little Sam, and know, YOU ARE LOVED.
And the world will be better for this
That one life, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with their last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star