Today, I am going to talk about the condescension in the words “it’s just a phase.” This particular phrase is one of the many that I take exception to, as it is quite often used in reference to my own dedication to social equality and ongoing battle against fundamentalist Christian doctrine. The real problem with the phrase, however, goes far beyond its use in regard to me and my work. The real problem is that “it’s just a phase” is too often used in regard to the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ teens. These young people who are subject to extreme social stigmas, increased risks of violent attack, and often die young as a result of murder or suicide, are further marginalized by their parents and loved ones, who callously avoid any attempt of understanding by dismissing their very personhood as “just a phase.” I’m going to talk about the use of this phrase in my own life, and then I’ll discuss the use of it in regard to LGBTQ people. We must all understand why the use of “it’s just a phase” is one of the most hateful things any parent or family member can say about a relative who is LGBTQ.
From our earliest stages we grow and develop, and it is through that development that we learn the consequences of our experiences and actions. Learning about consequences, of course, requires one to engage in the behaviours that spark the consequences in the first place, and so we go through behavioural and emotional phases. I have gone through these phases myself, of course. As a child, I wanted to be a cowboy, then a police officer, and then a firefighter. I decided later that maybe I would be a banker, or perhaps a famous rock star. I spent my teenage years angry at the world, suffering from the delusion that I was always the smartest person in the room and nobody understood me. As a sailor, I indulged in many things that need not be spoken of, and as a university student, I gained new and wonderful perspectives on humanity and the natural world. These were phases, times in my life in which I experienced things that led me to my own unique understanding of the world around me. All that I am now was shaped and influenced by those phases. Through them, I have defined my sense of self, my values, my convictions, and my entire identity. I now know who I am and what I stand for, and although my future experiences will continue to re-shape my world, my sense of self and purpose is no longer in flux. The thing about maturity is that it comes after those phases, and is necessarily the point at which you know very confidently who you are. Now, I have been accused quite often and quite recently of “just going through a phase.” There are many people who naively think that my departure from the church and dedication to LGBTQ rights is some sort of rebellious period, and that I’ll eventually get over it. Those same people are also quick to dismiss my level of education on the subjects of religion and culture. “It’s just a phase.” At 33 years old, I find this type of condescension terribly insulting. I can, however, handle it. After all, it doesn’t really matter if people think that my worldview is a phase. I may be insulted, but nobody is attacking my personhood. What I believe, what I hold dear, and what I value are all the result of what I have learned. When I am accused of going through a phase, I am not being devalued as a human being. “It’s just a phase.” While this phrase doesn’t devalue my humanity, it is very different for the LGBTQ teen who is accused of the same thing in regard to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
I have lost count of how many times I have read, heard, and watched as somebody has accused an LGBTQ teen of “just going through a phase.” There are countless status updates on social media written by young people who are lost, confused, and terrified because their families dismiss them with this offensive rhetoric. Our teen years are difficult as it is, and this kind of dismissive attitude only makes things unnecessarily worse. It takes courage for an LGBTQ teen to come out to family. After all, there is still a lot misinformation out there. A lot of people don’t understand just what sexual orientation and gender identity are. They don’t understand that being homosexual is just as natural as being heterosexual, and they certainly don’t understand the complexities of what it means to be Trans. This can cause a lot of friction in families, and it is up to those families to alleviate that friction by educating themselves. It’s not necessarily their fault that they are ignorant on the subject, but it is their responsibility to leave ignorance behind and learn as much as they can. Dismissing your child, when they have just summoned all of their courage to tell you something deeply personal and important, is one of the worst things you can do. Parents and family members who act this way quite frankly make me sick to my stomach. With all of the information available to us, dismissing the heartfelt reveal of a young person coming out as “just a phase,” is unacceptable and disgusting.
To be quite honest, my patience is wearing thin on this one. Ignorance will always be a part of our world, but is it not important that we understand each other? I don’t expect anybody to research these issues and make it their life’s work like I do, but I do expect them to read something. Does anybody go through their entire week without hearing LGBTQ issues in the news anymore? Wouldn’t it make sense to determine that it’s obviously an important issue that maybe we should all know a little bit about? The reason that so many people are closed off and bigoted is that they think they already have the answers. They are, in effect, plugging their ears and continuing to believe the fear-based misinformation that religious charlatans have been feeding them for decades. The existence of ideas like “homosexuality is curable,” “an immoral behaviour,” or “just a phase,” proves this point, as does the complete lack of knowledge out there about gender identity.
Ultimately, whether we want to admit it or not, these outdated and willfully ignorant attitudes are contributing to suicide and murder rates. They are contributing to pain and suffering. Shame on us for allowing this to go on for so long. With every young life lost due to ignorance, we gain more collective accountability for not having done enough to keep it from happening. “It’s just a phase.” Let’s work to put this repugnant idea in our past where it belongs.