Sunday, April 01, 2007

Tale of Two Zachs

Today's New York Times features the story of a gay teen, Zach O'Connor who lives in Connecticut. I first heard his story two years ago at the True Colors Conference when he co-led a workshop with his therapist. I saw him at the conference last week, and he is doing really well.

The article brings out how wonderful his parents responded to him when, at age 13, they suspected he might be gay. Initially Zach freaked out about the possibility,
“They asked me, ‘Do you know what being gay is?’ ” he recalls. “They tried to explain there’s nothing wrong with it. I put my hands over my ears. I yelled: ‘I don’t want to hear it! I’m not, I’m not gay!’ ”
But his parents observed that their son was not happy.
Cindy and Dan O’Connor were very worried about Zach. Though bright, he was doing poorly at school. At home, he would pick fights, slam doors, explode for no reason. They wondered how their two children could be so different; Matt, a year and a half younger, was easygoing and happy. Zach was miserable.

The O’Connors had hunches. Mr. O’Connor is a director of business development for American Express, Ms. O’Connor a senior vice president of a bank, and they have had gay colleagues, gay bosses, classmates who came out after college. From the time Zach was little, they knew he was not a run-of-the-mill boy. His friends were girls or timid boys.
He began to open up and, Zach's parents found him an affirming therapist, took him to the True Colors Conference, then allowed him to blossom and accept himself.

You can hear an audio version of Zach O'Connor telling his own story.

Many of you know of another Zach--Zach Stark. Nearly two years ago, when he was 16, Zach Stark's parents also felt concerned for their son when they discovered he might be gay. They responded by placing their son into the Love in Action/Refuge (LIA/R) ex-gay day camp. Many of us remember the shocking story and Zach's cry for help:
On May 29, the teen blogged that his parents sat him down and told him he was going to a “fundamentalist Christian program for gays.”

“They tell me that there is something psychologically wrong with me, and they ‘raised me wrong.’ I’m a big screw up to them, who isn’t on the path God wants me to be on. So I’m sitting here in tears, [joining] the rest of those kids who complain about their parents on blogs — and I can’t help it,” Zach wrote.

“I’ve been through hell. I’ve been emotionally torn apart for three days... I can’t remember which days they were … time’s not what it used to be,” the teen wrote in his last blog entry, posted June 3.
Zach Stark did his time and has been pretty silent since. He turns 18 tomorrow. I don't know for sure how things are with his parents today, and I can't pretend to know how difficult it is to raise a teenager. Parents make mistakes and often do the best they know how to do. All the same, I wish the Starks had met the O'Connors before they put their son through hell.

hat tip to Jack Drescher
photo credit: C. M. Glover for The New York Times

(Okay, Zach turning 18 is big news, but it is not the BIG news. That will come tomorrow. And I know I said midnight tonight, but it will have to wait until tomorrow morning, hopefully by noon :-)

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At 7:55 PM , Blogger Diana_CT said...

What a difference love makes.

At 7:52 AM , Blogger Contemplative Activist said...

What a great story :)

Eighth grader in a militant phase made me giggle tho! ;)

I hope Zach O’Connor's experience becomes the norm for gay teenagers.


At 12:22 PM , Blogger Bruce Garrett said...

Zach O'Connor's story hit me too, in comparison with another teen's experience. But the teen was me. This part of his story really hit me:

Though bright, he was doing poorly at school. At home, he would pick fights, slam doors, explode for no reason. They wondered how their two children could be so different; Matt, a year and a half younger, was easygoing and happy. Zach was miserable.

I wasn't really self aware until I was about 17 going on 18. After I got out of high school my mom and many of my friends just couldn't figure out why I was so angry all the time. But especially mom. When she passed away several years ago I inherited her diaries and reading the ones she kept during that period of my life was painful. She would get so distraught sometimes about how angry I was. I never knew she was that upset with it.

But she absolutely positively didn't want me to come out to her. Every time I even go near the subject she would get cold and angry herself and throw up a wall. So I just accepted the fact that we could never talk about it, and I always had to keep that part of me inside when I was in the house.

If only I'd had a chance to open up to her about what was going on in my life, if only I'd had her to talk to then, I might have been a lot less angry, a lot less miserable. My temper was always flaring. I would storm into my room and sulk for hours. I knew I was having "anger management" issues back then, but in retrospect I never thought I was as bad as I was, until I read her diaries. She was a lot more upset then she let on back then. But even in her diaries, she never spoke about what she knew my sexual orientation to be (her friends would tell me things she told them). She knew, she just didn't want me to say it. The really sad thing about it all is that she'd have had a much easier son to live with back then, if I could have been open with her about it.

After she retired and moved south I was able to strike out finally on my own and get some of it all worked out. Mom and I would talk weekly on the phone, sometimes for hours. But we never talked about that part of my life right up to the day she died. My visits with her were seldom and short.

So I know a little about what that poor kid was going through. It's so good he was able to get it out, and that his parents are so supportive. And...look at what it did for him. There's a lesson there for all parents. A big one.

At 11:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of us do try, and it's good to know we get it right. My daughter was outed at 13. We've been supportive. Even my husband joined PFLAG, which for a fundamentalist is huge.

At 12:54 PM , Blogger Bruce Garrett said...

Oh that's just wonderful Angelia. I put mom on the P-FLAG newsletter mailing list, hoping she'd at least read them, and she made it a point when I went down to visit her later, to toss one of the newsletters she'd received in the trash in front of me.

At 1:34 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bruce, you've met my husband during the LIA/R protests. The tall blond bearded man with the tall blonde daughter.

Our Bun was scared to come out to us, even knowing that I'm bi. We're just glad she did so we could offer her the support.

At 7:51 PM , Blogger mike said...

It was great to hear about Zach O'Connor's story. His parents are obviously very intuitive and loving people. They and Zach are all better people for the way in which they handled their son's emerging sexuality.

In contrast, it's a shame to have heard about Zach Stark's experience. That's how I found this blog post. In contrast, Zach Stark was treated by his parents as a damaged and sent him off to the Christian brain wash.

It's a nice sentiment to think, as you say in your post, that the Starks could have learned something from the O'Connors before sending their kid off to let Christians warp his brain. However I doubt they are the type of people for whom that would have done any good. Zach Stark is 18 now. I hope now that he's an adult he'll be able to accept his sexuality with an openness he wasn't allowed when he was younger. Judging by what I've read about his story though, the indoctrination imposed on him seemed to have taken hold. I'm guessing he's probably got himself convinced that his gay feelings were evil and destructive. It's sad really, quite sad.

On the bright side, good for the O'Connors! I wish them all the best!

At 9:46 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally know zach stark, and the way his parents treat him is horrible.


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