It's taken me a couple days to sit down and write this, but the recent upswing in gay teens suicides as a result of bullying has been so disturbing to me. While they all sadden me, the one that particularly makes me want to throw up is the suicide of Tyler Clementi, 18, the Rutgers student who was unknowingly videotaped by his roommate while having a same sex encounter that was live-streamed on the internet. This horrible act of violation and intended humiliation just disgusts me completely. I feel so angry that what they did put this young man into such a state of emotional distress that he felt his only escape was taking his own life. I cannot fathom the roommates reasoning. Gay sex is laughable? Is that the accepted notion here? That's what makes it okay to invade his privacy and expose him to ridicule? It's so incredibly hateful. It's insane.
I was teased a lot throughout junior high and high school under the assumption I was gay. I don't know that I'd say I was "bullied," because I was never physically assaulted or had my property vandalized. But there was a lot of name-calling and a lot of sneers and laughter on a regular basis in Junior High, and I lived in a constant state of fear that it would escalate to physical attacks. Throughout this time, I kept looking inward to try and figure out what was wrong with me that this particular group of guys would pick on me so much. Was I gay? If I was, did I somehow deserve what they were dishing out as a result of it? I felt like I must have been doing something to provoke this behavior and negative attitude from them. More than anything during this time, I just wanted them to leave me alone. I would pray every night just to get through the next day with nothing happening to me. I didn't want to tell my family about it. I felt too ashamed to admit my situation. I would never have considered taking my own life, because the emotional devastation that would bring to my family was just too obvious to me. But being emotionally terrorized is a horrible and isolating experience that seems endless. And now kids have to deal with facing that kind of torment on practically a world-wide level, with the way horrible things can be said and done to them over the internet? I don't know how a vulnerable kid who is trying to find himself or herself deals with the threat that kind of taunting and embarrassment. No wonder it seems too much for them to take.
Bullying is a problem for all kids who are considered outsiders and it's a common problem and I'm sure almost all of us have done it at some point in our adolescence. You find someone who has something different about them and you pick on it, so that other people don't pick on you. When it comes to queer youth, however, our society has so many institutionalized discriminatory policies against gay men and women. It's everything from gay men not being allowed to donate blood, to gay men and women not being allowed to serve openly in the military, to gay marriage not being recognized nationwide to gay adults not being able to adopt nationwide. Congress has even battled for years to exclude attacks against gay people as hate crimes. It reinforces the idea in these kids' heads that it's okay to treat gay people as if they are worth less than straight people and that their mistreatment is somehow justified. It is not. And if you are gay or straight or anything in between we should all actively work to reverse these discriminatory policies and let our children know that social inequality is not what our country should be about. Ellen gave a very moving speech to this effect on her show this past week.
While we work to achieve that goal, there's a great web movement on youtube called "It gets better" where gay adults are posting stories about their lives for young gay men and women who might not have anyone to talk to about what they are feeling. So many of the videos are really inspiring. It's important that anyone who is a victim of bullying for any reason realize that ending one's life is not the answer. There is so much to live for and to experience and to give up before you ever really get started is a horrible waste. Discovering who you are is a beautiful thing and you can find a community and a family that is going to love you for you and you will be able to thrive. It's worth going through the hard times and the truly bad moments to experience that. Since his death, Clementi has been described by those who knew him as a terrific musician, an excellent violinist, and a very promising, hardworking young person. It really would have gotten better for him. I wish he had known that.