Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bullying and the rash of Recent Suicides

Honestly, I know a lot of you are expecting me to comment on this. Hell, as of today you don't even need to Google 'gay' in the news feed to see the headlines about several recent attempts and successes of gay teens committing suicide. Fortunately - or maybe unfortunately - I have had the...luck...we'll call it, to not have been sitting in front of a television or listening to the news when these stories were reported.

What's sad when it comes to my reaction to these stories is that I didn't really react. Nothing about the 13-year-old boy who killed himself or the 18-year-old young adult whose story just broke today or the two that happened just weeks prior...nothing about these is new.

And it sucks that I have to say that.

It sucks that bullying is such a problem and that so many people kill themselves, think about killing themselves, think about blowing up a school, think about fading into nothingness...because of other people. And it sounds so juvenile when you talk about it as a "well-rounded adult." It sounds almost patronizing to call it bullying and write it off as schoolyard taunting, when it is so much more than that.

I've talked pretty openly about my suicidal ideations when I was a teenager. And, it's funny. When you're the person who wanted to kill themselves - but didn't - you talk about it as though I wanted to, but didn't have to balls to do it. Then, when I got older, I learned better. If you've never thought about jumping off a bridge or hanging yourself in your backyard (as these teens did), then you think of not killing yourself as brave. As sane. But, when you're that kid who has nobody - not even family...not even God - and you firmly believe that everything about you is a bastardization of normalcy, then you don't think it's brave. You think of it as doing the world a favor. 

You think of it as better.

What's even more fucked up is that the mainstream conversation is how normalized, desensitized we're all supposedly becoming to gays, lesbians, and transexuals. Recent reports from GLAAD tell how, for the third year in a row, more gay characters are appearing in more of the highest rated shows on television. Hollywood is portraying gay folks as actual human beings and not just as hilarious little eunuchs dancing for our enjoyment.

But what does that mean? What the hell does any of this mean when suicide - SUICIDE - is the third leading cause of death for teens. And, furthermore, studies show that GLBT teens are 2-4 times more likely to commit suicide. If those teens are - or believe they will be - rejected by their family, that number shoots up to 8-9 times more likely to commit suicide.

So Hollywood is fine with piping in gay folks to a tv near you. This generation is preached about as the most tolerant of any past generation, what with integration being something in a history book and religion and sexual orientation being so open and fluid these days. And still....still gay teen suicide is on the rise.

See, this is why I said fortunately I didn't see the news stories when they were originally reported. I've gotten them on internet news feeds, which I think is better for me. I can be numb to a screen. I can not have my high school days bubble up in memory from text on a screen. But...seeing these faces. Hearing their names and circumstances. That's when it makes it hard to not turn into a puddle of concern and tears and pleas to the divine for intercession. 

We are killing our youth with our intolerance.

And I'd really, really like to know when it's going to stop. I'd like you to please take a moment and look into the faces of these two individuals. These two souls who have passed on, who fell victim to an age, a country, an intolerant society. Bless them. And then swear to yourself that you'll be better. I'm not asking you to call a Senator or Representative this time. I'm not swinging pitchfork and torch and raising the masses for a Riot. I'm asking you to be better. Show tolerance next time.

Next time that Jew or that black guy or that Sikh or that Muslim or that Christian or that Pagan or that Chinese woman or that person...whoever they are...next time that human does something you don't like. Next time they are rude or a little too in your face. I'm asking you not to attribute it to anything about their respective community/ies. I'm asking you to be better. It starts with you. Just forgive it. Forgive it. You don't need that intolerance sitting in your belly, rotting away, anyways. Be better.

Remember:

This is Seth Walsh. He was 13 when he hung himself in his backyard, because he couldn't take the bullying of his classmates anymore due to him being gay.
This is Tyler Clementi. He was 18 when he threw himself off a bridge, because his roommate posted a live feed of him having gay sex on the internet for the world to see.
Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

6 comments:

  1. It is truly sad, and frustrating to watch as people claim tolerance or acceptance, and keep being as hateful as they always have been. How many of us didn't take that step, but many other have. I thought the world was changing, but it's only a façade of reality. This must end. We must change.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Firelyte,

    I've been trying to wrangle the many and diverse thoughts running around my brain into something approaching coherence. I'm not sure I'm there. So I'm just going to offer bullet points and let people make connections where they will.

    First of all to preface my comments some personal information to put them in context. I am a 36 year old heterosexual male. However in high school I went through an intense period of trying to make sense of myself. In hindsight not because I really had an questions as to my sexual orientation, but rather because my general interest in sexual matters and the degree of interest I displayed in such matters, was not as strong as high school guy culture judged it should be. This was sufficient to earn various epithets hurled at me. I frankly don't cotton to the current "this 'word'" "that 'word'" climate of pseudo respect, but knowing that some people are in a place that even to read or hear a word in the context of a mature discussion can truly be more than they are able to handle I will refrain from specifics, but let's face it they aren't necessary any way. I think we all know the ugliness that people can get up, or rather down to.

    Now having said that I have some thoughts, which might seem unrelated but I don't think are.

    First of all, the fundamental bedrock problems have to do with 1: Sexual Puritanism that was dealt a serious but not fatal blow in the sixties and then was re-awakened in the eighties, and that we have not been able to kill yet. Basically in the wake of AIDS the message was pointed back to, that sex was a dirty but necessary business. To have sex to have children was okay, but sex for pleasure was not. And since homosexual sex can never be for procreation it is therefore always bad, dirty, sinful, wrong, and evil. During the eighties and the early nineties, the essential message was a repeat of the message from times past, that homosexuals were the evil other. They were anti-monogamy, had no kind of sexual taboos or boundaries etc.

    Then some people in the entertainment industry (some but by no means all of them probably homosexual themselves) trotted out an old idea from the early twentieth century and dusted it off. Namely divorcing homosexual persons, from homosexual acts. This has been done in the past (obviously the details vary) for people of color, and women. There is something so terrifying about sexual desire, that people seem to find the "other" easier to deal with if they are able to view that other as essentially sexless.

    For a time this worked, to an extent. Homosexual became a character type, and some became less concerned.

    But nothing like this can last forever. Eventually the facts are going to rear their ugly heads. Homosexual people engage in homosexual sex. As you yourself pointed out in your earlier article about True Blood's current season and the homophobia that has reared it's head in the fan community around it turning out that Lafayette's dick works as well as any other non homosexual characters genitalia on the series.

    Meanwhile in the real world, homosexuals have become fairly vocal in refuting the old lies about their inability to have the same kind of relationships as heterosexual people by demanding their right to be married under the law.

    And the opponents of such idea change the specifics of their attacks, but the message never changes. Homosexuals are the "other", they are not like us, and therefore they are not quite as real, as human as worthy of consideration as heterosexuals.

    This is some pretty heavy shit to lay on any young person, when trying to figure yourself, and your... everything frankly... out is such a challenge.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey Firelyte,

    I've been trying to wrangle the many and diverse thoughts running around my brain into something approaching coherence. I'm not sure I'm there. So I'm just going to offer bullet points and let people make connections where they will.

    First of all to preface my comments some personal information to put them in context. I am a 36 year old heterosexual male. However in high school I went through an intense period of trying to make sense of myself. In hindsight not because I really had an questions as to my sexual orientation, but rather because my general interest in sexual matters and the degree of interest I displayed in such matters, was not as strong as high school guy culture judged it should be. This was sufficient to earn various epithets hurled at me. I frankly don't cotton to the current "this 'word'" "that 'word'" climate of pseudo respect, but knowing that some people are in a place that even to read or hear a word in the context of a mature discussion can truly be more than they are able to handle I will refrain from specifics, but let's face it they aren't necessary any way. I think we all know the ugliness that people can get up, or rather down to.

    Now having said that I have some thoughts, which might seem unrelated but I don't think are.

    First of all, the fundamental bedrock problems have to do with 1: Sexual Puritanism that was dealt a serious but not fatal blow in the sixties and then was re-awakened in the eighties, and that we have not been able to kill yet. Basically in the wake of AIDS the message was pointed back to, that sex was a dirty but necessary business. To have sex to have children was okay, but sex for pleasure was not. And since homosexual sex can never be for procreation it is therefore always bad, dirty, sinful, wrong, and evil. During the eighties and the early nineties, the essential message was a repeat of the message from times past, that homosexuals were the evil other. They were anti-monogamy, had no kind of sexual taboos or boundaries etc.

    Then some people in the entertainment industry (some but by no means all of them probably homosexual themselves) trotted out an old idea from the early twentieth century and dusted it off. Namely divorcing homosexual persons, from homosexual acts. This has been done in the past (obviously the details vary) for people of color, and women. There is something so terrifying about sexual desire, that people seem to find the "other" easier to deal with if they are able to view that other as essentially sexless.

    For a time this worked, to an extent. Homosexual became a character type, and some became less concerned.

    But nothing like this can last forever. Eventually the facts are going to rear their ugly heads. Homosexual people engage in homosexual sex. As you yourself pointed out in your earlier article about True Blood's current season and the homophobia that has reared it's head in the fan community around it turning out that Lafayette's dick works as well as any other non homosexual characters genitalia on the series.

    Meanwhile in the real world, homosexuals have become fairly vocal in refuting the old lies about their inability to have the same kind of relationships as heterosexual people by demanding their right to be married under the law.

    And the opponents of such idea change the specifics of their attacks, but the message never changes. Homosexuals are the "other", they are not like us, and therefore they are not quite as real, as human as worthy of consideration as heterosexuals.

    This is some pretty heavy shit to lay on any young person, when trying to figure yourself, and your... everything frankly... out is such a challenge.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey Firelyte,

    I've been trying to wrangle the many and diverse thoughts running around my brain into something approaching coherence. I'm not sure I'm there. So I'm just going to offer bullet points and let people make connections where they will.

    First of all to preface my comments some personal information to put them in context. I am a 36 year old heterosexual male. However in high school I went through an intense period of trying to make sense of myself. In hindsight not because I really had an questions as to my sexual orientation, but rather because my general interest in sexual matters and the degree of interest I displayed in such matters, was not as strong as high school guy culture judged it should be. This was sufficient to earn various epithets hurled at me. I frankly don't cotton to the current "this 'word'" "that 'word'" climate of pseudo respect, but knowing that some people are in a place that even to read or hear a word in the context of a mature discussion can truly be more than they are able to handle I will refrain from specifics, but let's face it they aren't necessary any way. I think we all know the ugliness that people can get up, or rather down to.

    Now having said that I have some thoughts, which might seem unrelated but I don't think are.

    First of all, the fundamental bedrock problems have to do with 1: Sexual Puritanism that was dealt a serious but not fatal blow in the sixties and then was re-awakened in the eighties, and that we have not been able to kill yet. Basically in the wake of AIDS the message was pointed back to, that sex was a dirty but necessary business. To have sex to have children was okay, but sex for pleasure was not. And since homosexual sex can never be for procreation it is therefore always bad, dirty, sinful, wrong, and evil. During the eighties and the early nineties, the essential message was a repeat of the message from times past, that homosexuals were the evil other. They were anti-monogamy, had no kind of sexual taboos or boundaries etc.

    Then some people in the entertainment industry (some but by no means all of them probably homosexual themselves) trotted out an old idea from the early twentieth century and dusted it off. Namely divorcing homosexual persons, from homosexual acts. This has been done in the past (obviously the details vary) for people of color, and women. There is something so terrifying about sexual desire, that people seem to find the "other" easier to deal with if they are able to view that other as essentially sexless.

    For a time this worked, to an extent. Homosexual became a character type, and some became less concerned.

    But nothing like this can last forever. Eventually the facts are going to rear their ugly heads. Homosexual people engage in homosexual sex. As you yourself pointed out in your earlier article about True Blood's current season and the homophobia that has reared it's head in the fan community around it turning out that Lafayette's dick works as well as any other non homosexual characters genitalia on the series.

    Meanwhile in the real world, homosexuals have become fairly vocal in refuting the old lies about their inability to have the same kind of relationships as heterosexual people by demanding their right to be married under the law.

    And the opponents of such idea change the specifics of their attacks, but the message never changes. Homosexuals are the "other", they are not like us, and therefore they are not quite as real, as human as worthy of consideration as heterosexuals.

    This is some pretty heavy shit to lay on any young person, when trying to figure yourself, and your... everything frankly... out is such a challenge.

    ReplyDelete
  5. As a gay teen I know what its like to be in this position. Luckily, I've been strong enough to survive it and hopefully help those I can around me. Im the Gay Straight Alliance President at my school and work very hard to make this world a better place for the LGBTQ community. May we all learn from the deaths of Seth Walsh and Tyler Clementi :/

    ReplyDelete
  6. When you've been a suicidal teen, the worst possible question you can hear is "Why would someone want to do that to themselves?"

    When you're a teenager, what others think of you is more important than anything else. As a Catholic (at the time), I was torn between what my friends wanted, what my parents wanted, and what the Church wanted, and knew I came up short on all counts. I was honestly convinced that I would be lonely and miserable for the rest of my life, and then go to Hell.

    When you're suicidal and trying to talk yourself out of it, everything you could use becomes both welcoming and terrifying; razor blades, a bottle of aspirin, a kitchen knife, highway overpasses. Everything done to you by other people magnifies your own desire to escape, to end the constant emotional pain the only way you know how.

    The only reason I didn't actually attempt suicide during my teen years is because I had a pitifully low pain tolerance, and much as I feared the constant perception of being rejected, I feared pain more. My emotional pain was still balanced by the actual physical pain of suicide. Not by the love my parents felt for me, although they did love me; not by how I would hurt those around me; not by hope that things would get better, because I had no hope at the time. I was kept alive by a thin thread of pain and fear, and it took YEARS for me to escape the suicidal mindset and want to live again.

    These children were driven to a point at which what was happening to them outweighed everything else in their lives, to a point at which death was not just a temptation to them, but their only chance of respite. This. Should. Not. Happen. We have no right to allow our children, our cousins, our students, our neighbors, our classmates, to suffer in this way.

    ReplyDelete