30 September 2010

Driven to Kill (Themselves)

I used to think that summer was the most dangerous time to be L, G, B, T or some combination or version thereof--or simply to be so perceived.  After all, the dense, sultry air is like alcohol:  Both are catalysts that stir up volatile, and often dangerous, reactions between hormones and hostility.  And, the most terrible and unspeakable of acts can pass, if they are at all noticed, like the most surreal, if lurid, dreams in the viscous, almost liquid heat that fills summer nights.

However as I continue in this strange journey of mine-- which led me to begin a new life as I entered middle age--I've come to realize that for LGBT teenagers and young adults, the first few weeks of the school year may actually be more dangerous than the summer vacation period that precedes it.

Much of what I've seen and heard, in regards to violence against LGBT people, has taken place on or near school grounds, and was perpetrated by students (or their friends or family members) against fellow students or peers.  And then there are those who've taken their own lives because the ostracism, harassment and violence they incur simply for being who they are--or because someone perceived them to be so.

In the latter category is Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who, it is believed,  threw himself  off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly videotaped him having sex with another young man and broadcast that tape over the Internet.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised that even at this late date, some are calling Mr. Clementi a coward for ending his life.  Some of the people who are so judging him are not acting out of any of religious or moral objection; rather, they think he should have faced his dilemma "like a man" and that he should've "grown up" and "gotten over it."  

What they don't realize is the struggle of  so many young queer people (like Clementi) who are living, for the first time, in a wider world where the possibilities for love--but also the prospects of violent death-- are  expanded and deepened, leaves them in a vulnerable state.   It's not uncommon for straight or simply "normal" kids to fall into confusion or, worse, depression and despair, when suddenly  faced with the prospects of having to make decisions that will affect the course of their lives while knowing, deep down, that their inner resources have not developed in tandem.  Young men are particularly vulnerable at that time of their lives, for that is also when they are expected to become men, or at least to be well on their way to that goal.  Yet too many are not (if through no fault of their own) emotionally mature enough to handle what may be their first, or at least most visible, failings in their young lives.  Many "act out" through binge drinking and other kinds of compulsive acts; unfortunately, some enact their frustration and rage in more violent ways.

Ironically, that same insecurity and fear underlies the trepidation of a young gay person, particularly if he is a mild-mannered and sensitive male, who is faced with, for the first time, some freedom to love whom he loves but not the support he'll need for the wrath he may incur as a result of it.  And their surging hormones fill them with a sense of urgency about finding the love, or at least the sense of freedom, they may not have known before.  Some are having their first same-sex relationships, or at least the first ones they're not hiding.  That, at the same time some of their more testosterone-besotted peers are knowing their first failures and rejections, whether in the arenae of school or love.  Some need someone to blame, or at least to lash out against, for their loss of  or in those things about which they felt most confident in themselves.  Nothing is more of a recipe for anger and resentment than to see the ascent of someone who was thought to be an inferior; all you have to do is look at the so-called Tea Party movement to understand that.

If Tyler Clementi--who hasn't been seen since the videotape was posted, and whose car was found near the bridge--did indeed kill himself, then Dharun Ravi is as responsible for his death as the ones who bullied Seth Walsh and Billy Lucas (who was merely perceived as gay) are for the fact that those two teenage boys hung themselves.  Of course, Dharun Ravi is not wholly to blame, any more than the tormentors of Seth Walsh and Billy Lucas are:  All of them undoubtedly experienced difficulties from many other people and institutions.  However, it's difficult not to think that the bullying of Walsh and Lucas, and the violation of Clementi's privacy and personhood, could have "pushed them over the edge."

Now, I am not an expert in bullying, teenage suicide or any related field.  So if you are willing to accept what I've said, you should, as the recipes tell us, add salt to taste.  However, I have been, in my own ways and circumstances, been in the shoes of the tormentors of those young gay men as well as, in some way, those of the young gay men, and any young man or woman who realizes he or she is not going to fit into his or her family's, society's or religion's ideas about love, sexuality and gender.    So, if nothing else, I know that it's not enough to simply condemn the perpetrators or pity the victims.  Nothing will change until more people understand that the perpetrators are not simply mechanisms of evil or bad karma:  They simply are reacting in ways that make sense, even if they're not to be condoned, for people who feel that the way of life they've come to expect is threatened, and who have simply nothing and no one else to blame but the nearest peer who is coming into his or her own.