09 October 2010

Beating and Killing Ourselves

Tis the season.

A couple of weeks ago, Tyler Clementi committed suicide.  Last week, in the Stonewall Inn, two young men shouted anti-gay slurs as they beat up a man.  And, this week, nine young men--who claimed to be part of a group they called "The Latin King Goonies"--beat up two gay men in the Bronx.

I used to think summer was the time when LGBT people had the greatest chance of meeting our end, or simply getting the shit beat out of us, by someone (or, more likely, a group of thugs) who hates us simply for being who we are.  But now, it seems, there are more--or simply more gruesome or pointless--attacks in the early fall.  I'm thinking now of Jack Price, who was beaten to within an inch of his life just a few miles from my apartment  at about this time last year. I also recall that last week, the third of October, was the date on which teenaged transgender Gwen Araujo was murdered in 2002 in Newark, California.  And, the other day--the seventh--marked a terrible anniversary:  that of the 1998 murder of Mathew Shepard in Wyoming.
AWhy is it that so many anti-gay or -trans attacks happen at this time of year?

I believe that it may have to do with a particular quality of the season itself.  On some level, I think that however much we may love the crisp air, the foliage and the sunsets that reflect them, we sense our own mortality, or at least vulnerabilities.  After all, those leaves turn all those beautiful colors because they're dying. Facing our own mortality causes us to realize that, perhaps, we weren't who we thought we were--or, worse, that we are something that we never wanted to believe we were.

Those Latin King wannabes in the Bronx found out that one of their recruits was gay. Gwen Araujo's was killed by someone who was attracted to her and, upon realizing that she was transgendered, said something like, "Shit! I can't be gay!" as he beat her.  Matthew Shepard's killer claimed that what is now known as the "gay panic" caused him to act as he did.

And what, pray tell, were those two young men doing in the Stonewall Inn? What kind of people did they expect to meet there?

Well, I think you know how I'd answer that question:  The same person Dante met in the middle of the journey of his life, or whom Marlow meets in "Heart of Darkness."  That is to say, the same person I met when I saw a middle-aged woman walking home from work in St. Jean de Maurienne.  

Yes, we all encountered ourselves.  And we were all, in David Crosby's immortal words, "scared shitless."  

I know I'm not the first to say this, but I'll say it anyway:  Crimes against LGBT people are particularly brutal because the perpetrators are flailing, beating, kicking, shooting, stabbing or hanging a reflections of themselves.  And they are attacking in the hope of extinguishing, in themselves, what they see--of themselves--in their victims.

A corollary of this applies to Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, who videotaped Tyler Clementi.  Why did they record him having sex with another man and post it for all the world to see?  Could one or both of them have been "coming out" in his or her own way?  Or, perhaps, were they simply doing what so many straight people do to LGBT people:  Assume that our lives begin and end with sex because they themselves can't think about anything else.

The reason I don't condemn them, or any of the other perpetrators, more than I do is that I understand the enormous, gnawing spiritual and emotional poverty of anyone who commits the kind of violence they committed.  In brief, if those people loved themselves, they never would have acted as they did.  That's the ironic thing about selfishness and self-centeredness:  They come from a sense of feeling worthless, or simply wishing they weren't so.

I know that because I've been in their shoes.  At least I learned, however late in my life,  that I didn't have to walk the same path.  And, hopefully, others won't have their journeys end in the same way as the journeys of Matthew Shepard, Gwen Araujo or Tyler Clementi, or that it won't include what Jack Price or that gay recruit in the Bronx experienced.