I wasn’t sure that you need to read yet another post on the recent deaths by suicide* of some very young people in this country. I thought it was all over the news and everybody read/heard about it by now. Besides, I will just be preaching to the choir: I have made a conscientious effort to not attract right-wing ultra-religious anti-gay conservatives to my blog. “Wrong place. You are not going to like what you see here and I am not interested in wasting my time on debating with you. Exit is this way. Thank you very much.”
But fuck that. I am going to write about this. Again. And again. More. We need more discussion, nay, we need more outrage, on this. Not less. No more silence. Fuck silence.
Oh my god. As I was finishing up this post, I heard the news of another suicide by a 10-year-old girl in Allston, MA. What will it take to make this stop??!!
Here’s what happened in the months of September and October:
Billy Lucas hung himself. He was 13.
Asher Brown shot himself. He was 13.
Seth Walsh hung himself and died after being on life support for ten days. He was 13.
Raymond Chase hung himself in his dorm room. He was 19.
Tyler Clementi threw himself over the George Washington Bridge. He was 18.
And remember Carl Walker who hung himself last year? He was only 11.
These young men chose to kill themselves over living with the constant bullying (both physical and emotional).
After the brutal assault-murders of Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard in the 1990s, we thought we have moved ahead, we have made giant stripes. Apparently, not enough has been done.
What kind of world are we living in that our children did not think there was any other alternative than suicde? That there was any hope that the harassment could ever be stopped?
Immediately there has been an emotional public outcry against the ugliness prevalent in America’s schoolyards. Ellen delivered a gut-wrenching message/plea on her show the day after Tyler’s death. A movement “It Gets Better” was started: celebrities and everyday people posted messages and their own life stories to let young kids know that yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, it does get better.
Neil Patrick Harris. Tim Gunn (who talked about his own suicide attempt). Chris Colfer (who portrays Kurt on Glee, IMO the most multifaceted gay character empowering the teens the country has yet seen, and for his character alone, I believe Glee should be mandatory viewing for every high school followed by discussions led by trained counselors. But more on that in a future post). And many many more have uploaded videos providing encouragement and hope.
The outpouring of emotional support hopefully is reaching those who need it the most, e.g. those who are isolated in Small (in mind and/or in geography) Town, USA, where, if you are a boy, wearing long hair or a lukewarm attitude towards football is enough to brand you the Town Freak.
Though I cry at these videos and am encouraged by the act of people coming together, I still have this gnawing feeling that something else needs to be done. “It Gets Better” puts the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the oppressed:
Be patient. Grin and bear it. Just wait. High school will be over soon.
But how about NOW?
As Micael puts it rather succintly:
“What I am getting from it all is that yeah, it sucks, but cowboy up. It gets better. Fuck better. What about now?”
NOW looks alarming according to the statistics.
• In the United States, more than 34,000 people die by suicide each year
• Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds, accounting for over 12% of deaths in this age group; only accidents and homicide occur more frequently
• Suicide is the second leading cause of death on college campuses
• For every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made
• Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers
• More than 1/3 of LGB youth report having made a suicide attempt
• Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt
• Questioning youth who are less certain of their sexual orientation report even higher levels of substance abuse and depressed thoughts than their heterosexual or openly LGBT-identified peers
NOW seems to imply that harassment is just part of expected experience in high school for LGBT students according to the statistics. Just because it is “expected” and “Oh, we all went through it” does not mean we should not try and nip it in the bud. NOW.
• Nine out of 10 LGBT students (86.2%) experienced harassment at school; three-fifths (60.8%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation; and about one-third (32.7%) skipped a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe
• LGBT students are three times as likely as non-LGBT students to say that they do not feel safe at school (22% vs. 7%) and 90% of LGBT students (vs. 62% of non-LGBT teens) have been harassed or assaulted during the past year
• Sexual minority youth, or teens that identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, are bullied two to three times more than heterosexuals
• Almost all transgender students had been verbally harassed (e.g., called names or threatened in the past year at school because of their sexual orientation (89%) and gender expression (89%)
• LGBT youth in rural communities and those with lower adult educational attainment face particularly hostile school climates
(Statics from The Trevor Project where you can find the sources for data quoted)
NOW brings shame to this Land of the Free for not doing enough to protect our children according to the statistics. As Keli Goff, one of my favorite bloggers over at HuffPost argued in her post “Why We Shouldn’t Blame the Bullies for the Recent String of LGBT Suicides” (the title is misleading. It should have been “why we should not blame ONLY the bullies”), those who should have protected these children and who should have ensured a safe environment for them failed miserably:
If a young student was called the N-word every day for weeks or months on end, and after repeated cries for help finally took his own life, how quickly do you think citizens of all races would take to the streets to protest? Or better yet, how quickly would Al Sharpton and Co. demand accountability from the school and elected officials under the threat of casting the kind of media spotlight that people like Don Imus have nightmares about?
… I have a hard time believing that if these kids had been bullied for their race, not for their sexual identities, that the adults tasked to protect them would not have reacted differently, or at the very least would have reacted at all.
Which makes me think that the kids doing the bullying are not really the ones at fault. They are simply taking their cues from adults. And the message they are receiving is that today in 2010 it may not be okay to call someone the N-word on the playground, but it is okay to call someone the F-word. [my emphasis]
I want to believe that the world is changing, that we as a society is coming together over these tragic losses, that ALL now understand how critical it is to confront the rampant and at the same time subtle homophobia prevalent in the U.S. culture, how stupid it is that Americans harbor this rigid view of genders: For example,
Boys + PINK = GAY. Girls + TRUCK = GAY. Boys + ARTS = GAY. Boys + DISLIKE SPORTS = GAY.
Of course I know this is not true. Not yet. I work with some of these people who are convinced that THIS has nothing to do with them, who at most paid cursory attentions to the deaths and the “movement” that’s happening. You see: They are not gay. They don’t have any friends who are gay. They were not bullied at school. They are just “regular” Americans.
I have news for them: Your children may turn out to be gay. Your grandchildren. Your nieces. Nephews. Cousins. And you know what? Bullying does not even have to do with sexual orientation. It does not have to do with anything really. Bullies prey on “differences” and since every individual is different, there is no saying WHICH difference is going to become the target. Your child’s personality or physical traits could become the target for bullying at school for no reason other than your child’s being themselves: your boy may be shy, quiet, reserved, bookish, bad at sports, etc. Your girl may be outgoing, athletic, have an aversion to pretty clothes and pink, etc.
A bully can decide to pick on any child for any reason. And a bully does not necessarily look like Biff Tannen.
I was emotionally bullied in grade school for three years by my entire class. The originator later confided in me that he started it because he liked me. (It’s a long story which I have written about here) It does not matter: I thought about killing myself because in my mind at that time there was simply no way out other than running away from home. This experience forever changed me and later in life I made a suicide attempt. Isn’t it funny? All because a boy liked me in fourth grade.
It could be called the “luck of the draw” whether your child attracts a bully’s attention or not. And girls can both be perpetrators and victims. Remember Phoebe Prince? She was only 15 and she killed herself when she could no longer take the emotional bullying from the Queenbees at her new school.
The kids also do not need to gang upon a victim to make the victim’s life miserable. All it takes is one persistent individual as is evidenced in the tragic death of Ty Field. Ty was an 11-year-old boy with a bright sunny smile. A bully had been bothering him for years but complaints filed with the school had not been effectively handled, and so the bullying continued. In June this year, Ty went home, pointed a gun to his own head and pulled the trigger.
A month after Ty’s suicide, Kirk and Laura Smalley still haven’t done their son’s last load of laundry.
“We just can’t,” Kirk Smiley said. “His Molina jersey still smells like him.”
This makes me cry every time I read it. Kirk Smalley was interviewed on CNN this month because the media finally gets it: Bullying is big news now. Anti-bullying movement is a great human story that they should all vie to report on. (Pardon my cynicism here. Old habits die hard). Mr. Smalley has been trying to get the attention of anybody who would listen because he wants to make sure that bullying is taken seriously. In the interview, Mr. Smalley mentioned one of the responses from the principal was
“Boys will be boys.”
How many times have you heard this?
Boys will be boys.
Girls will be girls.
Kids will be kids.
I get stabby every time I hear such a throwaway response. Imagine if during the 1950s people had simply shrugged their shoulders and sighed, “You know, white men will always be white men.” What the fucking fuck? We need to call Bullshit when someone simply shakes their head and says, “What are you gonna do? Boys/Girls will always be boys/girls.”
“What boys are you talking about? Whose boys? Which boys? What kind of behaviors do you consider to fall within the realms that boys naturally do that we should turn the blind eye towards? How far does it go on before it is no longer ‘kids will always be kids’ and becomes ‘Lord of the Flies’? What would you say if I scream in your face and say ‘Oh women will be women because we are all hormonal and hysterical’? What are the definitions for ‘boys’ other than the anatomical fact of having a penis? Who defines what ‘normal’ boy behaviors are? And who the fuck are you that you think you get to define that?!”
(Ok. You know if I am confronting someone at my kid’s schools, I will only be asking the last question out loud inside my head but writing it out makes me feel less stabby. So thank you for granting me this poetic license here…)
Let’s talk about this. Let’s all go home and talk to our spouses, our children, our families, our friends about it: If you notice, see, suspect bullying behaviors, report it. And calling people “GAY” maliciously on Facebook counts as 1st-degree bullying in my book.
Let’s all take a stance because we are all in this together.
* According to The Trevor Project, leading national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ(uestioning) youth, we should refrain from using the phrase “commit(ed) suicide.” Instead, we should use “died by suicide” or “completed suicide” when describing a fatal suicide attempt.