Note: I can’t sleep, I’m upset. After watching the news with my kids tonight, I needed to write this now, and not Friday. So, I will not post until Monday, despite what I wrote on The Middle, just 7 hour ago.
That’s right, call me a Fag. Call me Gay, Homo, Queer. There are lots of words, and they can get much uglier. They are just words, but words that kill, and words that need to change. Frankly, I’d be proud to stand up to those words and maybe we all should.
I could not sleep tonight because my thoughts keep going to the image of Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14 year old boy that committed suicide this week, due in large part to anti-gay bullying. Fourteen years old; merely a baby, and yet he felt, in those last moments: that life was so bad, that death was the answer. While there is always a way to deflect the blame and take it off of the issue of anti-gay attitudes, this boy felt that being dead was better than being called Gay/Fag/Homo, every day. That is sick; and I feel sick about it.
In an interview with CNN tonight, his older sister told Anderson Cooper that she just hoped other kids would seek help, would reach out and find something other than suicide to solve their problems. She implored other teens to step up and do the right thing: reach out to someone who you know is hurting, who you know is being bullied. My heart broke, to see that girl say these words, shock still settled in her eyes, her face imploring people to do, what we should all do in the first place: be compassionate humans, who care for one another. In an appearance by the venerable Thich Naht Hahn recently, in Vancouver, I was deeply moved to hear him speak to the pain teens feel, that leads them to commit suicide. They are so unable to see the impermanence of the moment: that this moment will pass, and the next, and that the pain we feel in these moments eventually passes with the moments. Jamey’s sister delivered this same message, in the shadow of her own loss.
This is not the first young person to kill themselves because of anti-gay bullying. The list is shamefully long and horrifying, in that it speaks to a problem that we all see in the news, we read about, and perhaps we discuss, but how often do we truly stand up and say: enough! I am ashamed that I have felt this same helpless sadness each time one of these stories breaks; each time I discuss it with my own children; each time I hear whisperings of it in my own community; but then do not do more to take action. Would I be complacent if it was my own sons or daughter? I hope not, I believe I wouldn’t, but why then do I, we, turn our heads when it is someone else’s child? Do we turn away, unconsciously hoping it isn’t contagious? Or, is it the “there but for the grace…” attitude, that makes us quickly close the door and keep this out?
Even an anonymous child like Jamey Rodemeyer (<see Jamey’s video), who I’d never heard of until today, should know that we care enough to look at this and stand up against the cruelty that lead him to take his life. Now that his beautiful face is seared in my brain, what should I do to help stop one more Jamey from feeling that this is an answer? All you have to do is watch the videos of him, look at the pictures: how is he any different than our own children, in his innocent wonder and sweet beauty? I was struck by how lovely he was and how much he reminded me of my own children, in various shots: holding some sea creature, in wonder; hugging his mom on the beach; hamming it up with a funny hat; sitting for his school picture. He is my son, my daughter. The only difference is place and circumstance. Even that is a tenuous thing. When a teen in our community committed suicide 2.5 years ago, and many spoke quietly of the bullying she experienced (even upon her death), we were paralyzed to do more than grieve and wait for the pain to pass. I think of her parents and sibling often, and know that their pain will never end.
When I think back to my own days in Jr. High and High School, I remember being vaguely aware that some of my classmates might be gay. It was a different time for sure, when AIDS and gay activism was really just beginning, or coming out of its own closet. Yet, we knew who was “different” who might be “that way.” Why didn’t it bother me? I sensed that a few people I knew, some I was friends with, might be, but I don’t remember worrying about it or feeling threatened by it. If they were teased, I was unaware of it; and for that I am now sorry. I suppose, then, so many of us were in our own worlds, working out our own issues, as many teens today must still feel. However, we didn’t have Facebook and MySpace and Google, and all the other sites that I am woefully un-hip to. Middle Man laughs at my lack of tech savvy, but some days, I wonder if I’m not better off. We were better off then, I believe, in that the bullies couldn’t enter your home, couldn’t enter your bedroom, your phone, your every waking activity. If you were bullied at school, you went home and they were not there, even if the anxiety and fear followed you.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not downplaying what people went through then. I have certainly heard in the years since, that people I knew in my youth were in fact harassed, and they could probably call me on the carpet here because that description is probably a sugar coated version of what they might have felt. However, I strongly believe that the age of constant connection, plugged in and turned on, 24/7 access to communication via cell phones and the internet, has made this problem that much worse. As Jamey’s mother, Tracy Rodemeyer said (paraphrasing:), in another time, Jamey might have had a break from school bullying, over the summer, but the bullies just followed him home, via the internet.
Jamey Rodemeyer (14); Eric Mohat (17); Carl Walker-Hoover (11); Justin Aaberg (15); Brandon Bitner (14); Tyler Clemente (18); Raymond Chase (19); Samantha Johnson (13); Jordan Yener (14)… the list is painfully long, and these are not all of the names. These are all kids who committed suicide recently due to anti-gay bullying, a term coined “Bullycide,” and virtually all of them felt plagued by the bullying, beyond school, in text messages and on-line harassment. This list grows even longer when you include kids who committed bullycide for non-gay related reasons. That list, interestingly, includes far more girls, who were called “whore, skank, slut, bitch, etc” until death seemed a better option, than those words. Watch the video clip Bullycide in America, it is very powerful; listen to the song; click on these links and read their stories.
^ Carl Walker-Hoover ^Samantha Johnson ^Eric Mohat
So I come back to the issue of being Gay. What if I did say: call me gay? Would those of you who know me change your views of me; would you treat me differently? How would my world change in regards to my relationships with the people I care about? I would still be me: reasons to like and dislike me abound and those would be the same. But would new people have fuel to throw and how would that look or feel? This thought keeps me awake tonight, as I grapple with how that young boy felt when he decided to take his life, just months after recording a video for the It Gets Better Project (click this link and check them out!). I’ve seen those videos, I’ve been touched by them, and yet I never took the pledge and I never really stepped up, until now.
I think of my classmates R, J, B, R, A, P, and the friends I’ve had who have been gay and lesbian and feel some shame that I haven’t done more. They are living this each day and I wonder if each time one of these stories hits the airways, they see themselves at that age and count their blessing that they made it through? Such a raw issue, that must hit very close to home when you’ve traveled that road. These tragedies hit the news and I cry as I watch them. I read the stories and then they fade away… until the next one. Tonight, it’s keeping me up, it has me wondering how many more and what we do to stop this. Many have suggested that legislation needs to be passed to make bullying a true criminal offense and I wonder how it hasn’t already been done. To hear Barbara Bachman (and truly, I am not picking political battles, but there she is, front and center today) say that this is “not a Federal issue,” I wonder how can it not be!
In a week where Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was finally repealed and Navy Lt. Gary Ross was finally free to marry his long time partner, Dan Swezy, in uniform, and gay and lesbian men and woman are now free to openly die for their country, (see Jon Stewart), we are faced with Jamey’s story as well. How truly bitter sweet. How painful for gay men and woman, to celebrate one hard won victory, to face such a painful loss. And, I do believe that Jamey’s death is a loss to all of us, but particularly to the gay community, who has seen one more kid die at the hands of “Gay! Fag! Homo! Queer!”
<— I snapped this today, as this story brewed in my head. Amen.
What if we all stood up and were called that? What if those words could lose their poison and be the mere words they should be? I would be proud to be called any one of those things, if that changed the picture. Until then, I am not sitting by and simply hitting “like” when my gay friends post tolerance based posts, that I agree with. I want to be the one making those posts and looking at what can be changed. I want to get off my ass and do more than care, from the safety of my bed, or this seat… tonight my bed didn’t feel so safe and for that I am vowing to make some changes. Until every person who loves someone is free to marry them and live whatever version of happily ever after they want; until all of our children who are figuring out their sexuality, feel safe to do so and look forward to a future that includes all the milestones and life choices that I had to choose from; until my gay friends feel safe to share their lives openly at work, in their communities, in this country; how can we continue to let each story fade and then act shocked when the next one comes?
I guess one night of missed sleep is a small sacrifice; tomorrow I will seek better solutions. How will I sleep tonight? How will you?
Speak up, share your thoughts on this and leave a comment. I can take it.
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- Anderson Covers Suicide of Gay Buffalo ‘It Gets Better’ Teen Jamey Rodemeyer: VIDEO (towleroad.com)
- Lady Gaga Vows To Fight Bullying After 14-Year-Old Jamey Rodemeyer’s Suicide [VIDEO] (now100fm.radio.com)
- RIP Jamey Rodemeyer (wegotyourbackproject.wordpress.com)
- Anderson Cooper Addresses Jamey Rodemeyer’s Suicide (perezhilton.com)
- Gay teen bullying victim who recorded an “It Gets Better” video commits suicide (boingboing.net)
- This is For The Educators Who Allow Anti-Gay Bullying To Continue. (thirtyoneorten.wordpress.com)
- Teen contributor to ‘It Gets Better Project’ found dead (digitallife.today.com)