Dude, You’re a Fag*

This week, the fifth teenager committed suicide after being taunted, harassed, and bullied because he was gay. I watched the parents of the fourth child, only 13 years old, as they explained how their son was endlessly psychologically tortured because of his sexual orientation. The mother broke down in tears, and the father gripped her body to steel himself and hold in his emotions on national TV.

One of the teenagers that killed himself this week was a college student. His roommate recorded his sexual contact with another man on a webcam, of course without the young man’s permission. Twice he did this, sending it out to his friends, and inviting people to watch live. He tweets to his followers: “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay” and “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again”. This teenager was not “out.” He was outed, by his freshman roommate, just as school was beginning, and he responded by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

I’m angry.

I’m angry at the bullies themselves, of course. Certainly in this last case, these “children,” while still in their teens, are college students. The two students accused of the invasion of privacy are 18, and in our society, that’s the age of majority – no longer a minor. It’s arbitrary, of course, but the fawn must become a buck at some point. In some of the other cases, the bullies are 13, 14, 15. Certainly not adults. And so my anger also reaches the school who lacks a no tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, the teachers who didn’t pay attention, and of course the parents who don’t know that their kids are bullies.

But do you know who I really think is to blame?

YOU. US.

Why me, you say? Because you continue to allow people to say “faggot” around you without correcting them, or allowing them to think it’s okay ‘cuz they’re “just playin’.” Because you voted “yes” on Prop 8 denying folks the right to get married. Because you still look twice (or three or four times) when you see a same sex couple holding hands walking down the street, sometimes shaking your head. Because you say things like, “Well, if that’s what they want to do….”, making this big distinction between “them” and “us.” Because you don’t teach your kids that families come in all different types of packages and some kids have two mommies or two daddies and that’s okay. Because you are still trying to fit your kids into tight gender roles and won’t buy your son a Dora water bottle if he wants one or make a pink crown for his birthday if that’s what he wants because you are afraid of either “making” him gay or “encouraging” his gay “tendencies.” Because you still put your son in the Boy Scouts. Because YOU support candidates for governor who says things like:

I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t.

Because YOU, America, are still a highly anti-gay country that refuses to agitate to get Congress to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; because in most of YOUR states, America, gay people can’t marry the people they love; because in many places, America, people can’t be WHO THEY ARE because they fear persecution.

And even if YOU think you’re being progressive by saying, “well, there’s nothing wrong with being gay, so when my kid says it to another kid, it’s not really a slur…” YOU know that’s bullshit. YOU know when a kid is trying to hurt another kid. It’s like when a black child says to another dark-skinned black child, “Ohh, you BLACK” or “Ohh, you DARK.” Saying, “that’s so gay,” is a taunt. There’s nothing nice about it.

And don’t even get me STARTED about Black YOU. Because where would I begin? Prior to this rash of young white men taking their lives, last year 2 eleven year old black boys took their lives due to being taunted about being gay. This beautiful chocolate child hung himself with an extension cord…aren’t we losing enough of our black boys to prison? Are we so dimwitted as a community that we’d have our sons DIE or be imprisoned in the name of their masculinity rather than be the people they are? How dumb does that sound?

Our children reflect US. Not just us, as in US as parents, but US as a community, US as a society, U.S. as a country. It is not shocking at all that children are being bullied because they are gay; being gay is not something that we, as a country, embrace as “normal.” And when you are not normal, in school, you will be bullied. What is shocking is the extreme response to the bullying – instead of fighting back, these children are taking their own lives, letting the bullies win.

So what then do we do? A relative of a teen who committed suicide after being bullied said this in a recent People story: “You can’t make someone be nice…You have to help the person who’s being bullied get stronger.” I tell my children now: If someone hits you once, you tell the teacher. But if they hit you again – you hit them back as hard as you possibly can and KNOCK THEM DOWN. Bullies prey on the weak.

Fortify your child. Let him or her know that you love them unconditionally, and make sure you explain what that word means. Allow them to be who they are, pink Dora cups and all. As they get older, let them know why “faggot” is a word you never want to hear them say and why they should not allow it to be said in their presence. Ask them about who they are attracted to, and be positive as they question how they feel. When you ask your child what happened at school, and they say, “nothing,” don’t let that be the end of the conversation.  Talk about bullies and bullying and what they should do if someone does something to them that they don’t like. Role play and act it out if you need to. If a bully needs to be knocked the eff out, tell the teacher Mama said to do it.

Those suicides happened on all of our watches. They belong to all of U.S.

*Dude You’re A Fag is the title of a book by C.J. Pascoe about Masculinity and Sexuality in American High Schools. I highly recommend it.

15 thoughts on “Dude, You’re a Fag*

  1. This really is a heart-wrenching post. The depths of discrimination in this county still run so low. That someone can be forced to take their own life because of it is so shameful, I feel like everyone deserves blame for something like that, the bigotry inside of all of us deserves a moral slap in the face.

    Kids in particular do not deserve to face this kind of violence, and that’s what it is, violence. I’m truly at a loss except to say that simply imagining what that poor kid felt as he leapt off that bridge is heartbreaking.

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  2. thoughtful thoughtful post….all I can say is it’s heartbreaking. And that this is ONE area where I can say I am NOT part of the problem. With my students, my son, dancehall folk… I’m LOUD and EXPLICIT with my no tolerance for this kind of hate and just ignorance and stupidity. I can’t even post about it cause i just want to RELEASE expletives. JUST PISSES me off how malevolent ignorant a$$ people can be. … lord have mercy.

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  3. Changing the entire country is obviously a large task, but if we stand up in our respective communities we belong to, as african americans, as women, as religious/spiritual followers, as professionals, we can address and change the bigotry around us. ESPECIALLY allies who identify as heterosexual and also african americans because it highlights that “their” issues are ours, as well. Some argue about if lgbt issues are civil right issues, but when lives are being lost, there should be no doubt.

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  4. great post Latoya. No parents should ever, ever, have to bury a child because of his or her sexual orientation. How do certain people give themselves the right to judge another human being and to go on harassing that person is totally unacceptable to me. I am absolutely enraged over this. How does one person record another in the most private area of his life and then goes on exposing it. ?
    Were those roommates ever taught the concept of privacy by any elder ? Or did they feel that this young man did not deserve any privacy because of who he was. How do people get so self righteous ? the more I write, the more I am feeling ready to explode…

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  5. First off…i’m really proud to call Michelle Isidore Guobadia my mom….and i echo her comments….this hate and bulling HAS TO STOP!!! Student know that they CANNOT use words like GAY or FAGGOT in my office and I am QUICK to correct them…even from the other room….It makes me sad and angry….but WE have to speak up and out about this….for those who cannot….people once spoke for us as people of color….we owe our GLBT brothers and sisters the same…..

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  6. Suicide is the #3 killer of Black men ages 15-24

    There is no coincidence that this is the age around which most people come to understandings of their sexual orientation, identity, and preferences.

    Between 1980 and 1995, the suicide rate for this group doubled. Much of it is mental health related, but as I’ve worked in this field, I can tell you… hiding one’s sexuality almost certainly leads to depression and among teens, the effects of this seem to be even greater.

    We have GOT to do better.

    Bullying is becoming the topic of the times… but what’s interesting about bullying is that little attention is paid to the person doing the bullying. More often than not, bullies are suffering in their own lives. Maybe at home, someone is abusive. Maybe they are experiencing divorce. Maybe no one hugged them as a child. Maybe they’re being shuffled through the foster care system. There are so many possibilities. This issue has to be addressed on both sides. We can’t just advocate for the victims, we have to advocate for the perpetrators as well. They are likely the same age group and in need of the same kinds of supports at home. It’s hard to show love to someone who angers us, hurts us, or hurts our children. But children/young people don’t wake up one day and decide to be mean. It is a learned behavior or a reaction/response to something going wrong in their lives.

    Yes, we have to open our minds and teach our children that families come in all shapes, sizes, and compositions. We need to make stories of LGBT families part of the standard reading. We need to see more LGBT youth in TV shows, more same-sex parents in children’s shows. We need to come out as allies and LGBT community members ourselves and stand in solidarity. We need to challenge cultural norms and develop new understandings of this thing we call life. We need to call religious institutions to task and call them out on their hypocrisies.

    There is so much work to be done, but it starts at home.

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  7. I cannot take it; this is such a beautiful family, and a wonderful antidote to the problem of bullying:
    http://jezebel.com/5664165/meet-princess-boy–his-awesome-family

    Like you mentioned, Toya, this family is affirming their child, which is part of pushing back against bullying. It’s important to teach our children that they can be who they are, so that they’ll be able to come to us later for help when someone is shaming them for being different. I also note that it’s an African-American family, which is very encouraging, considering the not-always-positive deeply entrenched beliefs in the black community about “appropriate” gender roles and sexuality.

    The string of deaths are devastating not only because these beautiful children are losing their lives, but because of the attention it has drawn to what is a particularly virulent strain of hateful behavior. Having once found myself actually considering wither homosexuality was “as God intended” after I had joined a black church, I know all too well how easy it is to slide into the dangerous realm of concluding that there is only one “right” way to be (I left the church not too long thereafter, and refuse to attend any church today that does not embrace the entire spectrum of sexual orientation). Once you start concluding something is “right,” and something else is “wrong,” a dangerous righteousness develops that allow people to justify their violent acts. I hope the attention that has been brought to all of this helps our society move forward in more positive ways.

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  8. I’ve found this article as I have been scouring the internet looking for answers to help me cope with the fact that my 18yr old daughter just admitted to me she’s a lesbian. I’m dumbfounded, hurt, angry, confused and every other emotion you can think of. I wasn’t raised to believe this is right, and neither was my daughter. I’m desperately trying to reconcile my Christian values with my love for my child. Any advice?

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    1. D. – To me, as a Christian, I personally don’t find a contradiction in Christian “values” and homosexuality. And I’m certainly no Bible expert. But I just finished reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’s sermon on the mount, and Jesus gives all sorts of answers about loving those even when you don’t agree with their choices or their lifestyle. Love your child like He loved the world. Love your child like you want to be loved. Don’t worry about it, because God is going to take care of everything. Forgive or otherwise you will not be forgiven. Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. Come to terms quickly with those you are angry with.

      And for me, at the end of the day, this life is way too short to spend it angry, hurt, and whatnot about another grown person’s life. I think God wants us to be concerned about what WE are doing, what’s going on with us, what’s happening with that log in our eye. He can handle the rest.

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  9. Awesome post!! So happy I stumbled upon this. In my country people are being imprisoned, burned and stoned to death for being gay. The most disgusting part is that the preachers and so called “men of God” stand by and act as if it is God’s will. It is a very sad situation.

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