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 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?
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.