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.

Growing Up Too Fast

I was in the car with my 10 year old daughter listening to a segment on a morning radio show in which a listener asks the host for advice. In this particular letter the listener was a young lady who was in an abusive relationship, had been taken advantage of as a pre-teen.

I took it as an opportunity to discuss a few things with my daughter; first & most importantly she will NOT be dating anyone at age 12 (as had the young lady who wrote the letter). Secondly, if she ever, at any age, found herself in a position where a man was hurting her physically then she was immediately to tell someone. Perhaps the subject matter was a little strong for a 10 year old, perhaps not. I need her to know that there is no reason to ever be physically abused by someone. I needed her to know today and forever that that is the case.

As a person who was in a violent relationship it is especially important to me that women and girls understand that there is no normalcy, no rationalizing and no expectation that they be understanding or patient in these situations. Make a plan and GET OUT.

Things I didn’t discuss with my daughter but need some attention:

  1. Why is a 12 year old allowed to be alone with a high school boy?
  2. How do you have 4 children before age 23?
  3. What kind of people allow a 27 year old man to date a 12 year old? I don’t care how young he looked and how old she looked, somebody knew how old they actually were and should have said something!
  4. As a community, how can we make it clear what is acceptable to us, for our children. It seems that shame is non-existent these days

I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on this topic; how you have addressed or plan to address the issues brought forth.

Related links:

RAINN Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network

Love Is Respect – National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline

A Lesson Best Learned Early

Unlike most California babies who start swim classes virtually at birth, my two New York City-born transplants didn’t begin classes until the relatively ancient ages of 4 and 5.

With summer approaching, I realized there was no ducking the classes any longer and so I signed up my kids at one of a handful of swim schools around where we live: a little school with a somewhat pretentious French name and three locations.

With some difficulty we pinned down the instruction time. I paid no mind to who the teacher would be; I figured they must all be somewhat decent.

On the first day I delivered my bathing suit-clad children to a somber-looking young woman by the pool. She did not smile at me or the kids. I noticed this but tucked it away and didn’t think twice about it.

I sat behind the glass partition and looked hither and thither, reading, chatting with other waiting caretakers, every once in a while watching the kids. There seemed to be some serious business at hand in the class. Once the class finished, I got the kids showered, dressed and off we went.

The following week: same drill. Delivered the kids to an unsmiling teacher. Watched them through the glass. Picked them up afterwards.

Except this time, my daughter, the five-year-old, said: “Mommy, is it possible, if it’s not too much trouble, could we maybe get a new teacher?” (She really said it that way.)

“Why?” I asked. “What happened?”

“Nothing. I just was wondering if we could get a new teacher.”

Unlike my boy, who often protests classes, school or anything organized, my daughter loves classes. She has always adored teachers, babysitters, caretakers. She never once cried when we left her for an evening out.

“But why?” I pressed.

“This teacher is too … grouchy. She doesn’t seem happy. She’s not that nice to us.” And then: “Life’s too short to be unhappy.”

I almost fell over. Obviously she’s heard it from an adult. Probably me. Maybe her father. But here’s what blows me away: It stuck! She gets it. She doesn’t want to be around someone who makes her feel bad. Who doesn’t treat her well.

Do you know how long it took me to learn this lesson? Decades! And I still struggle with it. Recognizing in the moment that something doesn’t feel right or is not okay.  Then taking steps to remove yourself from the situation. My daughter has learned to intuit this at five. What I was still trying to learn at thirty five.

It was a proud moment for me.