Over the last couple weeks, six young gay men have committed suicide, thought to be due to anti-gay bullying. Asher Brown, 13; Seth Walsh, 13; Justin Aaberg, 15; Billy Lucas, 18; Raymond Chase, 19 and Tyler Clementi, 18 are all dead and by their own hand. A thirteen year old boy shot himself in the head and was found by his mother. An eighteen year old boy threw himself off a bridge because someone thought it would be funny to turn on a webcam and broadcast his actions across the internet. Two boys hanged themselves, one of which lingered on and ended up dying in the hospital. Six boys dead and all because of bullying.
Some people may say, well it was because they were weak, couldn’t handle it. And to some extent that may be true. But not everybody can be strong and stoic. And should not strong people help take care of those who are weaker then themselves? We do it in all other aspects of life. People left weak by illness are not left to fend for themselves. Cops put on a uniform and badge to protect people. And if you want to tell me that someone is weak just because they are gay, well I guess you should stop reading now. There are plenty of gay men who could quickly disprove that notion.
So what does it come down to? Well, in part it boils down to the fact these kids did not see life getting any better. Let’s face it, it’s hard to see a cheerful future when you have people telling you that you are doomed to hell because of your bed partners. Some may be thinking: I have to put up with this my entire life? Why bother? Because, as Dan Savage says, it gets better. Things will get better, you can make a happy successful life for yourself. So what if you don’t see any big shot gay movie stars? Or any famous gay football players or UFC fighters? Buck the trend if that’s your choice of career. Look at some of the men (and women) who have come out in Hollywood recently and are still going strong. If anyone tries to say that Neil Patrick Harris can’t play the womanizing Barney Stinson, no one is listening to them. And besides, there are plenty of successful men in this world who are not in the news. They are good husbands and good fathers and good friends.
Life gets better, folks. You can build the life you want, the career, the family. It may sound trite but the only person stopping you is you. Yes, I know it is hard, having someone belittle and call you names (and maybe worse) day in and day out. But the fact is, if you let them change you, if you pay attention to what they say, you’ve let them win. And the sad thing is, in five or ten years, they won’t be thinking about what went on back in the day. Think about this: the majority of the time, the bullied person who hangs in grows up to be successful and the bully, well they don’t.
This was started with my reaction to the deaths of those young men listed above, but upon seeing some other articles and people talking on television and reflecting upon my own past, I feel it has to expand beyond that. There’s really no difference between a kid being bullied for being gay or for wearing glasses and reading a book (but at least the geek kids can look forward to the day when they are the Bill Gates of their generation and pay the football jocks minimum wage to mow their yards). In most cases, the same person is bullying both kids. A bully doesn’t just pick on one type of kid (well they do but its any kid smaller and/or weaker then themselves). And its not just gay kids who have killed themselves after reaching a point where they can no longer handle any more. The sad thing is that people have to die before we want to talk about this and do anything.
Like what seems to be the common thread in recent discussions, I was also bullied as a child. It may not have lasted as long as it did for other people but its hard to deny that it did not have an impact upon me. I don’t remember it so much in the lower grades in elementary but it seemed to have kicked in around junior high. Why not until then I couldn’t tell you. Anyway, I have had to wear glasses since second grade and have been a huge reader since about the time I was big enough to open a book. Growing up in a small rural town where the idea of fantasy was that tobacco prices never go down, I guess you can tell where it goes from there. All the normal cracks; geek, nerd, four eyes, etc. You try to ignore it but it can get to you when someone would rather toss an insult then a hello your way. I had really only one friend during this time that I would hang out with and soon the gay jokes started. Oh and since I had to grow into my looks, of course I was butt ugly. You don’t care so much if a guy calls you ugly but when a girl agrees or gets this “ewww” look on her face when someone mentions you going out with her, well it bothers you. All through college, I might look at a girl in class, think about asking her and immediately think, why bother she’s not going to want you. If it wasn’t that I met my wife online, I might still be a girl-less bachelor.
Anyway, it stopped about the time I got to high school (maybe putting on some height and weight will do that). But the damage was done. I still tend to be a withdrawn person and have moments when I have very little confidence at all. I tended to internalize everything and never talked to anyone. Even now my wife has a bit of a struggle to get me to open up and talk about something. But, as mentioned, life gets better. Things improve. And as a smart woman once told me, the best revenge is a good life. You can live with the poison of anger or you can just get on with your life. trust me, the only time that childhood bully will remember what he done to you is if for some reason he’s seeking forgiveness. For them, it was mindless “fun” they forgot as soon as it was over. You won’t forget and the things that shaped your life will never go away. But you can live your life. Live it well. Become a lawyer, a doctor, an actor, whatever the hell it is you want. Go to bed with men, with women, with both or none. Follow whatever religion you want. It might not be how it was meant but as some old guy once said, “To thine own self be true.” Remember, the only people you have to please is yourself. If people truly care for you, they will care for who you are, not who they want you to be.
Parents, talk to your children. If you were bullied, or hell, even if you were a bully, tell them. Tell them why. Some people think it helps to realize that a person often bullies others because their own life is shit and its a way to take out their frustrations. Dad comes home drunk and whales on mom. Mom whacks junior for running his mouth. Junior comes to school and takes it out on everyone smaller then him. Whether or not that realization helps, depends on what kind of person you are, I guess. But let your kids know that they can come to you, that they can talk to you.
Kids, it happens to damn near everyone. Now, if your like me, that doesn’t do a thing for you. But you aren’t alone. Your parents likely put up with it. Just try not to get bogged down in the present and keep your eyes on the future. It’s ok to be yourself. It’s ok to read books, to play role playing games, to be gay, or whatever it is you are. Sure you may have to put up with someones crap if you are different from the norm. But normal doesn’t equal right. Tell people. Tell your teachers. If they don’t care, tell your parents. Tell them how horrible it makes you feel.
Bullying is not likely to ever be brought to a complete stop. It’s been going on since one caveboy pulled another caveboys furry undies over his head and stole his brontoburger. But maybe we can help keep it from being so prevalent and just so much of it that kids are killing themselves. Whether they are gay or nerdy, no one should feel they have no option but to end their life.
PS. For someone else’s thoughts (and put much better then my own) please read Single Dad Laughing.