I'm begging you to vote. The murder-by-bullying must be stopped. As of this writing, five recent suicides by valuable gay kids have made the news. We know there are more and have always been more. Bullying is a throwback to animal behavior: culling the pack to ensure survival of a species. We're no longer animals. We need to cull the bullies now, refuse to seat them on our judicial benches, vote them out of our legislatures, sweep them off our school boards. Forty years after Stonewall is too many years to allow the assault on our gay youths to continue.
We always go to the same hole-in-the-strip mall pizza joint. As regulars, we get to talking with the crew. When one of the waitresses said, "I don't vote," I was kind of shocked. Gosh, who wouldn't want to have a say about what goes on in our country? She has two little kids. Doesn't she want to help shape their future? I told her I'd shame her into voting.
Gay kids are my kids. I want to make the United States a safe and supportive place for them. Because I remember what it was like.
I remember the sheer terror that I'd be outed and the agonizing physical tension of that fear. Walking on the street with my mother, would someone ask if I was a boy or a girl? Laugh, point, use the words dyke, queer, lezzie? Would a school counselor call her in to talk about my odd behavior? When I got sent to a shrink in college, would he tell my father, who paid the bills, the diagnosis was homosexuality? Hypervigilance is exhausting. It scars a kid. It creates a disconnect with family and non-gay friends. There aren't a whole lot of resources left to cope with the usual stresses of adolescence when you're in constant conflict with a disapproving society.
I remember the disabling depressions, the sense of a darkness suffocating me. Back then, I didn't know that depression could be repressed anger. In my parents' apartment, I pretended all was well when I could and hid in my room when I couldn't. The world was charged negative. There were no upsides, no silver linings, no rosy futures. My best friend experienced the same depressions and tried to kill herself more than once. Writing pulled me back from the many brinks I faced.
I remember the ceaseless unease. You're physically awkward as you grow, socially uncomfortable when you don't fit in, oversensitive to insinuations and shuns. You feel like everyone else knows how to be in the world but you. Sex can get you arrested. Reaching out can get you rejected. Like us, straight kids get bullied, depressed, scared, suicidal. Nobody wants them dead. Nobody throws them off a team, refuses to room with them. Teachers aren't afraid to counsel them.
I remember the great daily, hourly, dilemma of the gay kid: Who do you come out to? Which people are safe? If you take the risk of sharing who you are, at what point will your luck give out and your world explode around you?
I remember the constant search for affirmation, for comfort, for other gay people. You fell into sex, seeking acceptance. You hurt other girls, seeking more. Your adult relationships suffered from these early patterns.
I can vividly imagine what Tyler Clementi went through and how it impelled him to take that long, horrible plunge from the George Washington Bridge. He was barely out of childhood, juggling the challenges of academia, the expectations of family, the jumble of teenage emotions, the call of his talent and the demands of his gay body. I can feel the appalling aloneness that trapped him. The authorities he implored for help couldn't erase the rape of his dignity. The Internet was an outlet, but not a solution.
I can't believe this is still happening. Tyler Clementi and Raymond Chase's deaths, as well as those of untold other young gays, were preventable. Whether caused by individual bullying or by the societal attitudes that set gay kids up for bullying, internalized rage, inescapable humiliation and worse, the result is unacceptable. If we do nothing else, I hope Tyler and Raymond have shamed every one of us into fighting back, at the least, by voting.
© 2010 Lee Lynch
Lee Lynch, Author of Sweet Creek from Bold Strokes Books