Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bullying & What It Leads To

I have not been an activist about any LGBT issues for some time. I used to be an activist for LGBT rights, marched in the streets, went and gave presentations to groups for the purposes of education, participated in and led forums and seminars and open classrooms. All of that and more.

For the past several years, I've been letting my artwork be my activism: my writing, my visual art, my other creative work. Everything I did was infiltrated with my sense of social justice, of human community, of equal rights. Some people noticed, most did not. Yet even my more personal, spiritual art has occasionally been recognized as political for merely existing: some topics, some issues, some imagery, by merely being addressed in art, and acknowledged in art, becomes political. If not overtly, than quietly.

There have been a lot of articles in the news in recent weeks and months about suicides by kids, gay and straight, who have been bullied. I find this horribly upsetting, and infuriating, and want to do something about it.

For example, the suicide of Tyler Clementi has galvanized gay rights grouped, and received significant coverage in the press. ironically, most press coverage of gay rights issues for the past few years has been mostly negative, reporting the erosion of rights or the ascendance of various homophobic religious and political groups, not excluding the so-called Tea Party.

Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog has also been active on this subject, which is great, since that's one of the most-read blogs out there, especially by conservatives.

This current run of suicide stories tells me that this is the issue we really need to be working on.

People are dying. People are getting bullied for being gay, or just for being different, for being suspected of being gay, and there have been several suicides. For every one that reaches the attention of the national media, you can correctly assume there were several others that got no attention at all. And in the current political climate, which has swung far to the political right, many people who might have kept their prejudices silent before now seem to feel empowered to loudly broadcast them, and to act on them.

In my opinion, gay marriage comes a distant second as a gay rights issue—not that it shouldn't also be worked on diligently. But people are dying out there. We need to keep gay rights issues in perspective, that there are other issues besides gay marriage that are really more necessary, more urgent, and potentially more outright life-threatening to our people. (Don't even get me started on assimilationist vs. diversity movements within gay culture, and why they've become the way they are.) As long as kids are killing themselves for being different, gay marriage is frankly irrelevant.

I applaud Jon Savage and his It Gets Better project, and everyone else working to let the younger generation know that it does get better. That's where I'm going to be putting my limited activist energy, for now. I am working on a video and musical contribution, which I hope to complete and post soon.

And I strongly feel that the gay men's chorus that I sing with, and all such LGBT groups that present a positive public face to the world, have a real powerful message of self-acceptance and self-esteem to present, and keep presenting, and keep building on, till suicide is no longer the option taken by so many of the younger generation still being bullied just for being different.

I was severely bullied when I was a kid and well into my teens (and have written about it several times), and I made it through that hell to where I am now. Sure, it left some scars (chief among them being an innate distrust of most authority figures), but overall I've overcome it. Nothing would please me more than to see an end to bullying, not only against LGBT kids but against any kids who are seen as different. It does get better.

And don't try to tell me that the cultural environment in general, and the culture in school, are innocent in all this. At best, they're ignorant about bullying; at worst, they're complicit. Anyone who is willfully ignorant of the effects of bullying, because they can't be bothered, or because they think they're helpless to do anything about it, is complicit, even guilty of tacit support of bullying. That was the truth of my experience, and I see no evidence it's changed.

And the bullies will do their best to convince you that it's not happening, that there's nothing going on, and that we should all just "move on." This is also the message coming from many elements of the political right wing, who would like to see this all just go away. Is this merely coincidental, or a symptom in kind of the social environment that empowers bullies?

I remember Matthew Shepard at times like this. I've stood at that fence line overlooking Laramie, WY, and thought long and hard about what to do about it.

What groups like the gay men's choruses and other groups do, simply in being ambassadors of diversity and self-acceptance, goes a long way towards healing this horror. May we all continue to do so, as best we can.


There's a lot of denial about bullying still out there. It shows up even on gay online forums and dating sites, among those gay men who also tend to express anti-sissy, anti-femme preferences. The one thing bullies never do is take personal responsibility for what their actions and words do to others. When to comes to talking about bullying there's usually a ringing silence.

I am supportive of the gay marriage rights push, of the right of those who wish to get married to do so. I support the repeal of the military's ridiculous Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy—although since the US military is an institution riddled with bureaucratic homophobia, I'm not holding my breath. (Meanwhile, the militaries of several of our allied nations in Europe are laughing at our military's policy, and rightly so.) I support the rights of gay parents to adopt children, to participate in the Boy Scouts (another case where I'm not holding my breath), and to openly go to as parents to PTA conferences.

The priority, however, is to stand up against the forces of hatred, no matter where they turn up, no matter when. To stand up to them and to tell them that they're wrong. No more children need die because of being bullied.

Young people being bullied, being targeted. Think about it.

At that age, who isn't confused and "overly emotional" most of the time. It's a very tough and turbulent time of life, and getting pushed over the edge is not just a matter of personal choice, it's a matter of being pushed by circumstances beyond what you can stand anymore.

At that age I was definitely living in fear. And the loneliness. Which can be so powerful, so hard to overcome. And which, if not relieved by finding a supportive community in which to counteract the effects of feeling isolated and lone, can become fatal.

Blame is not easy to fix. Yet there plainly does exist a hostile social environment that makes kids feel bad about themselves. Those forces that create such a hostile environment are what the fight is against, in the long run: that's the social-justice level of the fight, which cannot be overemphasized, even while we deal with the individual level of the fight and do our best to help those who have been put in our paths to help.

I've said for many years, in many ways, that we will only have achieved our goal of equality when it becomes true that being gay is No Big Deal in any way, shape, or form. We've a long way to go, still, before that's true.


  1. The idea that gay marriage is not relevant to gay suicide baffles me. Institutionalized, legally enforced animus toward same sex couples & families is not relevant to the sense that vulnerable people have that they are being shut out of society? That there is no shelter for them? Nobody for them to love?

    I gather that you see resources as finite and that energy spent on one subject reduces the amount of energy available to spend on another. This is true, I suppose. But it is gay couples themselves who have repeatedly chosen to fight for marriage - gay rights organizations have only followed reluctantly, often choosing NOT to support gay couples who want the protections of the law because "gay marriage" is too incendiary a subject politically & in the courts - it is our enemies who have truly brought the gay marriage fight to the fore because it is incendiary, a tool for easy fundraising, a way to reinforce at the ballot box the exclusion of gay families from normal life. Is gay marriage THE most important gay issue? Our opponents think so. It's not a good idea to let your opponents choose your priorities, but I happen to think they are right. Opening marriage to gay people means opening the heart of American society to gay people.

    That said, you can't get married if you're not alive.

  2. I see your point, and I think it's a valid one. I don't really disconnect gay marriage rights from gay suicide, because all of life is a single fabric. I see your point about not letting your opponents set the agenda or the battleground as very valid, very true. Your argument for why gay marriage matters, as you set it out here, is one of the most convincing and relevant arguments for it that I have encountered in recent years. It's convincing.

    Nonetheless, I still think that it is less fundamental than the right to live our lives undisturbed and unmolested. Granted, life being all of one fabric, gay marriage IS part of that.

    I have often said that we will know we have won all of these battles when our being gay is No Big Deal to anyone anymore—ourselves and others alike.

    And I have to pick my battles. I can't do them all. The resource that is finite is entirely my own: that I, as one person, do not have the strength (or time) to fight ALL the LGBT rights battles. So I must pick and choose. This is especially true lately, as I've been battling a chronic illness that tires me out, and makes my available pool of energy even scarcer.

  3. Dear Art,

    After I posted my comment I feared I might have hurt your feelings, seeming to scold you for slighting such an important fight!

    That was not the intention. We have a glbt movement because millions of us have decided to do SOMETHING, though we won't agree on which something is of most immediate importance - except, I'd say, for AIDS before effective medicines became available. It horrifies me that so many continue to become infected with HIV! Anyway, I praise you for being out and being an artist and being intelligent and a good person and I like you.

    My energy runs out (money, too) before I come near to doing all I'd like to do. We do what we can. And that's SOMETHING, darn it. There is no ONE fight. There are many many fights, all over. And we can't be fighting all the fucking time.

    love, G

  4. No worries. I didn't take it that way at all. :) Like I said, you've articulated here one of the better arguments for gay marriage that I've heard in awhile, and I'm actually very grateful for that.

    I agree, also, that doing whatever we can is doing something, and it's all very important to do. And the fight is plural, not one point.