it gets different (doesn’t it?)

"If I die, you die" -- black spray-painted graffiti on grey concrete

Found in Cambridge, on Mass Ave: the text reads, "If I die / you die"

I’m thinking this morning about the kids who are killing themselves, the kids bullied and done with it, the kids who are either gay or who someone decided must be gay and who got teased, relentlessly. One boy tried to hang himself and was found unconscious in his backyard, another boy hung himself, one boy shot himself, one young man jumped of the George Washington bridge after his fucking roommate secretly used a webcam to video-stream him having sex with another man. That’s just this month, and that’s just the stories that are making the news. We aren’t getting many many other stories, about kids who’ve killed themselves rather than endure one more fucking minute, nor about the kids who are still going through it.

This isn’t about kids not being tough enough, not being able to “man-up” — this is about a terrible hazing, a constant, multi-lateral, multi-faceted hazing into american adult society that we’ve set up and chosen or been forced to participate in, as the bullied, the bully, or the bystander.

Today I feel helpless and sad: gender-based violence isn’t ending, not for folks who have been assigned to “woman” and not for folks who’ve been assigned to “man.” The borders of each of these genders is so violently patrolled; no one has to be gay or queer to get bullied because someone thinks they’re not acting like a real man, or like a real woman. When are we going to stop? When are we going to quit using faggot and pussy and ladies as slurs that all mean weak and worthless? When are we going to start calling out our friends and family, our kids’ friends, our own kids whey they use this language,when they treat other people like shit? Do we have to wait until our own kids die?

And I want to know why we’re surprised that kids are killing themselves, when we’re not stopping the violence of the world they’re coming up into. We’re not helping.

There’s this campaign going on, Dan Savage’s It Gets Better. He’s asking gay adults to share their stories on youtube, so that young queerfolks can hear our voices, can have a visceral sense of not being alone. This is an important project, and I’m glad that so many people are participating. (I think about doing something like this for kids who are currently being sexually or otherwise abused, too: videos by folks who made it out and through, reaching back, throwing our voices back through the fire.) And I don’t want to get all Pollyanna-ish with our kids, either: and let’s face it, they know better, because the kids who are harassing them learned their behavior from the adults around them. Our kids know that adults aren’t always safe and sane, either because their parents aren’t protecting them, the adults at school aren’t helping, and often those adults are aiding and abetting the torment. The bullies get kudos for their behavior. They’re rarely held accountable, they’re rarely (ever?) put in a situation where they’d rather kill themselves than face the shame of their behavior. Why should the bullies be ashamed? They’re acting like good americans.

Here’s what I want to say to the kids who are getting ready to get on a bus where they’ll be trapped with assholes, or already walking to the school where they won’t get any peace, or waking up to a family who would rather see them dead than gay or not the right kind of boy or the right kind of girl: I’m sorry. And I want to say, too, that it changes. Some things get better, but this situation that you’re in right now won’t always exist.

And this, too: We other/older queers/people know that you need us. And we need you. The work you’re doing right now is hard fucking labor, and you shouldn’t have to do it at all, much less alone.

There may be options available to you, is something else I want to say. Folks are passing around resources, places you can call or go. A friend reminded me/us of Kate Bornsein’s book Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws, which every fucking school should have several copies of, in different places around the library. There’s the Trevor Project, where you can call if you’re thinking of killing yourself.

Junior and high school mostly were awful, for me, not because I was bullied (I did find myself teased in junior high, but I learned about isolating pretty quickly, both inside and out, and I maybe wasn’t different enough for those kids to keep it up) but because home was so horrific. School was better than home, for me, even when there was teasing (which wasn’t bullying at all, in my case — the bully in my life lived behind my front door and called himself my guardian). Often, the only thing I could hold on to was a trust in the fact that the next minute wouldn’t be the same as the one I was currently living — eventually something would change. Sometimes I could help make something change. Often it was just about the movement of time. The moments I had to live through were awful, and I’m grateful to be here, now. I have sometimes has been overwhelmingly sad as an adult, but I have never felt like I did when I was in secondary school. It’s different, and, often, better.

Bullying and gender(ed)-violence is a queer issue, and it’s not just a queer issue: it’s not only queer kids who are killing themselves because the kids/adults around them think they’re gay, and kids are bullied for other reasons, too. And the people who need to change aren’t the kids: it’s the adults around them.  We can teach kids to treat each other with respect, we can give them all the sesame street we want, but when they see adults treating each other disrespectfully and then gaining ground, gaining in respect and status in the community because of that bad behavior, what do you think they’re going to learn? When a boy is beaten and shamed by his father or shamed and beaten or raped by his mother for acting like a faggot, where do you think he’s going to take that rage? He’s either going to put it out onto the body of someone else, or he’s going to hold it like a rock of slugs in his belly. If a girl is raped and shamed or beaten for acting too proud or for looking like a dyke, what are the layers of human behavior that she learns?

All we teach, over and over, is violence. That’s our prevailing modality in america: shame and violence. We need to stand up with the folks who are speaking/working/struggling for something different. We need to stand up with the people who want a different possibility of humanness for their/our own children. We need to stand up with peace and say, this is america, too. Or, this is america, instead. Our children aren’t just dying in wars on foreign soil. They’re dying in this war over gender-policing here right outside their front door, or in the garage or in their bedrooms, or inside their bodies. Why do we accept this?

This isn’t about strengthening hate-crime laws, or getting the cops to arrest 6 year olds who assault their classmates with rocks or their own bodies. This is about something bigger than jailing bullies. Those kids who set up a webcam to humiliate a young gay man by streaming his sex: they learned that that was acceptable human behavior from somewhere. All these bullies aren’t sociopaths. They’re not bad kids. They’re good students: They’re our children, and they’ve learned that either you’re the bullied or you’re the bully– you’re either with us or against us. This isn’t about legislation — this is about us deciding that every human life is worth saving, even if the body containing that life looks different from what you expected or what you’d prefer. This is about, over and over, each one of us teaching something different. Being a different model. If all of us who said we believe in peace actually walked that hard road out in the world, our kids would have a different option to choose from. If we showed a strength that wasn’t about violence and belittling and power-over: what would our america, what would this planet look like?

I don’t have any prompts for today, except maybe for you to write your story of bullying and how you came through, how things are different/better now from when you were younger. Except maybe for you to write the story about how you’re still being bullied, whether you’re a young person or an adult, and to share that story somewhere, anonymously if you want, but to share it — we need to hear these stories. You can share it here if you want. We can hold your stories with you while you’re finding your way through.

Thank you for your words today, for the work you do to remain alive that no one will know.

4 responses to “it gets different (doesn’t it?)

  1. Yes yes, I’m with you on that, Heather — Kate’s video got me all cheery and weepy at the same time.

    How powerful would it be if younger queers were also sharing their videos, saying: here’s what it’s like for me, now, or these are the questions I have, or even, this is what I want you to know about me before you try and give me any advice

  2. “I think one of the huge problems we as a community face is that we’re deliberately and systematically cut off from the next generation of queers. ”

    I’m with you on this one, Lori — thanks so much for this comment. Since I’ve been out, it has seemed like the only chance I have to connect with younger queerfolks has been by volunteering at a queer youth org. Is this really the only opportunity we have to connect with folks of different generations? Once upon a time, folks found each other at the bars or the bookstores; and now have we internalized so much of our greater society’s hostility toward queers that we’re terrified to reach out to others, esp. to younger folks, to create those bridges between and among us?

  3. Very well said. Thank you for sharing. I found Kate Bornstein’s video response quite refreshing in comparison to Dan Savage’s. She didn’t try to gloss over the difficulties of adulthood and adults. I feel like some of the responses have.
    Its does get better, but life’s never (in my experience) easy. Adults can be hateful and violent, too. I think kids are smart enough to see that. I think there should more cross-generational story sharing.

  4. I think about these issues a lot, as a parent. And as a queer parent, I think one of the huge problems we as a community face is that we’re deliberately and systematically cut off from the next generation of queers. Sometimes I think fears of sexual predation are just the excuse and that the real hope is that without cross-generational continuity of culture, our history and our activism and our support for each other will wither away and disappear.