If wild my breast and sore my pride,
I bask in dreams of suicide;
If cool my heart and high my head,
I think, “How lucky are the dead!”
Dorothy Parker, “Rhyme Against Living”
love is believable
in every moment of exhaustion
in every heartbroken home
in every dark spirit,
the meaning unfolds…
…in every night that sings
of tomorrow. in every suicide
i carry deep inside my head.
in every lonely smile
that plays across my lips.
love is believable i tell you,
in every scrap of history,
in every sheen of want.
what can be wrong
that some days i have a tough time
and in each chamber of my heart
Lisa Zaran, “Love is Believable”
No jokes today, kids. No wry asides. Instead, I would like you to consider the following list of names:
Raymond Chase (age 19)
Tyler Clementi (age 18)
Seth Walsh (age 13)
Asher Brown (age 13)
Billy Lucas (age 15)
These are the young men who have come to be known as “The September Suicides.” Some, like Raymond Chase, were “out and proud.” Others, like Billy Lucas, never self-identified as gay, but endured relentless torment from their peers because they were perceived as gay by bullies unconcerned with unimportant details like the truth.
All of these young men – most of them boys, really – are now dead by their own hand.
While there are mitigating factors in the cases of Chase and Clementi (both young men seemed at ease with their sexuality; Chase was very open about being gay, and did not report being bullied, while Clementi went online to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) youth support sites to discuss his anger at the humiliation to which he was subjected by his roommate’s airing of a sexual encounter over the internet), it appears that all of them were driven to suicide by the pain of struggling to be themselves in a society where many people remain hostile to LGBT youth.
The teen years aren’t easy for anyone. The body is a carnival ride of hormonal fluctuations; there is extreme pressure to both distinguish oneself as an individual and conform to the standards of one’s peer group in the expression of that individuality; young hearts must endure both the triumphs and traumas of first kisses, first loves, first heartbreaks. All of these experiences are magnified when one is also struggling with sexuality that falls outside the mainstream heterosexual paradigm, because there remains, despite the efforts of Dan Savage, PFLAG and Gay-Straight Alliances and the relentless work of the ACLU, a climate of hatred and misunderstanding toward LGBT people of all ages and cultures. In this climate, it is acceptable, if not explicitly condoned, to torment, bully, and heap abuse on the heads of kids who are gay, or bisexual, or transgender, because, hey, they’re different.
Never mind that, aside from their sexuality, they are culturally and socioeconomically identical to the peers that persecute them. Never mind that they are human beings, equipped with the same set of emotional, spiritual and intellectual mechanisms as any “straight” kid.
No, never mind any of that, because they are different. They are other. This is the mindset that creates, and permits to continue, an environment where nine out of ten LGBT students are harassed by their peers.
These are not aliens from the planet Sinner. These are not monsters, or freaks, or punching bags for insecure kids looking for an easy target and an easy distraction from their own teenage misery.
These are our KIDS, America. And we are letting them slip into the darkness alone and unheard. Many of the schools involved claim they either had no idea that the bullying was going on, or chalked it up to “kids being kids.” Understaffed and overworked, many educators are stretched to the limit just teaching; they don’t have time to monitor every child for potential signs of bullying or trauma. So goes the argument, at least. But one cannot help but wonder if such an argument would fly if these kids were targeted for reasons less palatable to the anti-LGBT mindset. One cannot help but wonder if, in an age where such matters are routinely reported across the media channels, that staff and administration alike have not been encouraged to “perk up their ears.” One cannot help but wonder where the support and education programs designed to address this sort of bigotry are languishing.
Think of it this way: replace the word “gay” with another adjective. “Muslim,” perhaps. “Hispanic,” maybe, or “Evangelical Christian.” Imagine the furor that would’ve erupted over these suicides if the victims had been driven to oblivion because of persecution for one of these traits. Now ask yourself why such a furor hasn’t erupted over children so traumatized, so heartbreakingly distraught at the thought of a single minute more in a world where they are relentlessly and viciously tormented, that they seek the cold comfort of the grave.
Ask yourself why we’re content to shake our heads at the tragedy instead of preventing it in the first place.