Thursday, October 07, 2010

Tyler's Burden


By any standard, the death of Tyler Clementi is a tragedy.

At this point, you're probably well aware that late last month Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University student, killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge between New York and New Jersey; he did this apparently because his college roommate and a friend had surreptitiously set up a web-cam in his dorm room and streamed a sexual encounter he had with another man on the internet. Clementi's death is the latest in a series of recent and highly publicized suicides of kids, some of whom were or believed they might be gay, two of whom were only 13.

Once again, genuinely heartbreaking tragedies? Absolutely.

But an epidemic? Not a chance.

And yet that's not stopping many in the media from desperately attempting to connect dots that in reality have no connection whatsoever and trying to draw some larger conclusion from the series of similar but entirely unrelated events. Statistically, there's been no recent increase in the number of documented bullying incidents, nor has there been an increase in the number of teen suicides nationwide; there's simply coincidence and an American press that's suddenly attuned to spot items of a certain kind and broadcast them far and wide, creating a strangely symbiotic feeding frenzy wherein the stories reported in the news seem to inspire new incidents like the ones that created those stories in the first place. There weren't really more sharks making the conscious decision to attack unfortunate swimmers in the summer of 2001; there were just more reported -- and reported on -- shark attacks.

And if you believe quite a few news outlets, that's what the autumn of 2010 is shaping up to be: the new Summer of the Shark. Only with bullies.

There's nothing particularly wrong with drawing attention to an issue that negatively impacts a lot of people, and obviously kids getting the crap kicked out of them by bigger, more popular, more obnoxious kids has been a problem for generations. Throw in digital age technology, which now allows for the psychological torment that used to be confined only to school to be relentless and omnipresent, and you've certainly got yourself a topic that on the whole is worth discussing. But it's one that can and should be reported without the sort of hype that accompanies a supposed "epidemic"; the story is good enough on its own without having to create a bombastic news peg to blow it out of proportion, making it sound like, no matter who you are, bullies are waiting right outside your door to shake you down for your lunch money or have told everyone online that you're gay. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that the gay angle that many in the media are putting front and center right now is really the least controversial thing about the death of Tyler Clementi. That's because of one undeniable fact: Tyler Clementi isn't really dead because he was gay.

Don't get me wrong, as with at least three other cases this year in which a young person was harassed to the point of suicide, Tyler Clementi had his personal life splashed all over the internet because that personal life included the desire to be intimate with someone of the same sex. The desperate wish not to see that exposed, ostensibly, led him to kill himself. But this doesn't explain why his tormentors, the roommate and friend, felt no compunction about violating Clementi's privacy in such an egregious and cruel manner. They didn't feel like they could do it because, well, the kid's a queer, so who cares. They felt like they could do it because everybody does it. A good portion of our media culture is now based on prurient voyeurism and a constant invasion of privacy. The public disclosure of a person's most intimate secrets and moments is no longer considered shameful or condemnable -- it's just called entertainment. Why wouldn't a couple of college kids turn their classmate into an unwitting reality TV star? It's basically the same toxic horseshit they grew up watching on MTV, VH1 and E! For all they knew, maybe Tyler Clementi would've loved the mainline of notoriety. If the dipshits on Jersey Shore don't have a problem mining their most repugnant traits in the name of 15 minutes of fame -- if anyone can go to YouTube and post video of a guy complaining about how there are rapists in his neighborhood and suddenly turn that guy into a viral sensation and his complaints into a catch phrase -- why the hell can't two Rutgers freshmen live-stream a roommate in bed with a man? This is the age of the unauthorized sex tape. This is Bentham's Panopticon come to fruition on a global scale. You're always being watched. You're always on camera. You have no expectation of privacy. Clementi should have known that, right?

Which brings me to the person whose name I'm loathe to even mention for fear it'll give him more publicity and credibility than he already gets and has: Perez Hilton.

The erstwhile Mario Lavandeira has joined a group of celebrities advocating understanding and tolerance for gay young people and reaching out to them in an effort to let them know that suicide isn't the answer if they're being victimized by bullies -- particularly cyber-bullies, who mercilessly persecute their prey via the internet. Perez says that he's "beyond sad, crushed" that there are kids like Tyler Clementi out there being bullied because they're gay or think they might be gay, and that he's stepping up to provide a "role model" for the LGBT youth of America. Someone they can look to and realize that there may very well be untold wealth and success at the end of the, pardon the pun, rainbow. In case you're missing the staggering irony of all this, let me spell it out for you: Perez Hilton is the world's most famous cyber-bully. His entire career is based on publicly humiliating anyone he personally feels deserves it and he and his website are at the forefront of America's culture of shameless voyeurism and a constant, irrepressible invasion of privacy. It's because someone like Perez Hilton has spent the past few years making himself rich by indiscriminately circulating images of Miley Cyrus's crotch to the world that the two teenagers who tortured Tyler Clementi likely didn't think that what they were doing was a big deal.

What's more, the hypocrisy of Perez coming to the defense of Clementi -- a kid who was outed against his will -- is just fucking stupefying. This is the same sanctimonious turd who took credit for personally outing Lance Bass and who's been on an almost non-stop crusade to expose anyone gay he omnipotently deems necessary. The guy who delights in labeling certain men who prefer not to discuss their sexuality "fags," who draws semen on their faces, and who once said, "If I have to drag some people screaming out of the closet, I will." So what's the difference between "some people" and, say, Tyler Clementi? The difference, I'm sure Perez would say, is that Clementi wasn't a celebrity.

But here's the thing: If he had savored the attention brought on by his very public private sexual encounter instead of letting it destroy him, given our current culture, he may very well have become one.

In some ways, he became one regardless.

(A portion of this was inspired by comments made by Jim Norton yesterday on The Opie and Anthony Show, Sirius XM radio. Thanks, Jimmy, for helping to put into words what had been bugging me for a week.)

33 comments:

Eric said...

Extraordinarily well said. Thank you, Chez.

The Bacon said...

I didn't catch the Perez angle on this, but I have been skewered (and censored) on the Huffington Post for saying the same thing.

It seems that on the message boards, the only valid point of view is that we need a law addressing this "crisis," and if you don't agree you are a disgusting ogre of a homophobic human being.

Anonymous said...

Remember when it was the summer of child abductions? South Park even did an episode with the child tracker helmets. This is one of the many reasons I left the local news station. This and Elian Gonzales.

L. said...

I feel badly for gay men and women that every time an issue involving their sexuality comes up, Perez Hilton volunteers to be their spokesman/role model. He is truly an loathsome excuse for a human being.

toastie said...

As far as I know, no one has reported on Tyler's state-of-mind over the days, months, and years leading up to what I speculate was some sort of last straw. (I feel about as qualified to speculate as any of the movements who want to use Tyler posthumously without having a clue about who he was.)

When I first heard this story, my thoughts flashed back to my own first few weeks of college. I had been miserable in high school, and I was motivated solely by the hope that I'd go away to college and get a fresh start.

But I quickly realized that my problems didn't disappear. The setting was different. The cast of characters was different. But I hadn't changed; the nature of people around me hadn't change. I was convinced, if things were not better for me at this point, they would never be. And I wanted to find the tallest building on campus and jump. There were assholes around who helped make things especially intolerable, but my severe depression was certainly not about them. A lot of people who commit suicide are figuratively pushed over the edge by assholes who were not around for most of the journey.

There's no good explanation for why I went for counseling services one day instead of taking some more destructive route.

My point is, I suspect the real epidemic (and I'm not sure something is an epidemic if it's been going on forever) is the severe depression that envelops thousands of kids who go off to college in the hopes of a fresh start only to find that the world can be cruel and unrelenting. (No doubt this applies to kids who go off to the military, to a fishing boat in Alaska, or to anywhere they consider to be an escape from a previous life.)

I'm glad people are addressing bullying and gay-bashing and issues-of-privacy. I've just got a different take on this. And it would take me another twelve paragraphs to try to address the problem of severe clinical depression.

(I probably do not have any right to imply that Tyler suffered from severe depression. I just don't think people commit suicide because they were outed, humiliated, or betrayed the day before. Sigh...I did not intend to clutter up the comments like this...)

toastie said...

I probably do not have any right to imply that Tyler suffered from severe depression. I just don't think people commit suicide because they were outed, humiliated, or betrayed the day before. But I do feel about as qualified to speculate as any of the groups who want to use Tyler posthumously to bring attention to their worthy causes.

When I first heard this story, my thoughts flashed back to my own first few weeks of college. I had been miserable in high school, and I was motivated solely by the hope that I'd go away to college and get a fresh start.

But I quickly realized that my problems didn't disappear. The setting was different. The cast of characters was different. But I hadn't changed; the nature of people around me hadn't change. I was convinced, if things were not better for me at this point, they would never be. And I wanted to find the tallest building on campus and jump. There were assholes around who helped make things especially intolerable, but my severe depression was certainly not about them. A lot of people who commit suicide are figuratively pushed over the edge by assholes who were not around for most of the journey.

There's no good explanation for why I went for counseling services one day instead of taking some more destructive route.

My point is, I suspect the real epidemic (and I'm not sure something is an epidemic if it's been going on forever) is the severe depression that envelops thousands of kids who go off to college in the hopes of a fresh start only to find that the world can be cruel and unrelenting. (No doubt this applies to kids who go off to the military, to a fishing boat in Alaska, or to anywhere they consider to be an escape from a previous life.)

I'm glad people are addressing bullying and gay-bashing and issues-of-privacy. I've just got a different take on this. And it would take me another twelve paragraphs to try to address the problem of severe clinical depression.

Sigh...I did not intend to clutter up the comments like this...

Anonymous said...

Eh, making bullying for any reason a thing of the past, like polio, is all right with me.

howdidIgethere said...

ITA with L. that Perez Hilton is a loathsome excuse for a human being. Thank you for identifying the blatant hypocrisy of this toad who made his "name" by invading the privacy others!

I agree, also, with your assertion that 5 suicides does not make an "epidemic." However, I am glad to see some focus on the fact that, for many LGBT youth, killing themselves is seen as their only option to escape a life that feels unbearable. While about 1 in 10 teens are gay, one-third of teen who commit suicide are gay.

I hope you never have to hear your college age daughter call you, sobbing, because, as a part of a internship working to support safe schools, in one week, every day she got an email about another teen suicide. In each case she had to learn about that person, his parents, what the background was that drove him to this act of finality.

Five in one week may not qualify as an epidemic, but thousands of attempts and hundreds of successes annually merit attention even in this time of rampant fame-whoring, attention-seeking would-be celebrities.

Joshua said...

...(T)hey didn't feel like they could do it because, well, the kid's a queer, so who cares. They felt like they could do it because everybody does it...

That’s an awfully convenient assumption to make, and coincidentally one that supports your opinion.

Chez said...

It is, isn't it.

B8ovin said...

I think in your "shark summer" analogy you miss the boat. While there are certainly always shark attacks, that summer there were actually less. If you separate the "gay bullying" from the "gay suicide" you may have a point. It is a fact that more gay young people (between the ages of 15 and 25) commit suicide than heterosexuals of the same class. This can only be viewed as a serious problem, one that could and should be reported on. Because bullying, particularly of gay young people, may not be reported as often (women sexually assaulting men is far more common than you would think but suffers from a lack of reporting, for instance) it may well be said to be sensationalized when it is reported.

The point is, that sensationalism is what it is, and facts are what they are. The former should not belittle the latter. Gay bullying and gay suicide are very real and tragic realities, the ability of the media to exploit them at their convenience notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

The gay suicide thing while said isn't necessarily new. I've heard stories of people whose father killed himself after years of trying to live a double life or not being able to deal with the shame, etc, etc, having kept it under wraps all their life. These people weren't outed intentionally or embarrassed publicly, they simply couldn't deal with the shame or guilt of being gay and privately snapped one day. Similarly stories of kids who were gay and committed suicide because their parents couldn't deal with it and cut them off or cast them out. Shit like this just happens when it's still a cultural stigma to be gay.

Ester Goldberg said...

You are my new hero this week for calling out that sad excuse of a homosexual. He is riding this like he does everything, for his own profit and hits. May we all celebrate the day this Lame ass moron fades away. He does nothing but copy and paste the STORIES they write, and pretends it's his exclusives! No one calls him out. most of his stories are from Radar online and TMZ. Kudos again

dsbs42 said...

Bravo, Chez. Regardless of whether I agree with you or not, your posts are rarely anything but well thought out and eloquently expressed.

THIS post, I agree with so utterly that I do not know how to express it in words. So from the bottom of my heart...

THIS^^

greenmanTN said...

There may be nothing 'new' about this crop of anti-gay bullying-related suicides, but there is some things slightly different about them; the openness of family members regarding how their child's sexuality (or perceived sexuality) was the basis for the bullying and the media's attention to it. In the past that would most likely have been hidden, a "dirty secret." Also, even though these stories occurred all over the country, some of them in small towns whose events are unlikely to garner national attention, the Internet allowed the separate stories to be found by bloggers and their similarity to be publicized almost in "real time."

It has long been known that due to various factors gay youth make up a high percentage of teen suicides. But it's also possible to know something yet not think about it much because you aren't confronted by evidence of it. Suddenly here were 5 or 6 cases of suicides related to anti-gay bullying, all occurring within a few weeks of each other in addition to the highly publicized case of a gay college student being hounded and "cyber-bullied" by an Asst Attorney General and critical mass was reached.

It may not be anything new or even out of the ordinary, but attention is being drawn to the issue and that's a good thing. It's something that's needed to be addressed for a long time.

Regarding the Rutgers/Tyler Clementi situation I'd add that posting video on the Internet of someone having sex, without their knowledge, has been used as a comedic plot device in several films, including one that was advertised heavily in the days leading up to the events at Rutgers. I'm not one of the people baying for the blood of Ravi and Wei, the Rutgers perpetrators, because it's possible that no real malice was intended even though it was an incredibly stupid and cruel thing to do. They are as young, inexperienced and vulnerable as Tyler Clementi was and it's possible they just didn't think about possible consequences. They should have, but they didn't. We should at least wait for the facts before calling for the guillotine.

You're right about "Perez Hilton" though; it's hypocritical of him to complain about bullying. He has the interests and moral compass of a particularly shallow and nasty 12 year-old girl and should in no way be considered a spokesperson for the gay community. It was bad enough when he seemed to be placed in that role by the media after the incredibly stupid Carrie Prejean/Miss CA flap of a few years ago. I thought Ms Prejean was a loathsome, hypocritical person and one of the bigger attention-whores to come down the pike in a while, but no more so than Perez Hilton. With friends like him the gay community doesn't need enemies, though this spate of teen suicides makes it clear we have plenty of those too.

Chez said...

A good comment all the way around, but a great point about how parents now are more willing to admit that their kids were either gay or believed they might be gay. As much as it's a pyrrhic victory, it is progress I supposed.

All The Lazy Dykes said...

First off, I find it a bit presumptuous and dismissive to assert that Tyler's suicide had nothing to do with the fact that he's gay. Sure, maybe the kids who violated his privacy and posted that video weren't driven to "terrorize the gay", but would it have been so sensational and worth posting on the internet, from their perspective, had it simply been a video of their straight, male roommate having sex with a woman? And even had they thought it worth posting (anywhere, perhaps, other than youporn), would Tyler have been so mortified and so ashamed, if that had been the case? He certainly may have still felt violated, and perhaps wouldn't have walked around getting high fives for banging some chick online, but would he have felt so much shame and embarrassment that he would have felt compelled to jump off a bridge the way he did? It's possible, but no matter how embarrassing it may have been for a straight guy in that situation, I'm sorry to say that it would be an entirely different experience for a gay kid, thanks to all the messages we receive about how wrong, how shameful, how disappointing, how despicable, how unacceptable it is to be queer, even still. It's not the same as being a nerd, or being a geek, or being socially awkward. Sure, those kids get bullied, too, and that's just as wrong. But it's not the same thing at all.

Also, not to defend that reprehensible fame-whoring piece of shit Perez Hilton, but there really is a big difference between what he does and what those bullies did.

Gay adults (not kids, not teens, not those still financially dependant upon their potentially homophobic folks), unless residing in a culture in which it is life-threatening, illegal or otherwise impossible to safely come out of the closet, should really just come out, already. It's socially irresponsible not to. It so important, especially in the wake of these gay suicides, that younger generations can see that it is possible to be yourself and be happy, and that they have no reason to be ashamed of who they are. And often, if people discover that they have a gay in their own family, even if they're super conservative, it can totally make them more accepting and supportive of gays and gay rights in general, which is the most effective way of promoting change, at a societal level.

Dan Savage puts it far more eloquently (and bitingly) than I ever could in this article.

All The Lazy Dykes said...

Again, and just to clarify: I don't support or encourage Perez Hilton's campaign to out celebrities. If they want to be selfish cowards, and part of the problem, that's their personal choice. I just don't think his douchebaggery is the same thing as that of Tyler Clementi's roommate, or of any of the other bullies that drove these queer kids to suicide, douchebaggery though it is. The targets, and the intent, are entirely different, though the methods are indeed similar, and not commendable in the least.

Jason said...

Chez,

Normally your writings teeter on a line I have a hard time agreeing with.

In this case, however, your article is 100% dead on point, and should be thrown in the faces of every journalist TRYING to report on this complicated issue.

There is no stench like the stench of someone who makes a career out of ridiculing celebrities, getting on a soapbox and saying ridiculing people is bad.

Anonymous said...

It's also pretty hypocritical that the LGBT community is publicizing Tyler's situation so much and arguably exploiting his death, if what he really did want was privacy.

It is also unfair to make it seem as if he killed himself JUST because of this incident...who knows what else was going on in his life. (I'm not trying to say that his being recorded had nothing to do with it, because obviously it did, but to make it a definitive 'suicide because he was outed as gay' is just exploitative in my opinion)

All The Lazy Dykes - I actually disagree with your point about all the current messages in society about how 'wrong, shameful, disappointing, despicable, unacceptable' it is to be queer. Maybe it is just hard for me to see as a straight person, but what I do see is tons of outlets for support and prominent homosexual figures that have been very successful in the public eye. I don't doubt that there is still tons of hate, but I think it is definitely better today than it was in, say, the 50s or something.

It is undoubtedly devastating that people feel the need to commit suicide over perceived differences from the 'norm' in society. I think we all just need to accept and embrace differences and realize that someones sexual orientation or skin color does not define them as a person. But people have a fear of the unknown, and I don't know how bullying and hate will ever not be an issue. The world sucks.

Tony said...

Chez,

I've never commented before, but think you are one of the more excellent bloggers out here, and I haven't visited as often as I should have, personal shit & all that.

I was hoping to read an article that focused solely on one current topic, whether it was cyber-bullying in general, or whether or not bullying of any type drives teenagers to suicide, what have you..

Believe me or not, I barely let a day pass without pulling up Talk Entertainment Show Biz and TMZ, devouring the gossip. Let ye who is without sin, yada yada..

but I can say in all honesty that I checked out Hilton's site maybe 2 or 3 times MAX, over FIVE YRS AGO, and haven't bothered w/ that screen-raping trash since.

To put the focus on THIS particular internet douchebag only served to give the pusillanimous cock-shrinker the attention that he already hasn't had in years! Why did you have to go THERE??

I loved your post, as I do just about every one, but this time you seem to have come off as someone who had too much blame to spread around about too many issues, and Perez was just a peripheral target you snatched on to.

I think you lost your focus on this, and you picked the worst possible internet example to prove your point: the prick only attacks celebrities who put their asses out there to smear his little CG cum stains on their public pictures- I don't have to refer back to that 'shite site' to see if anything's changed-

unfortunately, you threw the irrelevant fucker in our faces again to maybe do just that.

Not good, Chez

Tony

Jen said...

"Gay adults (not kids, not teens, not those still financially dependant upon their potentially homophobic folks), unless residing in a culture in which it is life-threatening, illegal or otherwise impossible to safely come out of the closet, should really just come out, already. It's socially irresponsible not to."

ATLD, I'm sure every closeted gay adult in the world thanks you kindly for your loving and sympathetic words. Do feel free to lecture them all some more about how socially irresponsible they are for not sharing the details of their sex/love lives with you and the rest of the world.

Asshole.

All The Lazy Dykes said...

I think that to suggest that the queer community is exploiting Tyler's death is a huge misrepresentation. Everyone agrees that it was a tragedy, and the queer community is responding to that tragedy by trying to prevent similar tragedies in the future. How is that exploitative?

Anonymous, to put it bluntly, as a straight person, you really wouldn't be aware of all of the current messages in society about what it is to be queer, no matter how willing you are to embrace people's differences.

That's like a white person saying: we have a black president, so clearly, racism can't be that big a problem these days. It brings to mind Stephen Colbert's running gag about being colorblind.

You don't notice all the messages from society about it being wrong, shameful, etc. to be queer, because they are not directed at you and you don't have to deal with them. That is your heterosexual privilege, being blissfully unaware of how pervasive that message really is. I'm not suggesting that it's the blatant, hateful messages of the Westboro Baptist Church, I'm talking about the effects on young queer people's self-esteem and self-worth when they see that gay people in their country cannot openly serve in the military and that in California, the majority of residents are of the opinion that homosexual relationships are inferior to heterosexual ones and do not deserve legal recognition. It's felt every time a kid comes out to their parents and is met with that all too familiar look of disappointment (even my mother, who is wonderful and progressive and accepting, bemoaned the fact that she'd never get that wedding she had envisioned for me all of those years - though, I'm happy to report that last year I married a woman I love more than anything and my mom was in the front row, crying tears of joy instead of those initial tears of disappointment - but not every queer person is as fortunate as I am in that regard).

It's these subtle, implicit messages that are so common and so soul crushing, far more so that the ridiculous antics of Fred Phelps and his family.

Yes, it's certainly a lot better today for lgbt folks than it was in the 50s, but a few gay characters on tv does not mean it's suddenly easy being queer. Here's an article about straight privilege entitled "unpacking the invisible knapsack" that might enlighten you as to what it's like to be part of the queer minority, even today in North America.

http://theangryblackwoman.com/2010/06/04/linkspam-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack-straight-privilege-edition/

All The Lazy Dykes said...

Jen, I don't have to. Harvey Milk did it in 1978:

Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out. Come out... to your parents... I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene.

It is selfish to reap the benefits of heterosexual privilege (because, as many gay people can tell you, myself included, most people assume everyone is straight unless otherwise informed, and that's just what many of these celebrities want) while gay kids in this country still need hope. It is selfish and it is cowardly. It is a political action, coming out of the closet. You have to weigh the potential dollars you may lose as an actor by losing roles, against living honestly and with integrity, and perhaps helping to open the many closed minds in America. They have the right to stay closeted, and it should be their decision, but I certainly have the right to call them out on their selfishness if they place their personal wealth and comfort above demonstrating to the youth of today that they don't have to live a lie. No, everyone does not need to issue a press statement about how gay they are to the media, but the lengths that some celebrities go to avoid this question or hide their identity is pathetic, and yes, selfish.

Have you ever had to come out of the closet, Jen? It is hard, especially when you're young. But the more people that do, especially those people in the public eye, the easier it becomes for subsequent generations.

I'd rather be an honest asshole than a cowardly liar, any day.

Chachi said...

BRAVO!

Chez said...

Understood, ATLD -- and you're certainly right about the greater good being served by admitting who you are and living your life as an example. But the only 100% certain thing you said is that whether or not someone reveals the details of his or her personal life is that person's decision. In the end, the only real responsibility anyone has is to him or herself and the people he or she loves and chooses to allow influence. Bottom line, with respect: Neither Tyler Clementi nor anybody else owes you anything.

By the way, while I do think that coming out of the closet is an act of incredible courage, it's ironic that you choose Harvey Milk to quote about the importance of being openly gay -- a guy who wound up being shot to death. (And no, I'm certainly not saying that people should stay in the closet or risk being killed, only that that might not be the most convincing example to cite about the benefits of being out in the open.)

Chez said...

And Tony, the focus of this piece is on our lack of privacy -- this reality TV nation we've created -- and the negative, long term effects it may be having on our culture and us. Perez Hilton's a flawless example of someone who traffics in prurient voyeurism -- and the fact that he personally inserted himself into this debate makes it perfect fair to point out his hypocrisy.

All The Lazy Dykes said...

Respectfully, I disagree. I think Harvey Milk is an excellent example of why it is so important to be out. The political climate being what it was in 1978, the fact that Harvey Milk was willing to risk being shot, in order to live openly and honestly, was admirable and is partly why he is such a hero to the gay community, in addition to all the amazing work he did as the first openly gay public official. It also further demonstrates how cowardly it is for public figures to remain closeted today, when they are not likely to be assassinated for doing so, after such a huge sacrifice by Harvey Milk. It is a slap in the face to all those brave folks who came out in previous decades, when it was much more dangerous and difficult to do so, to live in the closet today while enjoying all the benefits of their struggle for gay rights.

Chez said...

If they're living in the closet -- which I'm not saying is a good idea -- how exactly are they enjoying the benefits of the struggle for gay rights? And once again, while I agree with your basic premise, it's up to the individual to decide how he or she chooses to live life. I agree that it's much easier to be gay in society now than it was decades ago -- no doubt about it -- and God knows whenever I hear about someone gay being in the closet for years, I wonder why that person doesn't make the choice to live as the person they are, since it's easier to do so these days than it once was. But it still all comes back to a personal decision.

All The Lazy Dykes said...

I do agree that it's always a personal decision, but I strongly believe that the personal is political, and that our personal decisions can affect the lives of others. In a community where we're still struggling for equality, coming out is one of the most effective ways to promote change, and I simply wish more people would do it.

Apologies for the misunderstanding - I was referring to the many selectively "out" folks, who still enjoy going to gay bars and clubs and and partake of gay culture while refusing to admit, sometimes publicly, sometimes even to family and friends, that they are gay. I personally know many folks like this, and it is endlessly frustrating to see them pretend to be straight when it suits their needs or when admitting their actual identity would be inconvenient.

Jen said...

ATLD, I apologize for the name-calling. I just believe you're no better than the conservative Christians in this country who want to politicize something as personal and private as an individual's sex life. Being gay is nothing to be ashamed of, and it's awful that so many people still feel they have to hide it. But neither does being gay make you a special, wonderful person, any more than my being straight makes me better than you. It doesn't, and I'm not. The sooner we all go about the business of fucking/dating/marrying whoever the hell we want to fuck/date/marry, without any fuss as to the gender of said person, the better off we'll all be.

All The Lazy Dykes said...

Jen, thanks for the apology, but you then follow it by calling me something worse than an asshole.

I never said being gay makes me a special, wonderful person - I would argue, however, that it may give me more insight into Tyler Clementi's and other gay kids' experiences as queer youth than you may perhaps have as a straight person. Not only was I a queer youth myself, but I have worked with queer youth both in drop-in groups for queer street youth and as a volunteer with a queer youth help line.

Being gay is already political, because gays don't have equal rights. I really wish that weren't the case, but it is, and ignoring it won't make it go away. It would be really wonderful if we could all "go about the business of fucking/dating/marrying whoever the hell we want to without any fuss", and that's all some of us gay folks want - to be able to live our lives without it being an issue. But the sad reality is that we (meaning us queer folks) can't yet do that. Not because we don't want to, but because bullies (young and old, in schools and in churches) like those that torment these queer kids won't let us. I really honestly believe, however, that if every straight individual personally knew a gay person, or had one in their family, this bullying wouldn't be such a common problem. Which is why I would strongly urge that gay adults come out of the closet whenever they can safely do so (if that makes me sound like a conservative christian, I fail to see how, but okay).

Chez, I'm sorry for cluttering up your comments section of this article. I really don't mean to try to dominate this argument, and I really don't think you deserve some of the harsh responses you've received at Huffpo. I just think it is a really sensitive topic for some people and that's where some of those knee-jerk, heated, somewhat unbalanced responses are coming from, a place of hurt and anger and frustration, where people don't always think clearly. But I really do appreciate that you are discussing a serious topic like this, and that you are respectfully allowing me to share my perspective, long-winded though I may be.

Robert said...

I think that the main take away for me from Chez' post is what we have all known for some time but rarely addressed in public. There is no such thing as privacy. Every interaction you have with your environment is potentially part of the public record, and that's that. The only place I can even imagine a serious expectation of privacy is in my own head, and sometimes I wonder about that. Every electronic move is traceable to you. Every financial transaction. Anytime you are on a public street or in a public building you will be on camera at some point. Your phone effectively sends your location along with your voice. We are long past the point where privacy as traditionally understood is relevant to our lives.

Now, whether or not all this information should be seen as "entertainment" is another issue, one that is potentially amenable to social conditioning. From my perspective it's vulgar, and those that indulge in it are beyond crass and were likely quite poorly brought up. That there should be so many of them is hardly a surprise; I could have told you in elementary school that the common man is exactly that (with apologies for the phrasing). With so many families living at the modern equivalent of the subsistence level; public discourse largely controlled by large industrial, financial, and political concerns; and the appalling lack of education and trivialization of critical thinking skills, can anyone really be surprised?

What can be done? Bring your children up to be better than that. Let your friends and acquaintances know your views, and what lies behind them. Above all, set an example. Do not, as was mentioned, be a hypocritical douchebag (again, my apologies).

And, if the actual or potential lack of privacy disturbs you, there is at least one solution, one which I was forced to find in my own recovery from severe mental illness. Simply lose the shame. There is nothing in life that can't be shared. Anger is an appropriate response when someone violates your human dignity, but never shame. The lesson from such a violation is that it says far more about those responsible than it does about you. We all have things in our lives that we would prefer not to have spread around, or even to address to ourselves. Having my sex life broadcast would not be my first choice, but c'est la vie. Generally, I would not choose to be naked in public; but I have woken up in a city park after a long night and not been able to find my pants (and they were my favorite pair!) Head high and shoulders back, what can you do but walk it out? Truth be told, I think we all carry our pasts writ large in our present anyway. It's been my experience that the things which are kept most hidden are the same things which are most obvious to others, so why bother?

Which brings briefly me to ATLD's point regarding coming out. I am in complete agreement with both her and Harvey Milk. It is a political act, and arguably a moral duty: if there are any such things as moral imperatives, the requirement to be honest with each other is surely one of them. If nothing else, the contortions of someone trying to keep that secret are just too painful for the rest us to watch! (You know who you are). Stop tormenting yourselves and everyone else. Besides, somebody already knows, and if one person knows... well, you know what they say about secrets.

Maybe there never was any such thing as privacy anyway, just treating each other with dignity and respect. Can you imagine?