Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It's Not Just a "Gay Thing."

First off, I want to make perfectly clear, I am not "anti-gay," and I think that anyone who knows me would back me up in that claim. I am also, like most everyone, horrified and saddened by the tragic events that have been taking place at Rutgers and elsewhere. I'm not trying to belittle those horrible events, at all, or the reactions.

But it does bother me. It bothers me because I'm not gay, and bullying was a part of my life for 12 years while I was moving through the school system. I was an overweight, nerdy, daydreaming dork, and there wasn't a day that went by that I wasn't pointedly reminded of it.

Bullying is a part of many, many kids lives. Kids who aren't gay, as well as those who are. While I understand why recent events would prompt the recorded and written appeals from Ellen Degeneres, Dave Navarro and Sarah Silverman, I also find myself also feeling a little put off. Put off because, as usual, it seems that it's only when these events move into an area where there's a personal investment, does anyone seem to care.

Bullying is not about sexual orientation. It's not about being "weak." it's about entitlement. It's about certain groups that feel like, for whatever reason, they have the right to belittle anyone who's not in their group. Those who are put down and marginalized can have many sorts of reactions...from self injury to lashing out violently.

A compelling ad from boxer Joe Calzaghe's "Beat Bullying" Campaign

Tyler Clementi, God rest his soul, wasn't singled out because he was gay. He was singled out because people like Dharun Ravi have been brought up to believe that only their beliefs and desires are real. He saw a opportunity to amuse himself at another person's expense, and took it.

If Ravi's roommate had been straight, and still as mild and quiet as Tyler is reported to have been, I'd hazard to guess that the same thing would probably have happened. The fact that Clementi was gay obviously added to Ravi's sick enjoyment of his "little joke," as his tweets and messages prove, but he was primed to victimize anyone who gave him the opportunity. Tyler was backed into a corner where nothing, not even his love of music, could give him solace, and he saw no option but tragic, definitive, irreversible action.

Would Ellen or Sarah have recorded a similar messages for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold? When those boys walked into Columbine High School armed with guns and explosives, the thoughts that were going through their heads were probably very, very similar to those going through Tyler Clementi's when he climbed to the edge of the George Washington Bridge. Those thoughts being that they had no place in the society they were living within, and that they needed to take extreme action to change that. Harris and Klebold directed their actions outward, while Clementi turned on himself, but the key, the spark of the action was the same.

What bothers me is that it seems every, single time I see anyone speak out or advocate on the problem of bullying, it's tied to their own personal pet issues. Be it gun control, arts funding, or, yes, gay rights. Again, I understand this, as, no matter how altruistic we want to view ourselves as, we're all creatures of selfishness.

Yet, how many people/places/things got blamed for Columbine? How many pundits got more press from assigning quick, easy blame? Gun culture? Video games? Not having school uniforms? It's all part of the issue, and it's all bullshit. All of those things were factors, I don't deny that, they fed the revenge fantasy, but millions of kids take in those images, each day. Why aren't there millions of shootings?

The simple fact is that Eric and Dylan were reminded, day in and day out, that they had no place within the society of their school. When they tried to carve a place for themselves by dressing distinctively, or via artistic expression, that was derided, as well. Those two boys were slowly backed into a corner where they felt that, if they wanted to mean anything to anyone, they had to make a powerful statement.

Their choice of such a violent, destructive one stemmed from, yes, the movies they watched, the games they played, but also their inability to file those images in the proper part of their brain. In the right situation, Teletubbies might have set them off. Yet, that easy, easy answer, the smoking gun, is what we all wish could be the truth.

At both Rutgers and Columbine, we see where the implication that one has no place within a society leads to disregard for the rules of that society. Why conform to an environment that does not value you? Especially when you can cause for more disruption, and "matter" more, with extreme steps outside the rules.

There has been violence in our schools for as long as schools existed. The trouble is, as our society has become more and more self-centered, as we become more and more convinced of our own central role in the universe, and the infallibility of our opinions and beliefs, this has spread to our children. The same attitudes that are drawing the battle lines in the realm of politics, the psychology of "us" and "them," have taken these divisions that have always existed in school societies, and deepened them. Made them acceptable to take to even more extreme versions of physical and verbal abuse.

If you want to find the root of this, you need only look around you. It's saturated the society, look at the truly ugly and horrible things we say about political figures we oppose. The things we say about celebrities. The way we give ultimate importance to our, personal values, and deride those that may have a different path. When we tear down the artifice, we're all bullies.

No wonder so many kids are, too.

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