I hate categorization, especially when it comes to human beings. In my opinion, there isn’t much that is more of a threat to the well-being of mankind than demographics. I see the problems created by primarily defining one’s self by gender, ancestry, age, spiritual status, and whom one sleeps with as sort of a polar paradox. Sure, groups separate people from one another, causing bigotry, tribalism, and discrimination, but at the same time they don’t separate people far enough, to the point where every person is an individual free from all the expectations and biases of the competing cultures.
Going further, I refuse to claim a sexual orientation. First off, I’m far too narcissistic and antisocial to define myself by the presence of someone else. But I suppose the main reason why I choose to not define myself along sexual lines is that I demand the ability to like any person in any way that I want. Sex holds a pretty low rank in my relationships, so describing myself as gay, straight, or bisexual would feel like a cop-out.
Of course, this means that I often get treated as though I’m gay. Wearing makeup and dresses and singing songs about molesting the male cast of Saved by the Bell hasn’t helped. But I think I’d get the homo label anyway. As progressive as we like to think of ourselves, there’s still a huge gay paranoia within our society, the magnitude of which draws parallels to McCarthyism. One must always travel with one’s identification in full view. Among guys (and let it be noted that I’m not presuming to speak for the ladies), this pretty much means that if you’re not banging at least five smokin’ hot girls at once, in full view of the entire world, your sexuality is suspect.
As an adult, I’ve fallen victim to this meatheaded thinking, but as a teenager, in a public school, shit. I’m going to come right out and say it: fuck public school. It’s a refinery of anti-intellectualism populated by savage little shits constantly at war with each other. With the exception of a few friends, teachers, and an army of guidance counselors, I hated just about every moment I spent in the system. My great grades were no indication of my experience. On the off chance that I have children, there is no fucking way I will subject them to what I went through.
I suppose I’m queer in the more universal sense of the word, which is to say that I’m a chronic stranger. But in that 12 year prison term that is public education, few recognize the difference. The weirdos are faggots, regardless of what nascent form of sexuality is developing within them, and they suffer for it. In that hateful maelstrom of loneliness and status-seeking, I was no innocent, though I mostly survived by vanishing instead of damaging. For the belligerent, homophobia was often a convenient excuse for being an asshole – but sometimes we were just being assholes.
I’m happier now, by the way.
So I look at the recent rash of gay teen suicides with horror and sympathy, and I think that the massive outpouring of support for these kids – especially that shown in the It Gets Better Project – is nothing short of amazing. Comparing the current reaction to something even so recent as the Columbine shootings of 1999 is mind-blowing. In my experience, Columbine became a justification for bullying, not against it. All soul-searching and self-questioning were quickly drowned in reactionary concealment and witch hunts for boogeymen wearing trenchcoats. I remember. I was there. I was wearing one.
Yet today I also see a danger in some of the reactions. While most people have their hearts in the right place, I’ve picked up on a lingering tendency to emphasize the gay in gay bullying, and the gay in gay suicide.
With all due respect to the fact that homosexuality is still viewed by too many as a source for second-class citizens, and being fully aware of the monstrous shit that is still coming out of the mouths and keyboards of the wannabe righteous phobe-trolls, I don’t think that the problem of bullying should be defined by who it’s happening to. I don’t think that most, if any, acts of brutality should be. Suffering is personal, relative, and can’t be compared. Between the extremes of hypochondria and institutionalized crimes against humanity, when a spectator rates one person’s misery as more important than another’s, humanity’s lesser natures tend to creep in. It also makes people placed outside of the special circle less inclined to care. In fighting injustice, you can’t just stand up for those you claim as your own. You have to stand up for everybody, or nothing gets solved.
Keep in mind that the early Christians were fed to the lions. Look how well that turned out.
So when I hear or read about people saying that people who aren’t gay can’t understand the horrors of gay bullying, my first impulse is to answer that this isn’t always true. Just because I’m not gay doesn’t mean that I haven’t been treated like shit because someone thought I was gay. I feel like people who make such exclusionary comments discount not only the damage and perspectives of the straights, but also those of aliens like me.
But in spite of my cynicism, I hope – to steal a phrase – that things do get better, and we take the larger view. And I think most people are. It may take a little nudge and a willingness for people to look beyond their usual circles, but it seems that we’re approaching a common ground where all kids will be viewed – and further, treated – as important. That can only mean good things when those kids become adults.