Though a hot topic in the past couple of years due to young gay students and, recently one gay college student, killing themselves after being outed and harassed by friends and classmates, bullying has been around for seemingly ever.
The disturbing (relatively new) trend of linking it with homosexuality brings it under a spotlight because of how current gay issues are in our culture, with gay marriage poised to become universal, and gay rights a part of most political discussions these days. And of course, the influence of the internet cannot be ignored. Your "outing" can be global or viral in minutes, entirely beyond your own control. Posting such information is considered bullying, and rightfully so. It's not going away, unfortunately.
The irony is that with the unveiling of these gay issues (online or otherwise), and subsequent injection of the entire discussion into mainstream America, comes an increase in the fear-based rejection of same. The only way to combat the fear is to extract it from the closet and have it confronted, but at the same time, doing so can fan the flames of that hatred.
I know how naïve that may be. Gays can regale you with horror stories of their heartfelt family "outings" that have gone horribly awry. Choosing this path presents a double-edged sword, proving these must be very confusing times for gay people.
What bubbles painfully and sadly to the surface is the still intractable strain of homophobia that runs through our country. And the fear isn't born with these young kids, be they teenagers or even a bit older. It's either handed down from their parents, or allowed to infiltrate their psyches by apathetic parents who don't monitor the thought processes of their children. 'I'm not trying to sound like big brother here, but were I a parent, I sure as hell would want to know where my kid's head was at re the big issues of life, the impactful subjects that will always be there, no matter what their age.
Racism, homophobia, misogyny, sexism. I would pick their brains until I had a secure feeling they were headed down the right track with these heavyweights.
Let them make up their own minds, you say?
Not when it comes to areas where there is a clear right and wrong. One of the main tenets of parenting is guidance. Steering children down the right path. Other areas a parent may pull back; provide a broader intellectual swath for their children to make up their own mind. But some issues require close monitoring and correction if necessary.
Religion? I would grudgingly let them come to their own conclusions, as there is not as clear a demarcation (except in my mind) of whether or not religion has a right path and a wrong path. There is nuance there, and it is worthy of exploration. No mandate will be handed down from me on that subject, despite my firm non-beliefs. I came to my own conclusions on God and religion. Ok, AFTER I'd escaped the brainwashing machine of the Catholic Church. Still, I have every intention of letting my child do the same, without first hamstringing them with a Catholic upbringing.
Back to bullying. I was bullied as a kid. Of course, it had nothing to do with my sexuality, perceived or otherwise. I was simply vulnerable, both physically and emotionally. Unable or unwilling to stick up for myself, I let bigger kids push me around with nary a defense. I am shameful of it to this day. My hardass father simply failed to pass that particular aspect of his personality along to me. Most likely to keep me feckless and less challenging to him as I grew older. My father was a bully. Unlike sons of other bullies, I chose the role of foil over aggressor.
What is the motivation of the typical bully? I think many bullies are acting out control issues that began at home, but when manifested physically, usually can be simplified with a simple explanation: they bully because they CAN. They may get pushed around at home by a bigger father, but that merely implants the message of "survival of the fittest". It is a hollow lesson, one that is easy to poke holes through. Punch a bully flush in the nose, and watch them recede from toughness as quickly as Pavarotti leaves a chop house when it runs out of meat. If you prick them, do they not bleed? They do.
Remember the rare times when someone would stand up to a bully? Wasn't that person considered a hero? He had the support of almost everyone. What a nice position to find oneself in, I often thought. Of course, it took courage; an emotion instilled in the young at home. Just not my home.
A bully becomes this monolithic figure that looms over a schoolyard or campus, both literally and figuratively. They usually affect a vaguely threatening exterior, often surrounding themselves with a sycophantic entourage of boys who, were they not clinging, remora-like to his aura, would be menaced as well. Though there is the relatively new aspect of high-tech, non-violent bullying, there still exists the old school (yard) version as well.
A kid perceived as gay, which in today's vernacular doesn't always mean homosexual, sometimes simply effeminate or weak, is vulnerable not just to bullies, but to the desertion of their friends, who may go AWOL when their support is needed most. That support group of friends can prove elusive, coming up short in the intestinal fortitude department, unwilling to stand up against the masses and hold firm to what they believe. It is easier to cave in than to support their gay friend. They may truly believe and embrace the concept of fairness, but in the heat of battle, when faced with a choice that might prove divisive or controversial, many kids will play it safe, gravitate toward the mindset of the masses, and leave their friend out to dry.
And gay kids know this. They are on an island. They may feel an alliance with their classmates in times of peace and prosperity, but if strife is introduced to the equation, many of those cohorts will bail out for fear of experiencing their own ostracization should they stand in a minority on an issue.
Especially the issue of homosexuality, which many young people can't truly fathom or understand. Sympathy for the gay cause involves a heavy dose of empathy, and that does not grow on trees. Unfortunately, many adults fall into this category as well. Fear knows no boundary, especially the boundary of age.
One of the root mindsets in a bully is control. Control is a fluid concept, but when acted out physically, it becomes concrete and unambiguous. Many young people, if they suspect they are homosexual, have probably stopped right there, fearful of progressing from 'think' to 'know'. They know the terrain at that point. They know that coming out is a huge gamble, and instead often choose to closet, so to speak, one of the single most fundamental aspects of humanity, their sexuality. Straight people can't possibly know what that is like. It is as foreign a concept as can be to someone whose sexual proclivities have been allowed to flow naturally, like taking a breath.
And gay people are not deaf, dumb or blind, no matter what age. They are aware of society's perceived disapproval of homosexuality. Sure, that is changing, slowly, but it is still overwhelming to anybody, child or adult, who senses that their way of life is frowned upon, if not disallowed outright, by the majority. It can be an emotional jail without doors or windows; a dark, dank hole from which there appears to be no escape.
It has been a conscious effort on my part to associate directly bullying to homosexuality, and not just because of recent events. Of course kids are bullied or coerced for reasons other than their sexuality. I felt homosexuality was the most accurate lightning rod to explain both why the bullying occurs, and why the victim tends to see no way out other than suicide.
The bullying I endured rarely left the schoolyard. Sure, I took it home with me. I lay ashamed at night, wondering why I wouldn't stand up for myself, why I was afraid to fight for my own dignity. But I never sensed that society as a whole was watching, or judging me, or even more painful, disapproving of me. There may have been a small circle of buddies who wondered why I didn't throw a punch in my own defense, but flip that coin over, and I lay awake some nights wondering why my buddies didn't throw a punch in their friends' defense.
I may not have stood up for myself then, but I am standing up for my gay friends now.
Solidarity, bothers and sisters. Let's just hope the light at the end of the tunnel is not Rick Sanitarium with a flashlight.