Monday, October 4, 2010
There Will Always Be Assholes
I must apologize in advance, because I'm about to get sincere.
Like a lot of people over the past week I'm sure, I haven't been able to stop thinking about the recent suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington bridge after being publicly humiliated by his roommate via webcam (the long and short of it: his roommate set up a webcam to capture Tyler having sex with another guy in their room and broadcast it on the Internet). This story is tragic for so many reasons. For the first few days after the news broke, the only image of Tyler the media was running was the picture he'd taken of himself using his computer cam. But it was when I saw the above photo of him playing the violin in his high school orchestra that I kinda lost it and got really sad over the loss of his young life and for the shame and embarrassment he must have been feeling as he drove to the bridge where he would end it.
Some of you may know about Dan Savage's recently started "It Gets Better" youtube campaign, in which adult gays and lesbians are encouraged to leave video messages for gay kids struggling in middle and high school in order to encourage them to hold on, to not think that the sum total of life exists within the walls of whatever dreary educational institution they currently attend. Now, this is an excellent project. I haven't recorded a message yet, but I plan to. Ironically, it was begun just days before Tyler killed himself. Days.
But what could a video project have done for Tyler? It gets better? Even after you've been publicly mocked, turned into the punchline to a stupid, stupid joke by a sadistic roommate during an incredibly private moment? It gets better?
The events leading to Tyler's suicide demonstrate the limits of video projects, hate crimes laws, "greater vigilance" campaigns, and all the rest of it. Because you can't stop people from being assholes. You just can't. And the breathtaking number of adult assholes in this country—such as South Carolina Congressman Jim Demint, who recently decreed that gays shouldn't be allowed to teach in public schools or that godawful anti-gay megachurch preacher-troll in Atlanta who is now known to have sexually abused at least 4 young men—means that when we adults tell young kids that "It gets better," we also must admit, though under our breath, that "it's still sometimes gonna be pretty irritating and stupid."
It does get better. Absolutely. Not only does it get better, it gets fun, crazy, hilarious, amazing. But in this case an asshole did something so incredibly nasty that a young tortured soul careened out of control as a result. I wish Tyler had just somehow managed to get through to the other end of the terrible darkness. But, as this Gawker essay from last week so eloquently put it, "It's because being a gay teen can be akin to prolonged torture." Tyler couldn't see an end to the torment. So he ended it himself.
Tyler was on the cusp: he was a freshman just out of high school, was incredibly talented, was surely bound for great things. There was in his future lots of music to be played, lots of hook-ups with random dudes at parties, some broken hearts, some mended hearts, and love--from friends as well as lovers. But even this member of the most liberated gay generation in American history was probably still reeling from a harrowing high school life. Maybe he had high hopes for things changing for him in college, and maybe this awful experience just sent him over the edge. Maybe it showed him that, no, it doesn't get better, it gets fucking worse.
My heart aches for Tyler and for his family. And it aches for all the other gay kids that just don't see a light at the end of the tunnel. Because there is a light. You gotta just keep your eye on it. Pick up your violin, get out your paintbrush, play some ping pong, read a David Sedaris book, do some freakin' push-ups or yoga. Eat some pie. Listen to some kick-ass music. Breathe deeply and exhale. Treat yourself well and let assholes be assholes.
Because they will always be with us. Always. But there's also always the possibility that one day those assholes will get well and truly fucked. Because karma can be a bitch.