Personal vs Political

The poor boy who jumped off a bridge has captured the public imagination, and it’s easy to see why. For me, it has triggered symptoms of PTSD that are never far from the surface at the best of times.

The one thing that no one wants to address is the use of this boy’s death for political purposes.

A young man who so dreaded being outed to his family that he chose death instead, would NEVER want to become the poster boy for gay suicide. He clearly wasn’t ready to self-identify as gay. Never mind the ordeal for his family, seeing their dead son’s photo plastered everywhere as a symbol of martyrdom.

The GLBT community is understandably shaken, and sincere in its outrage at this boy’s death. But no one cares that the family has asked for privacy. No one cares what the boy would want to be remembered for. If it draws attention to societal prejudice and helps to implement change, then tough shit for the kid and his family.

Poor unwilling martyr! My heart aches for him. It aches for every kid who is bullied about being different. For every person who views their depression as a life sentence.   For every son or daughter or mother or father who somehow lost that thread of connectedness that keeps us in this world to fight on for another day.

I just wish we could address a social problem without putting a face on it.

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23 Responses to Personal vs Political

  1. Hear hear. Why does it take some horrible family tragedy to highlight an issue? Oh that’s right, because we’re a bunch of soul-less, morbid monsters fed by eager media leeches who profit from peoeples’ pain.
    I just don’t understand how homophobia is still taboo to this extent. It’s so prevelant. But what I don’t understand as much is how some cultures take their hatred of it to the extent of cutting off children. What kind of culture is that that teaches exclusion over love and acceptance?

  2. Sheri says:

    Unfortunately most people need the face to elicit sympathy. You’re right, though: issues should be right or wrong for their own sake, people should be helped when they’re hurting not f*d with, mourners should be allowed to mourn.

    How about the church that’s being brought before the Supreme Court because they decided a good time to protest was outside some poor soldier’s funeral? Maybe the Free Speech Amendment should have included a clause explaining that, obviously (Duh!), we expect people to act with empathy and decency.

  3. Cricket9 says:

    Pastor Phelps and his whole family are a demented, vicious, hateful bunch; their children are poisoned with prejudice and hatred an a early age. Unfortunately, Catholic Church and the Prada-wearing, child-abuse hiding Pope are no better.

  4. Witch Moma says:

    SW – what a beautiful piece, esp the last paragraph. RHF, Cheri & Cricket make good points but in the end my heart still aches too. So I busy myself in my work, take a walk in this beautiful fall we’re having & transfer the ache to action in some volunteer work i’m doing. Not sure what else to do.

  5. Ann says:

    I could not agree more about this. I wish as much attention was being paid to the 2 scumbags who exposed him as is being paid to Tyler Clementi. I’m sick of the defense that it was just meant to be a joke; there was nothing innocent or funny about what they did. I would much rather see their privacy ignored than the victim’s family’s.

    Sheri is right: sadly, most people need a story shoved in their face to bring about awareness. In that respect, the only good that could come out of this whole mess would be if Tyler Clementi’s story changes laws and elicits change the same way that Matthew Shepard’s did.

  6. E says:

    I don’t know how some people sleep – or how their egos got so big as to feel their need to emote/opine is greater than the need of those affected for respect, dignity and decency.

  7. Tricia says:

    Above all, his family’s wishes for privacy should be respected. This is a beautifully written appeal for them.

  8. Violet says:

    I’m gay and I absolutely agree with you.

  9. Aja says:

    Whenever I read about a youth suicide, my heart aches. I try so hard to tell every teen within my reach that life will always ALWAYS get better. Because as a depressed teenager, I had to tell myself. Constantly.

  10. Sheri says:

    I heard someone say once that the most important thing to remember is that adolescence is a temporary condition. The problem is, when you’re in it, everything matters so much, even the stuff you know actually doesn’t, and it looms so large you just can’t see around it.

  11. HelOnWheels says:

    “I wish as much attention was being paid to the 2 scumbags who exposed him as is being paid to Tyler Clementi.”


    In this vein, I would like to nominate all the human excrement that has been involved in bullying/harassment/bigotry in the last two weeks (I’m looking at you too, Rick Sanchez) for COW. However, I’d especially like to bring to your attention Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell who has been harassing and bullying Chris Armstrong, the first openly gay student body president of the University of Michigan. Yeah. Great way to use your power and position, you anal wart. He’s beyond despicable and needs to be removed from office.

  12. Andra says:

    I just had a look at this Andrew Shirvell interview and it is obvious to me that this person is very, very gay and is in total denial.
    Once again, we have a politician living a lie.
    Sad, sad world.
    Why can’t people just mind their own business, that’s all.
    I have no interest in the sex life of anybody in the whole world, OK well maybe George Clooney but that’s just wishful thinking and I am not obsessing about it.
    Live and let live people of the world.

  13. RouGe NiKstA says:

    “”I just wish we could address a social problem without putting a face on it.

    Wow yes!! Well said!! i cannot understand that either.. i ask myself why we cannot, as a society, deal with problems, without placing a ‘stigma’ or ‘label’ on every little thing that appears wrong with life? life is life, it is what it is, it is not easy that is a given, but nor does that mean that we have to make it into something that it is not.. which is what people do.. we go around labeling everything in order to understand things better, but then, once we understand better, we give ourselves a reason to excuse things, to blame something.. there seems to be a general consensus that once you know the name of something, or you understand it, then it is ok to no longer worry or bother about it.. look at such simple things as global warming, or the global food crisis? sure now we really do know that they exist, but hey, we know now right? so we dont have to worry so much, it will be taken care of, eventually.. we can stop worrying about the unknown, that is what we seem contented with as humans..

    fear of the unknown maybe? maybe we cannot stop fearing something until we can apply a lable that identifies what it is?

    i guess it comes down to belonging as well.. as humans we feel such a need to belong to a group, and if that group see us as different in any way, then we feel that we are not adequate enough to belong.. however, if we have a label to say why we are different, then that makes it easier for us to be accepted by ourselves, and to others, because there is understanding??

    with the issues of things like being gay though, unfortunately that is something that goes against millenniums of fore thoughts of what we were taught to be wrong (even though history clearly shows gay relationships!).. we therefore lack the full understanding, and the fact that there has been a label placed upon a human because of their sexual preferences, now means that we have the other end of the spectrum.. we understand all too well as humans, but we do not want to, because it goes against everything that history has taught us to be wrong.. the label then becomes a stigma, and when that occurs, we know that we cannot be fully be accepted for who we are.. a stigma is always about the what, not the who.. (where do any of us belong when such as this happens?)

    labels v’s stigmas?? the banes of society i guess?:S

  14. Unfortunately, faceless social problems never get addressed. Most of the people I know who are homophobic or hate gay people have never actually gotten to know a gay person. I know my attitude about gay rights has changed drastically over the years, with my high school best friend coming out to me and the number of amazing, wonderful people who just happen to be gay, queer, lesbian, bi, etc that I’ve met since starting college. I think it’s like that for many people; it’s easy to hate and support discrimination when it’s the “gay community” or the “homosexual agenda.” But when it’s one scared kid with a name and a face and a family, it makes a difference in the amount of bigotry most normal human beings can justify to themselves.

    My view on this is that I feel terrible for his family. I can’t even begin to imagine their grief. But as for the boy himself, he’s gone where nothing here can hurt him anymore, and I hope he’s at peace. I think for most journalists and activists, it comes down to a delicate balance between respecting the family’s grief, and trying to make a change so that more kids don’t die and more families don’t have to mourn. In this situation, I feel like his parents’ wishes should be respected. Some parents start foundations when their child is the victim of a hate crime, others mourn in private. I feel both are valid and understandable choices and it bothers me that one is lauded and the other ignored.

    Of course, it all goes back to the double-standard: if you’re straight, your personal life is your business. If you’re gay, your personal life is a political statement, and if you don’t want it to be, you get called a “closet case.” Ugh.

  15. Audi says:

    What really bothers me about this story is that no one stepped up and defended this poor kid while he was still alive. Sadly, people only get incensed once something awful like this has happened; never mind that there were plenty of his classmates who were aware of what was going on, and were perfectly willing to share in the little “joke” until it became obvious that it was far more serious than anyone bothered to consider. I think a lot of people share the blame in this besides just the two pieces of shit that have been identified. The underlying social problem here is the self-absorbed, “not my problem” attitude that allowed this behavior to go unchecked.

  16. Bevitron says:

    Beautifully stated, Sister Wolf.
    What everyone else has said. I was appalled at the martyrizing of the young violinist. Eighteen years old, god. I can see how it would trigger the post-traumatic symptoms for you, and unbearable anguish. Blessings to the young man’s family, and to you, and yours.

  17. Taylor says:

    I read this article today, which seriously made me physically ill.

    It does get better. I was bullied relentlessly in junior high. Pushed down a flight of stairs… all kinds of awful shit. The girls who were bitches to me sometimes try to add me on Facebook. None of them are attractive. My ex step cousin was one of those girls, and she got so drunk one night at a frat party, she shit all over herself (ironically, that girl would go on TIRADES about how homosexuality and ‘liberals’ were going to hell).

    It’s great when you’re out of the storm and you can look at it and just see a bunch of dipshits. But it’s so unfortunate that some are unable to do that. I wish they were still here with us. And yes, I agree that this person did not want to be made a martyr of, but I can also empathize with why it is happening.

  18. Sister Wolf says:

    Tatylor – I can’t read the wnole article…but I read enough. I was bullied at school, and so were both of my kids. Cerebral types make good targets. I think that bullying is a huge issue in school, where even when they calim to have a zero-tolerance policy, it is never enforced. Seen that with my own eyes.

    Bullying needs to be addressed in the home, at school, in the workplace, and in our legal system. But making a martyr of that college student is still a terrible thing to do to his family.

  19. Audi says:

    I just read this excellent commentary and thought I’d share:

  20. Sister Wolf says:

    Audi – Thanks, that was so interesting. I have thoughts on this that no one mentioned in all the comments, so I will organize them and write more about bullying.

  21. RLC says:

    I know I’m late to this thread, but this:

    “I just wish we could address a social problem without putting a face on it.”

    is spot on. It’s also how I feel about the whole Rihanna situation, since after she was abused by Chris Brown the entertainment (and news) media decided they’d turn her into the poster girl for domestic violence. It was just unfair and stupid, as if she had somehow signed on to be the “new face of battery” or she’d asked for it, when I can only assume she did the complete opposite. It was disgusting. Are we incapable of feeling angry about a nasty concept or way of thinking without it needing a mascot? People live off the shock value of cases like this, it’s like an emotional drug hit. It’s incredibly offensive and a slap in the face to the people actually involved.

  22. Natty says:

    Whilst I totally agree with what you are all saying, sometimes I feel that you need a name, or a personality to be known to make this more human, to be able to feel compassion, outrange etc. If it was just another faceless crime, we are less likely to care sadly.

  23. Natty says:

    *outrage, not outrange. Sorry for spelling.

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