Bullying kills. If you did not know that, Dan Savage blogs about Jamey Rodemeyer, a fourteen-year-old from upstate New York who apparently took his own life to escape the abuse of his peers:
It sounds like Jamey had help—he was seeing a therapist and a social worker and his family was supportive—but it wasn't enough. Whatever help Jamey was getting clearly wasn't enough to counteract the hatred and abuse that he had endured since the fifth grade, according to reports, or Jamey's fears of having to face down a whole new set of bullies when he started high school next year.
The point of the "It Gets Better" project is to give kids like Jamey Rodemeyer hope for their futures. But sometimes hope isn't enough. Sometimes the damage done by hate and by haters is simply too great. Sometimes the future seems too remote.
Dan's It Gets Better Project has done a lot over the past year or so to bring attention to the problem of the bullying experienced by LGBT youth. I don't want at all to take away from their work, or from the fact that LGBT youth are frequently bullied; but I think it would be good to broaden the discussion a little bit.
LGBT aren't the only ones who are bullied to the point of making them feel suicidal. I know, because thirty years or so ago I was a straight kid (despite the fact that "gaywad" and "faggot" were among my tormentors' favorite insults) who was bullied to the point of contemplating suicide.
It's hard to dredge up those memories, to think about how hurt and frightened I was for years of my life, and about what might have happened if things had gone just a bit differently. If I hadn't had a chance to make a fresh start at a distant middle school with a "gifted and talented" program, where I could escape the bullies and meet friends, at least for the school day, though coming home to the same fears and threats; if I hadn't been able to get permission -- and parental support -- to go to a high school out of my normal district; if I hadn't found the practice of karate...looking back, the path that kept me from just giving up was awfully narrow at times.
I'm feeling much better now, thanks.
The important thing is this: the kids who get bullied -- gay, bi, straight, trans, queer, whatever combination of preference and gender -- are so often the ones who grow up to become pretty damn great adults. We're strong, because we had to be to survive it. We're brave and independent, because we learned that the opinions and judgments of others are not a measure of our success. We're ready to help, because we know both how terrible it was when no one was there to help us, and how wonderful it was when someone was. And after the years of bullshit, when we get out in the world and get to have so much more of a choice of whom we associate with, we find those who can see and appreciate that strength, courage, and compassion.
And so a suicide like Jamey's isn't just a loss for those who knew him and loved him. It is a loss for us all who might have known the man he would have grown up to be if things had gone just a little bit differently.
It does get better. Not just for LGBT kids, but for all of us who are different and become the targets of insults, assaults, and harassment for it. But it takes luck and support to get through, and not everyone will find them. So as I shed a tear for Jamey Rodemeyer I also look back at my own life and think how easily that could have been me.
And if the next Jamey Rodemeyer, the next kid ready to end it all, reads this -- please, please, please, hang in there. Don't let the bastards win. Because we need the fabulous adult that you will grow in to being.