It’s been awhile, I know. Work keeps getting in the way of the rest of my life.
But alas, I’ve got something to say that’s important enough for me to give up some time to say it.
Jacob posted a link to a Rolling Stone article on my Facebook wall. (I think we still get a subscription to the magazine, but I hadn’t read it, so this goes to show that I’m out of touch with everything.)
It was about bullying and gay teens. While I think the article has some serious flaws (look at me, being all critical), I do think that it raises some serious questions about problems with having policies specifically related to homosexuality in our public schools.
But more than that, I (never thought I’d say this) partially agree with one of the anti-gay groups when they say, “…much of society seems not to be looking closely and openly at all possible causes of the tragedies.” Granted, they did precede that by saying “Because homosexual activists have hijacked and exploited teen suicides for their moral and political utility…” so that still makes them really insensitive and downright hateful.
We do need to really examine these tragedies. Being a child, an adolescent, a young adult: it all really sucks. I had such a rough time because of bullying in grade school – I remember crying and begging to go a new school. I withdrew quite a bit in high school but came out of it just fine. Bullying isn’t just about gay kids. Bullying is about anything, everything. Kids are really cruel. And it blows, for everyone involved. People carry those emotional scars with them long after the bullying has ended.
So let’s talk about parenting, because that’s where those little seeds of hatred get planted, nourished, and encouraged to grow. These parents hold certain political ideologies, certain religious beliefs, and live by an individual moral code. It stands to reason that their children will as well, having grown up hearing their parents espouse their beliefs, complaining about taxes, etc. That’s not the problem. The problem is when parents fail to explain to their children that there are other (equal) ways of thinking. I respect your beliefs; I respect your rights; I cannot respect your hatred, no matter where it comes from. We’re all guilty of putting a blanket over the “other” and forgetting that those people all believe those things because it gives them strength, hope, faith, solace, comfort, joy.
But at what point does my right to believe in whatever I want stop? At the point at which it infringes on someone else’s right to believe in whatever they want. This is why schoolyards are going to remain a political battleground.
They say that knowledge is power and it’s true. I don’t know why we’re against teaching our kids anything. At one point in the Rolling Stone article, a woman named Barb Anderson is quoted as saying, “Open your eyes, people. What if a 15-year-old is seduced into homosexual behavior and then contracts AIDS?” I wasn’t aware that we’re still under the impression that only the gays get AIDS. Yes, 61% of new HIV infections are found in “men who have sex with men” or MSM, according to the CDC. (I always read MSM as metro-sexual men, so that’s problematic for my brain.) But 23% of all new infections are in women. And the race most affected? Black men.
How many people know this? How many people can pull this out of their heads? Not knowing breeds fear and fear breeds the sad situations we’re seeing today. Fear breeds death, hatred, bigotry, disgust, anger. Fear does not bring about positive change, cooperation, or community.
I just don’t know why we’re not teaching our children everything that we can teach them. Creationism, evolution, reincarnation – we should be teaching it all. French, algebra, history, banned books: learn it all! I’m much more comfortable arguing with someone who’s chosen to believe what they believe than I am arguing with someone who’s had their beliefs molded and shaped for them. Schools should be a place of academic achievement, not fear. Teachers report being afraid to address the bullying situations that may be based on perceived or real homosexuality because they don’t want to lose their jobs. So these kids are left alone and helpless to cope with bullying that they don’t understand and can’t control.
Youth is a very fragile time. Even though these people are quickly growing into young adults, they’re not there yet. They need to be taught. Educated. Supported. Mental health issues among teenagers are increasing. Depression, suicide, eating disorders and behaviors are becoming increasingly more and more common.
The US lacks the mental health resources to treat the growing number of kids displaying symptoms. The social stigma surrounding mental health prevents a lot of progress and instead, causes much more harm to our society than a progressive dialogue would. (I’m not known for my avoidance of issues, but I’ve been avoiding talking about my own ADHD diagnosis and treatment for fear of negative repercussions.) We medicate, medicate, medicate. I don’t agree that that’s a great solution to any problem, mental health related or not. But it is too bad there’s no medication to make insensitive, insecure teens blind to differences.
But that’s exactly it: these teens (both the ones doing the bullying and the ones being bullied) are insecure. They’re trying to establish their own identities while being assaulted by their own hormones on a daily basis. They’re trying to figure out where they fit in the world, and they’re using anything they can for guidance. Instead of knowing that their bullying might stem from their attempts to appear more masculine, they think that this bullying makes them more powerful, respected, admired. It doesn’t. It makes them weaker than they’d be if they approached these in-school social situations more logically. But they don’t know that, because no one has ever explained all of that to them. Let’s start teaching sociology in the fourth grade and see how far that gets us. If kids could understand more about what they’re feeling and experiencing, they’re far more likely to make the mature choices not to engage in behaviors. But instead, they’re left to fend for themselves, trying to make sense of everything without appearing weak. Newsflash: we’re all weak. We all need help, support, and guidance.
Feel-good seminars and classroom discussions aren’t going to help either. The message that these kids are getting is that being gay is all butt-sex and glitter. While that’s simply not true, they don’t have any real-life context for understanding homosexuality. In reality, being gay is just like being straight. Couples wear ugly sweaters and make dinner and fight about who’s going to take out the trash. Short-shorts aren’t the norm. But how are these kids going to understand that when we won’t talk about it, teach it, or protect the gay kids from being attacked? Oh wait, there’s always TV. (That’ll help.) Our examples are terrible representations of what gay is.
Gay. Bullying. Suicide. They go hand in hand and they exist separately. In order to get to the bottom of this to stop our kids from killing themselves or driving others to kill themselves, we need to take a long, hard look at the messages that we’re sending to them.
If I ever catch my kid(s) bullying, or engaging in any behavior that I find predatory, disrespectful, or downright offensive, there will be hell to pay. The parents of the kids who say things like, “You’re a fag and you deserve to die,” should be held accountable for the actions of their children. This is a really good example of when it’s okay to ask “What would Jesus do?” Your religions, whatever they may be, do not say that it’s okay to hurt other people. They do not say that it’s okay for you to taunt, tease, punish, and terrorize your peers.
Instead of fighting about what we can’t teach, let’s just teach it all. Let’s teach everything and let our kids learn to think for themselves. Let’s expose them to everything we can expose them to. Let’s make them cultured, intelligent, young people who have adventured, and failed, and come to understand the ways that the world works.
Let’s fight to end teen suicides. Let’s fight to end bullying. But more than that, we need to fight to give our kids the coping skills to handle these things when they do happen. We need to address these issues openly, so that when a kid thinks about committing suicide, they are able to reach out to someone who can help them. So that when a kid thinks about putting another kid down just so he/she can feel better about him/herself, that kid will think twice.
I know that it gets better, but they don’t. It’s up to us to guide them all through.