I hated gym class. Skinny, uncoordinated and myopic, I knew that whatever activity they dreamed up, I wasn't going to be good at it. Some things, like crab soccer and pillow polo, were okay, because they really didn't require much skill. But I dreaded anything where some kids, invariably the jocks, got to pick teams, because I was certain to be damn near last, and with good reason.
None of us kids was particularly athletic, although at least one of my sisters played softball on a real team and was apparently popular to acquire a non-derogatory nickname from the P.E. teacher. I was afforded no such cool moniker; instead, one of the other kid's dads who was brought in as a guest teacher said I "wrestled like a girl". I find that interesting because I don't think mud wrestling was popular yet, so I don't know upon what experience he based his assessment.
But I guess I was lucky; I didn't go to the school in Decatur, Ala., where the teacher invented a game called "smear the queer" in which a single student is singled out to be slogged by volleyballs by the entire rest of the class.
Seems kind of shocking that only happened about twelve years ago. Would we tolerate such a thing now? Apparently, we would. In the past few weeks, no fewer than three high school boys committed suicide after enduring sustained torment at the hands of their peers.
One could ask what the hell is going on in these schools that there could be so much opportunity for kids to lash out at one another unchecked by a teacher or other adult. Maybe all the budget cuts have made it impossible to know who's doing what to who. I would like to hear from those who work in schools: Do you see kids like Billy, Asher and Seth? What is done about it?
I do not know all the facts of all these cases. I don't know these boys' mental health histories or to what degree either parents or administrators were forthcoming in what they told the media and the police. What I do know is that our kids learn what they know about what it means to be male, female, gay, straight or somewhere in between from us. From what we say, how we act, and how we treat people.
34,000 Americans commit suicide every year, and -- among young people -- every suicide is shadowed by 100-200 unsuccesful attempts. LGBT youth are four times more likely to commit or attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. I don't believe that is due to some genetic trait: I think it's because growing up is hard enough without being told repeatedly by peers, trusted adults and the media that there's something abnormal about you.
If it outrages or saddens you that so many young lives have been diminished or snuffed out, than know this: These are just a handful of extreme cases... this goes on all the time, in varying degrees, in every school in this country because some kids don't live up to other people's expectations of how they should dress, talk or throw a ball.
Teachers, look out for the Trevors and the Billys. Think about the words you use and understand the difference between good-natured teasing and outright terror. Maybe you could be the one adult that they can count on if things rough. Parents, you can't expect the school to teach your kids that it's not okay to treat people this way; they need to hear it from you. And maybe you should let them read the stories about these boys: Seth, Asher, Billy, Tyler, and poor little Roy, so that they see what it does to them inside.
I was lucky to have enough of a support system to reach adulthood and understand that people who act this way are saying more about themselves and their own insecurities than they are about you. In college I started lifting weights, finally finding an athletic activity that I didn't need great hand-eye coordination to accomplish. Current deadlift, 300 lb, thankyouverymuch, and I no longer feel like a victim. Most of the time.
On October 17th, friends and I are participating in Out of the Darkness, a Community Walk to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you are in a position to contribute anything to help this worthy cause, please visit this link. It would be much appreciated. If you would like to know more about anti-bullying, LGBT youth and suicide prevention, please visit the links below:
- www.afsp.org - American Society for Suicide Prevention
- thetrevorproject.org - Hotline and other resources for LGBT Youth
- thinkb4youspeak.org - Discourages use of anti-gay language and verbal bullying
- truthwinsout.org - Fighting anti-gay lies and the ex-gay myth
- matthewshepard.org - Parents of a murdered gay teen founded this rights and education group