Thursday, October 07, 2010


A week ago on my twitter page I asked, when is someone going to publish the seminal work that answers the question: is the internet bringing us together, or pushing us apart?

My tweet was spurred by learning about the Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his roommate allegedly broadcast Tyler's tryst with another guy over the internet. Like millions of other people, I felt a sense of shock and sadness when I learned about this incident. Tyler was a talented young violinist, and ended his life by jumping off of the George Washington bridge. He also left his suicide note on Facebook.

There are many things that I want to say/questions I want to ask about this situation. I have hesitated in writing this post, because of my fear that I will say the wrong thing. Or that I will offend people that have a more nuanced understanding of the events than I do. But I know that my intentions are pure/good, and hopefully that will count for something.

First, I think the fact that both Tyler's roommate and the woman who was arrested with him are both people of color is significant. It's significant because it helps illuminate the idea that the vast majority of us have some identities that align with the dominant culture. So even if you are brown, if you are heterosexual-- that gives you a set of privileges that a white gay person would not have.

Second, Tyler's roommate seems like a straight up a-hole. I don't know that the internet has a whole lot to do with it. If i-chat didn't exist, he strikes me as the type of guy that would be hiding a video camera in the closet, and then showing the VHS tape to all his friends.

Third, Tyler's roommate tweeted, Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into Molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.'

I added the emphasis on the last word, because to me it has a lot of significance. Obviously, he is being sarcastic--he's not really happy about it. But there is a reason that he said yay instead of "sick!" or "gross!" both of which I think are more in line with what he was actually thinking.

He said 'yay' because as a young, little bit of college educated person, he knew that using one of those other words would have made him seem like a homophobe. And he knows enough to know that being a overt homophobe (like being an overt racist,) is not something that is looked upon kindly, especially in college (most colleges anyway.)

So what does he do? He makes his comments more subtle, feels out his audience, avoids saying anything obviously hateful. This is important because it illustrates how a lot of people respond to doing work around diversity and multiculturalism. They learn that some things are not said in polite company, and so they avoid saying them in polite company. But the idea that their hearts and minds are truly changed...I think we know the answer to that.

Fourth, I really wish that Tyler hadn't of killed himself. Refer to my second point, his roommate is an a-hole. Given that fact, an a-hole taping you is not something you want to kill yourself over. He's the one with the problem, not you.

But then that gets me thinking: What caused Tyler to do this? I don't like what I am hearing that places the blame on Tyler's roommate. It is extremely dangerous to put the blame for one person's suicide on another person. What the roommate did was outrageous, and he certainly deserves to be punished. But casting him as the evil one and trying to find a way to throw him in jail for the rest of his life is not the answer.

Our society as a whole has to take some responsibility for this tragic event taking place. When a seemingly healthy, well-adjusted person gets to the point that they are in such deep despair that they throw themselves off a bridge???

Many "straight allies" are pointing the finger at conservative clergy, and just conservative people in general. I agree that any pastor who takes the time to write a sermon calling gay people unnatural; or a conservative voter who does his or her part to deny gay Americans equal rights--they're not helping.

But I said society as a whole, remember?

What about you?
What about me?

My husband and I have beautiful baby son. Already, people make comments about how he is going to be popular with the ladies when he is older. I think to myself, "How do you know he is going to like girls?" But most of the time I don't say anything, because I don't want to seem...weird.

Or when we meet someone new for the first time and say, "Do you have a _________," filling in the blank with the romantic term of opposite sex of the person we're talking to. Now, we'd be fine with the person saying "Actually, I have a _______ (insert same sex term here)" But...why do we even make the assumption?

Or what about when we still think The Hangover was a hilarious movie, even though the characters frequently used homophobic slurs?

Or when someone we know and like (or love) says something intolerant or bigoted, and we don't speak up? Several people were following those tweets about Tyler--what did they do when they read them?

These things are all part of the problem. All these examples promote the message, "Being gay is not ideal, and treating it as something 'less than' is acceptable to me."

Point the finger at conservatives all you want, but not if one of the major motivations is to make yourself feel better and say, "Well at least, I'm not like them." We are like them, and the sooner we recognize that--the better off we will all be.

My baby son is laying on the floor right now; gooing his little heart out.

For Tyler, for all the other nameless gay teens who have died, for my son, and for myself I want to recommit myself to speaking out.

I will risk my heterosexual privilege and take the chance of seeming weird, or annoying, or unable to take a joke. I will continue to examine my own beliefs and attitudes, so that I can try and rid myself of the homophobia that I have picked up along the way.

I will do this in hopes that if my son tells me one day "Mom, I'm gay." I can say, "ok" and that will be the end of it. I won't have to join a support group, and I won't have to worry that because my son is gay, people are going to think it's okay to make fun of him, or beat him up, or kill him.

So, the internet can be used for evil and the internet can be used for good. More than anything, it's probably used to waste ridiculous amounts of time. Today, I am using my little piece of it to invite you all to take risks. To resist complacency; to think about the ways that you continue to be part of the problem, and the things that you can do to continue to be part of the solution.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.


  1. I could be wrong but didn't he have family problems too, like his dad didn't accept him?

    Also, this reminds me of the Megan Meyers case. The little girl who committed suicide because a 'friends' mother created a fake myspace account (as a boy) and tormented her. The adult told her that she was worthless and a waste of life. An adult tormented a child.

  2. Anonymous6:54 PM

    Thank you for speaking out about it. I think we should focus less on the young man's suicide and more on the fact that bullying is wrong. It is permissive and wrong! Your son is lucky to have a mom as supportive and loving as you!

  3. Thanks D! I so liked when you said you have second thoughts when folks say how ur little one will be a lady killer. He is so cute though.

    And, a friend told me that he never came out to his mom saying " Mom I'm gay" but called her once after leaving home and said in excitement, "Mom I have a boyfriend and I'm bringing him home," before he realized he had never told her. So naturally nice.

  4. Anonymous10:24 PM

    Is it possible that the YAY comment meant he was glad he could finally videotape him in action? I think you may have read into that a little too much.