I’m reading a lot of thoughtful commentary about the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, and opinions of what should happen to his room-mate and accomplice.
What the two did was horrible. Yet, in their world, what they’ve grown up with, a life full of everything shared on the web, via Facebook or web-cam’d for YouTube, or sexting, this might not have seemed so much a horrible thing to do as some of us older folks recognize it to be.
That said, the room-mate and co-conspirator should be prosecuted for whatever invasion of privacy laws they broke.
Concerning the suicide and aftermath? I think it’s a waste of time and money to press any hate crime charges against the two. Kids, especially those in college, do stupid things without thinking ahead to the possible consequences. There doesn’t seem to be any real malice involved. They, or more likely Rutgers, will get sued by the parents. But, more than that, these two are going to have to carry with them for the rest of their lives that their unthinking actions cause another human being to take his own life. That is a pain that to me would be unbearable. That is a pain for which there is no relief.
I can empathize with what Tyler might have suddenly had to face because of the two unthinking acquaintances. From my perspective, remembering what it was like in college and trying to deal with being, or sometimes trying not to be, gay… coming to grips with the finality of being and accepting it, trying to sort out my feelings, yet at the same time trying to hide the truth from friends and family, trying to decide who of your friends you might be able to share your feelings with…
No! Can’t trust anyone…
Sneaking around and basically leading a double life, hoping one of your friends doesn’t happen to see your car parked anywhere near a gay bar, looking over your shoulder in fear that your older brother might beat the crap out of you if he caught you standing in line at the local homo-dance club… It was often an emotional cyclone roiling around in your head and heart. People, straight people, who have never had to struggle with this can’t begin to understand the turmoil that goes on if you are struggling to learn how to live with the fact that your gay.
When I was a teen, I lived in Lemoore CA, a tiny conservative military town with only one high school… and not a single traffic light! That’s how small the town was. I dated a girl maybe two times during the four years I was in HS. There were a couple of gay guys, and I saw how they were berated on a daily basis… I was NOT going to be like them! Though I knew where my true attractions pulled, I NEVER did anything to tip anyone off on the things I felt. Everyday in high school = pain. I literally shut down my emotions from the inside, which is probably why it took me almost ten years out of college before I could finally be able to not feel a private shame for being gay (shame may not be the right term to use, but you get the idea). To make matters worse, my family had moved from Dallas to this tiny town, so I didn’t have any childhood friends to rely on. If I were going to commit suicide, I probably would have done so in those years.
Did I think about doing it? Certainly. I even had a note written. But, I have what I will describe as an advantage over many / most people who face hard times in their life. I KNOW, and have always known, how precious life is. You see, when I was born, in 1965, I was a preemie. We’re not just talking a few weeks. I was expected May 29th. I came out March 10th. No, I was born nearly three months premature! I only weighed 2 lbs, 8 oz at birth. I slipped down to just under 2 lbs before I started gaining weight. Those of you who are close to my age will have some idea of the horrific odds of a baby my size surviving. Those few that did survive often ended up with a weakened immune system and or respiratory problems. Me? Of my five other siblings? I’ve always been the healthiest. When everyone else got pretty sick with chicken pox, I had a few itchy bumps.
Was I lucky, or was I blessed by God? I don’t know. I do remember laying awake at nights pondering which was the case. Well, I didn’t believe in luck, didn’t have any proof that it actually existed, and though I was raise Catholic, God never really spoke to me (yes, I mean that figuratively), and I didn’t have any proof that it actually existed. But, thing is, I never would have committed suicide because I appreciated the fact that, quite simply, I am alive. I, in all reality, should even be here! AND I KNEW IT!!!!
Suicide, ultimately, was never an option because I love life… Period.
So, anyway, when I got to Fresno State, though I still carried the fears of getting found out, they were not nearly as strong and dominating as they were in HS. I had lived a little, and was not quite as locked into myself as I was in my teens. I have no idea what I would have done if my “secret” were revealed during my first few weeks in college. I can say I don’t think suicide would have been an option. But my circumstances were different / probably better that Tylers. I was living with my sister, who was already going to Fresno State, and not a complete stranger. She didn’t know I was gay, but if she would have found out??? We are very close, and it would not have been nearly as traumatic. She would not have told the whole campus that her little brother is a faggot.
Note: I had moved to San Diego after high school, which I came to realize had quite a large gay community, and started to be able to explore the world around me, tentatively moving out of the seclusion I had created for myself and reaching out to a world were things weren’t so hostile. Still, that wasn’t easy. How do you get yourself out of the box you created? Hell, after I turned 21, I would park the car across the street from one of the more discrete gay bars in Hillcrest (SD’s equivalent to the Castro District)… and just sit there. Even though I wanted to go in so bad, and belong to something, I couldn’t work up the courage to even get out of the car! This went on every third night… Me, just sitting there in the car, watching the world slowly pass by, wondering if today would be the day that I took the next step. I have no idea if Tyler would have been more comfortable than I was at 21, and we’ll never know. I do know that at 21, I was not even brave enough to bring anyone over to the tiny place I lived for fear that my roommate would find out my horrible truth. So, in some way, he was farther along at 18 than I was.
PS. I need to thank the first straight person who I confided in for being such a great friend after. Thank you Steve Michael. You gave me a ray of hope that the world and the people in it were not as horrible as it sometimes seemed. Now, I need to thank the beer that allowed it… Thank you, Corona!