More than a month ago the media began covering a few—certainly not all—stories about young LGBT people killing themselves. Actually, the majority of the suicides covered were of young gay men. But aside from a critique of the reporting, something else important was mentioned in almost every news report about gay youth suicide: they were the victims of bullying.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I’m wary of putting too much emphasis on bullying and homophobia. Of course it happens, every day, all around the country. But bullying happens for all kinds of reasons, including body size, race, not being from the neighborhood, apparent class status, known illnesses, and homophobia in that context is just another means toward harassing a kid. I’m not saying it doesn’t deserve investigation, but if we overemphasize one of these connections to the exclusion of looking at the others, we may find at some point that we’ve expended a lot of energy and not identified any real solutions. And by then the fight may have gone out of us on this issue, and that would be its own tragedy.
A new study of 43,000 teenagers reveals that fully half of adolescents say they’ve bullied someone in the last year. And nearly half say they’ve been bullied. Bullying also seems to be prevalent longer than previous studies have shown, which claimed it peaked in middle school. The Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles say their data show bullying continues through high school. Either this is a change in how long bullying hangs around children, or the study has uncovered previously wrong assumptions, or this study is somehow wrong. But in any case, it points to the false dichotomy that the media has presented. Maybe there are no bullies to hate. Maybe victim and bully can reside within the same person.
Holy crap, what do we do now? Well, maybe we could look at the relationship between being bullied and enacting bullying tactics against someone else. Maybe we could explore the relationship between learning how to handle anger and frustration and taking those feelings out on others. Or we could examine why bullying happens in the first place, test new anti-bullying training programs on students, teachers, and administrators, or attempt to see if increased stress leads to bullying.
But so long as we continue this crusade against the image of the big bad meanie, we may find ourselves getting nowhere. Because my suspicion is that there are as many simple, wholly evil bullies out there as there are coal-eaters from the planet Zozobian. And I don’t hear that we’re spending any time worrying about them.
ONE SPECIAL SHOUTOUT to Clint McCance, an official on a school board in Arkansas, who wrote on his Facebook page:
Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE. (typos McCance’s)
Why does this man want to work with children? Here is one man who needs to be removed from interaction with kids, because many of those kids will be LGBT, and they need to have only people who won’t wish for their death to support them.