I've kept busy this week. I've wrapped myself up in my work. There are many challenges right now at work and I'm actually getting excited in a lot of things happening at work. But to be truthful, I haven't kept busy because of work. I've kept myself occupied with tasks to avoid the mental preoccupation of what has happened in New Jersey. I'm talking about the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a freshman college student at Rutgers University in New Jersey. On September 22, 2010, Tyler made one final entry on his Facebook page, that simply said, "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry." His body was recovered a few days later.
Why has this effected me so deeply? Because I could have so easily have been Tyler. We had so many things in common. We were both shy. We were both gay. We were both musicians. We were both violinists. We both majored in music at college. We were both accomplished musicians. At his age of 18, I protected my gay identity with all my might. In conservative Idaho, that would have meant certain death for me, or so I thought. Would I have actually been killed by the caring people in Emmett, Idaho circa 1973? Maybe, in the right place at the right time. It happened to Matthew Sheppard in not so far away Wyoming.
I was subjected to ridicule and bullying as well in my final weeks of high school. I managed to be clever enough to keep being gay a secret until about two weeks before my high school graduation. After that, I was routinely followed home at high speed in my car by a bunch of teenage thugs. I would run into my home, lock the doors, and watch from the window as they damaged my car, broke the windshield, and broke the headlights. Our dog was going crazy inside. I actually feared for my life those two weeks. I couldn't wait to leave Emmett and escape to college. Yes, I understand what Tyler was feeling the night he took his life. I understand it very well.
What we didn't have was the technology to publicize a very private thing so easily, for the purpose of hurting and humiliating another human being. When I was 18, to bully me, you actually had to do so face to face. You had to confront the object of your disdain. And the audience was as large as whoever happened to be there. Not so in Tyler's case. He was only confronted with a web cam lens while others watched.
So today, you don't have to actively confront your victim. All you have to do is simply set up a web cam, and from the comfort of another dorm room, instantly stream your victim having an intimate encounter with another man, for all the world to see in real time. You can also invite others to enjoy the show all over the world. And while you are doing this, you are outing that person, not only to the world, but to those who care for him the most, his family, and his friends, and everyone else he knew or knew of him. In deed, his roommate made this Twitter feed advertising that he was going to live stream his roommates encounter in what Tyler thought was the privacy of his dorm room.
Dharun Ravi's now deleted Twitter feed featuring posts relating to the incident
His roommate and another friend then streamed the encounter live to the Internet. His roommate and his roommates "friend" then just sat back and let it happened. They are pictured below.
Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei
That would honestly have been too much for me to take when I was 18, so I do understand Tyler's sense of hopelessness the night that he jumped off the bridge, and the thought that this was much bigger than just himself. To him, it involved the possible loss of those who loved him most, his dignity, self respect, shaming his family, and how others would view him. When that happens, what is honestly left to live for? I believe that was his frame of mind that night on the George Washington Bridge.
The difference between my day and the present, is that perhaps Tyler felt he may have had a bit more acceptance than I had in my day. He was wrong. Some things don't change. In this society, we like to think they we have evolved in our thinking on the subject of "acceptance" and "homosexuality". Baloney. It's not real. And you need to be very careful who you put the label of "friend" on. I have a very small handful of friends by design. These extraordinary people don't see me as a gay person. They don't even think about it. And when I'm around them, for a time, I don't even think about it either.
I no longer allow people of limited character have power over me. That's because I have an arsenal of weapons at my disposal. Let's call it knowledge. Those who try to throw crap my way do so at their peril. I recently meant a friend from college that I hadn't seen in thirty years. We had what I thought was a great visit. We talked for three hours. And in the last five minutes, all of that was erased with one very simple sentence, "I worry about your salvation." That no longer works with me. I told him that he can talk to me after he stops using the Bible as a laundry list of sins, most of which will be ignored if they hit too close to home, and some of which will be hurled at others (like me). Hypocrites.
I feel horrible for Tyler's family and friends. But life will go on, and that's the problem. Nothing will change. We will feel bad, just as we felt when Matthew Sheppard was murdered. To this day the state of Wyoming does not have a hate crimes law in place. There was talk at the time of Matthew's death, but after time, the good people of Wyoming decided that their way of life was just fine. I sound so cynical don't I? It's not as if I haven't been given ample examples of this in the past. It happens all the time.
I'll tell you what... let's wait to see what Rutgers University will do about this? In ten years time, what policies will be in place to prevent this from happening? I would bet quite a bit of money that nothing will be in place, just like all the other major universities in the nation.
I want to take those responsible and beat the living shit out of them. But I know that is not the answer, and it is contrary to everything I stand for as a human being. This will be their burden. They did this. They might as well have pushed him off the bridge themselves.
So what am I so thankful for? Simply, that I lived. As a teen I wasn't so successful at suicide as Tyler was, although I did try. But if I had been there with Tyler that night on that bridge, I would have tried to give him hope. I would have said, "Tyler, look at me. Look where I'm at today. If I had succeeded in doing what you are about to do, I would have missed so much. I would have missed the love of my life, my upcoming marriage, the Fall colors of New England, seeing the world, and all the small little things that make life so much bigger than being different, or the act of jumping off a bridge." Would I have been able to talk him out of it after being outed to the world? Probably not. It's all out on the Internet, probably on many different computers. You can't pull that back.
I don't want to forget Tyler, and I know that over time he will fade away, just as Matthew has. So, this is the gentle soul that we lost. It's just a couple of photos to put the name with the face.
On a final note, Tyler was scheduled to perform with the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra tonight. His name will remain on the program.
I'm going to miss you Tyler. I'm your brother who never met you.