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Gay Suicides

In the past few months, six students have committed suicide who either identified themselves as homosexuals or who were labeled as such by their classmates because they dared to demonstrate characteristics that diverged in any way from a Rambo movie (never mind that there are no lack of homosexual men who are so "manly" as to make action heroes spontaneously lactate).

In specific, this is nothing new. In general, it might be a positively venerable tradition, as adolescents from time immemorial have died under circumstances that were swept under the rug. It is only with the connectivity of the modern age that these deaths seem like a pattern worthy of attention and national mourning.

And attention they are certainly getting. A week ago, people were exhorted to wear purple in memory of the deceased children (though I personally saw few doing so and witnessed a few purple-clad people being no less homophobic; identity as one of the purple-clad wasn't enough to override their ignorance, just to help them feel as though they belonged among the latest fad). There are countless groups online in memory of these boys. The month of October is dedicated to queer culture, though this seems mostly an excuse for high school GLTBQ clubs to make posters outing historical figures (Abraham Lincoln! Oscar Wilde! Eleanor Roosevelt! Jane Lynch!).

Nine years ago, I had a friend who hanged himself. Todd was bisexual, leaning toward gay if he had much of a say in the matter. His death devastated my social circle not because he was a queer teen who killed himself, but because he was our friend. The relentless teasing he had endured at Dover High School, once he figured out his orientation (as if he had any option), the inability to feel he belonged anywhere, led him to this final decision. I remember the filigree of scars on his wrists from prior attempts. I remember I didn't take his suicidal tendencies seriously. It wouldn't have been hard to save him, he just needed his persecutors to ignore him. It took society much more energy to kill the only Todd S.C. Bevington it would ever have than it would ever have taken to preserve him.

Daily, I am subjected to the heteronormative, homophobic culture that our society has fostered. The teenagers with whom I work toss around sexual epithets almost as often as racial ones. As I am a nebulous authority figure who dresses well, they are relentless in trying to apply the label "gay" to me as though there is something wrong with being gay. When confronted by their prejudices - which I am not shy to do if it means preserving the life of one of their peers - they admit they have homosexual friends and family members, but they still hate gays. The cognitive dissonance has yet to be enough to overpower them to reconciliation.

I cannot abide that we will lose countless other teenagers to this teasing, that someone is reading this right now and is pleased with the thought that their hate can contribute to the extinguishing of the lives of those people who dared to have been born different.

I am aware of the power of belonging. The purple bigots are willing to outwardly ally themselves with a group they claim to despise so they will seem to be in on the latest cultural experience. And, more direly, this need to belong with one's group extends to suicide. If someone you feel is similar to you kills themselves - even if it is someone you don't know personally - it statistically increases your urge to do the same. It doesn't remotely minimize their pain and the atrocity that our culture fosters an environment where this outcome seems even for a moment sensible to teens who have committed no crime more severe that loving another person, but it is an aspect to these cases that shouldn't be overlooked. In a twisted way, some teens going through hell see the attention fellow homosexuals received after suicide and end up mimicking. Even in reporting these deaths, society is telling gay teens that offing themselves is the only way to get the rest of us to care about them. We as a society deny them the right to serve openly in the army, the right to marry, the right to be treated as equal human beings, and then lavish attention upon corpses. As long as we persist in this behavior, we will have no lack of coffins on which to focus our national attention.


Xen is sending the text of these essays back in time to his prepubescent self using advanced technology and fairy dust. That you can manage to read them as well is only a glitch in the servers.
Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.


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