Thursday, October 14, 2010

Straight People, Listen! Part II: The Homophobia News Of The Week In Review

Carl Paladino campaigning in New Paltz, NY after
his ill-chosen homophobic words.  Photo credit.
There is a lot going on in the gay world nowadays.

Following the suicide of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers, the straight world has discovered institutionalized homophobia and is "shocked, shocked!" that gay youth are not only routinely bullied in school, but that teachers, principles and coaches stand around and watch while it happens.  They are even more shocked that to be the recipient of repeated homophobic bullying is so isolating and devastating to a young person's self esteem that death seems like a good option.

Before you decide to hang from the highest tree those Rutgers students who posted to the Internet a video of Clementi kissing a boy (the event that precipitated his suicide leap from the George Washington Bridge) or make your own "It Gets Better" video, consider this.  What if Clementi was relentlessly bullied and ostracized in grade school, middle school and high school, and every adult who should have helped him instead told him that things would "get better" in college? He may have been enduring some hell-hole of an adolescence with this hope, and instead college turned out to be exactly the same.  That could really push you over the edge, couldn't it?

It's the accumulated weight of homophobia -- or sexism, or racism, or the massive weight of all three -- that gets you in the end, not any one incident.  So one of the questions that we have to answer for kids subjected to homophobic bullying:  When?  When is it going to get better?  And how? In that vein, one of my commenters, of the heterosexualist persuasion, sent me a copy of a letter she sent to her kid's school principal asking him what he is doing about homophobic bullying.  Until straight people start organizing and taking the initiative like this, you know what?  It isn't going to get better.

This is not to say that Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" project, collected on a YouTube channel, isn't great.  It is, and those of you who haven't browsed around it yet should do so (you can skip the queer child of celebrities, who may have had one of the most gruesome tabloid coming out stories ever, saying over and over for three minutes, "It's going to get better....really.  It will.  Get better.  I mean it.  It does. Get better.  Really.")  Here's a link to a particularly moving message from Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire; and my all time favorite for parents, by Ann Pellegrini at NYU, which should be burned to a CD-ROM and sent home from the hospital with every baby.

Now, the question is, even though it has gotten better for some of us, why isn't it better, all these years later?

Let's turn to our other gay news then, New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who launched an anti-gay rant last Sunday in front of a gaggle of Orthodox Jewish leaders in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t,” he said (watch the whole video here.)  One question New Yorkers might ask themselves prior to entering the voting booth is if they should have a governor who can't pronounce the word "pervert" correctly.  We at Tenured Radical are not sure why Mr. Paladino omitted a line in the original text --“There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual” -- but we think it might have been because the word "dysfunctional" had too many syllables.

Paladino's campaign manager says that the candidate is not homophobic, he's just Catholic.  As the Gray Lady reported:

Mr. Paladino declined a request to be interviewed after his appearance. His campaign manager, Michael R. Caputo, denied assertions that Mr. Paladino was antigay, and noted that he employed a gay man on his campaign staff.

“Carl Paladino is simply expressing the views that he holds in his heart as a Catholic,” Mr. Caputo said in a telephone interview. “Carl Paladino is not homophobic, and neither is the Catholic Church.”

“The majority of New Yorkers agree with him,” Mr. Caputo added. He said the campaign had done its own polling.

During his appearance at the synagogue, with reporters in attendance, Mr. Paladino said: “Don’t misquote me as wanting to hurt homosexual people in any way. That would be a dastardly lie.”

Just dastardly.

No matter how much pride we gay people have amassed over the years, in how many parades, when we are publicly called dysfunctional perverts we know that someone has put a big target on our backs.  Paladino has apologized, has said his words were "poorly chosen," and that what he meant to say was that if elected, he would "fight for all gay New Yorkers' rights."  Which is funny, because if you watch the whole video, by no stretch of the imagination is he saying that.  He would have had to choose entirely different words, and a different topic.

Fool.  Because, of course, this is exactly the kind of thing that hurts homosexual people, and if you don't know that you don't deserve to be governor of anybody.  Carl Paladino doesn't have to be running around with his very own baseball bat to make the world more dangerous, and "less better," for queer folks.

For  the first installment of Straight People Listen!  click on this link.


Becki H said...

I am also tired of hearing people say that queer youth are killing themselves because of DADT and the illegality of gay marriage. While it is true that these things are helping to promote homophobia, queer you are not thinking of that when they are 13 and suicidal.
I read a great article earlier today ( that pointed out that we need to think about all parts of people's identities when looking at what is happening. The author, Yasmin Nair, is really spot on with her thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Becki H said...
I am also tired of hearing people say that queer youth are killing themselves because of DADT and the illegality of gay marriage. While it is true that these things are helping to promote homophobia, queer you are not thinking of that when they are 13 and suicidal.

Really? Maybe young Tommy isn't following the details of the debate on DADT or Marriage Equality but he's sure to hear all the opinions around him that feature slurs and condemnation of people like him.

Its the weight of everything that contributes. And, that includes the atmosphere around public debates about legislation. Reading the link you provided makes the point that it is the cummulative affect of ALL of these things that makes life particularly difficult for one segment of our adolescent population and which makes them more vulnerable not only to the predations of those with violent tendencies (either verbal or physical forms of bullying) but to the messages we send to them about their worth and their inclusion in our society.

You may be "tired of hearing people say" these things but I'll bet that people on the receiving end of these bigoted laws and vile terms of what passes for public debate are beyond "tired." Your post sounds like so many others that frame the issue in terms that express sadness over these tragedies but ultimately try to pitch the blame off the tormenting society and on to some formulation of "other factors in the youth's life!"

I for one am more than tired of it.


Becki H said...

Hi G. Adams,

I was trying to say that I don't think DADT and gay marriage are the only things that need to change in order to stop all these suicides. It also has to do with racism, classism, the police state, etc.
The second part of my original post was trying to point out that it is the cumulative affects. While getting DADT overturned and legalizing gay marriage will help, I don't want people to think that is all they need to do.

LouMac said...

I'm glad you pointed out the potential problem with some of the "It Gets Better" interventions: namely, that so many of us (queer adults) are promising these kids that it will all get better when they go to college. I think even Dan Savage (or maybe his husband?) in their original video said something like "it got better the DAY I went to college".

Not sure what one can do about that, though. The targeted audience for these videos - despairing queer youth - are not likely to be in a place where subtle distinctions will help ("well, for many of us, it got better at college, but that's no guarantee, it kind of depends on all sorts of things", etc.) It's a tricky one.

Of course, the only remotely satisfying answer is a systemic and unapologetic addressing of institutionalised homophobia in all levels of school, and (natch) of its societal sources ... but while waiting for pigs to fly, perhaps those of us teaching in universities can become that little bit more aware of what some of our students may be going through, and step up some more.

Anonymous said...

I have been teaching Radclyffe Hall's 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness for the last two weeks, and I think my whole class agreed that we are beyond sad that the conversations are the same, almost a centuiry later. It gets better, but it doesn't really. Not until people stop relying on fear and hate instead of logic, toleance...dare I say, just plain love?

JoVE said...

I agree with your critique, though also wanted to point to a (non-video) contribution that highlights the fact that the teachers aren't just standing on the sidelines ignoring, they may be actively part of the problem:

The underlying issue of treating it as a developmental phase issue (it's bad in school but gets better when you are an adult) just reiterates what almost all public discussion of youth does, though. And that is a much bigger problem.

We need to see the activities, identities, feelings, etc. of children and youth as having value in the present instead of always viewing them as "becoming".

I, too, am sad that the changes that have happened over the past 30 years or so are still such a drop in the bucket.