Response to Four Difficult Questions
In my timeframe of reference, i.e. 1960 onward, the way we dealt with bullying was by hiding in closets. Over time and ever accelerating towards now, we morphed into a society encouraging of coming out. The last ten years have been a whirlwind for those of us in the lgbtq community. Hell, I met Denise just over a decade ago, and the difference between March 2000 and now… it’s a century later.
Pause to make mac and cheese. Back, it’s in the oven…
What if questions are good, because we always should evaluate whether our approaches to problem solving are correct or on course. Yet, there is also a danger of equivocal inertia if we get so bogged down in questioning their efficacy we stop acting at all.
Question 1: What if the stranger danger / sexual predator moral panic increased LGBT suicide?
I’ll disagree with this one, not because I believe the consequence non-existent, but because I believe our caution is justified. More than I ever imagined - as the Sandusky case now and the Catholic Church incidents of a decade or so make clear - there are sexual predators out there. As a parent, we must educate and encourage caution as much as we must create better life circumstance for lgbtq youth, especially since lgbtq kids are the most vulnerable of all.
The evolution of social media has become a major problem, because there is little room for niche sites to thrive online, something the lgbtq community once used to great advantage.
I used to be a visible and active member of Technodyke, a lesbian message board extant from 2000 until April 2008. There, I routinely dealt with young women questioning or emerging. The site was a huge huge resource, where a young woman could find someone similar to herself, as well as older queers like me, all with something to offer. Try finding such a site right now – FB and Twitter have sucked the life out of them all. Try finding similar communities within the FB environment; there isn’t anything anywhere near as comprehensive.
While we all wish to be part of society and not feel marginalised within it, such homogenised space does serve valuable purpose. We can enter and retreat as we wish, it isn’t like we must park and stay there forever. Moreover, such places generally do a good job of screening out undesirable folks, because within a short while someone will spot something amiss.
Question 2: What if "It Gets Better" increases emotional devastation for some LGBT youth?
As in, ‘don’t feed me feel good stories bordering on platitudes?’ I agree, the message is nice and all, but for those in crisis, watching what amounts to an lgbtq Barney video isn’t going to provide what one needs to jump out. The fact is, a teen on the verge of drastic action needs interventional assistance, they don’t want smarmy messages, or even the opposite. Their decision-making might already be impaired. At 12, I was a depressive, locked away in my room save for school, months and months of lack of social interaction. Who knows what might have set me off, because, as a closeted kid, no one knew. If others did know, who knows how it might have played out?
Question 3: What if the media spotlight around bullying causes harm to youth?
Like it or not, it’s with us, and it’s not going away. Media will always try to take a story and make it bigger in order to feed its machine. We will never find a way to discourage such coverage. If a story came on right now about a bullying incident, how many of us are turning away and turning off their programming. Just over three years ago, I had first-hand experience with how media works a story. I just got out of their way. The only tool we have to change this sort of coverage is not give media what they seek: viewers and readers. Not happening, which means we have to work around them.
Question 4: . What if us adults are part of the problem?
There is no ‘what if’ here. Adults are *the* driving force in this issue, we set it all in motion. Children/adolescents act on what we collectively pass on to them. We try to stop our young from bullying only after we’ve put managed to show them bigotry is an acceptable practise.
We run up against religion, the major organised opposition to betterment, some of whom even believe bullying is a noble and necessary thing. Like it or not, we have to structure our secular rules such that people are equal, not separate but equal – equal, everywhere. Sorry, more conservative states, but that means you, too. Kids aren’t stupid… they see adults debate what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, they see adults try to couch prejudice behind a religious façade in order to protect it from criticism. Hell, a presidential candidate just aired a commercial suggesting it is ridiculous kids can’t pray in school but you can be queer in the military. (It was nice to see how many thumbs up and down that one garnered, heh.)
What should be our goals? Our sexual identity matters; not suppressing it matters. Adolescents, so vulnerable to peer pressure, need access to a positive environment or at least refuge, and a support network. Heteronormative people have a support network, it is all around us: society. LBGTQ kids have to scramble against a tsunami of conformity wishing to force shape them into what society expects them to be.
For a long time, society deemed lgbtq folk perverts, riding a return wave of oppression begun in the late 1920s. We only began a true push back in the 1960s. Part of oppression included accusations we recruit, something rarely heard today except amongst a few. It’s tough to build support networks when people think your goal is to queer up another generation. Not long ago, we were the equivalent of bullies, predators of nefarious purpose disdained by society.
Now we can build support networks, but we have to be careful building *any* support network for children and adolescents, because of the potential infiltration of predators into youth oriented services. Network intelligently, to protect all involved, and not place vulnerable kids in the hands of someone who will do yet more damage.
We have to instil hope in our children, all children. Removing all means blue screen for the child, loss or reasoning that might well lead to an extreme act. Losing hope is an awful thing; I’ve lived it, in my late 40s. While I did not try direct self-harm, loss of hope raised hell, and I caused incalculable damage in the flailing. When I speak now with college kids (see my profile here, there is a post on one such chat) they are enlightened and engaged, but they are on the emergent side, past the critical age, no longer under the bubble of risk if looking at standard deviations of the math kind.
Reality is all of the things we dislike will present somewhere, so we can’t be passive, or bog down in idealism (Denise just fainted, I heard it) because idealism is a long term message thing, just as the It Gets Better campaign is overall (setting aside benefactors), and not an interventional programme.
Parents have to be observant of their children, and raise them with doors open to communication; to make certain a child knows they can talk about deeply personal issues. We have to build support networks, both with adults and for them, peer to peer. We have to speak up when other adults put down, not just in a specific instance involving a child, but every public display of intolerance we witness. It is not acceptable for presidential candidates to trash people for their ethnicity, gender, religion, and sexuality. We need to educate, and not pretend like lgbtq folk do not exist as so many wish schools to do. Schools can no longer be neutral, walking a path of fear for offending someone based on religion. Would we accept religion as a legitimate reason to trash the ethnicity of a group? No. Schools need to stand for respect for all students, including those lgbtq, and further clearly state being lgbtq is okay. We need to be aware of signs of depression, we need to talk with our children about how to cope with pressure and denunciations.