Guest Blogger

Mean Boys, Mean Girls

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 31, 2010 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: bullying epidemic, gay suicide, Mean Girls, Victor Bumbalo

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Victor Bumbalo is an award winning internationally produced playwright. He has also written for several popular television shows.

Victor-Bumbalo.jpgTyler Clementi. Our hearts break. His life is over because his roommate and a classmate thought it was hilarious to share his sex life with the cyber universe. His gay sex life. Bad people. Mean. There were bad kids who made Seth Walsh's life so miserable that the only way out for this 13 year-old child was to hang himself. Billy Lucas, 15, also sought relief at the end of a rope from his life infected by bullies. More bad children. Mean boys. Mean girls. Asher Brown 15. What words from his tormentors were going through his head when he shot himself?

An epidemic of gay suicide. An epidemic of bullying.

Who are these heartless children who get pleasure from tormenting their peers?

We look for causes. But we don't dare look too deeply, particularity in the case of gay children; because if we do, we would be stepping on sacred toes. We would have to hold accountable the many trustees of our spirituality, our democracy, our arts and entertainment.

So we don't talk about the Catholic boy who loves his family and loves God and wants them to love him back. We don't talk about what this innocent hears when he goes to church. The message he receives is clear. If he ever acts on any of his feelings, if someday when he's older he wants to express his love, he'll bring shame on himself and his family. He'll go to hell. Separated in this life and eternity from his loved ones. And he's only a little boy. That kid doesn't have to be Catholic. He could be sitting in any number of Christian churches or Orthodox synagogues.

What about the kid who's the good student, interested in history? What does he hear from the majority of our public figures and politicians as he's channel-surfing? That he doesn't have equal rights and he doesn't deserve them. No matter how smart he is. No matter how accomplished. Equal rights are reserved for straight people. Even those bullies - those mean children who may grow up to be mean adults - they'll have more rights than he'll ever have.

Then there's the African-American gay kid. Finally he has a role model in the White House. But what does this charismatic President tell him? That he should have equal rights, well, almost. Just don't ever think of marriage. That is reserved for his straight brothers and sisters. Not him. And if he wants to serve his country, he mustn't tell anybody he's gay. That would only lead to expulsion and more humiliation.

There's a 13 year-old kid in a small town. No way is he out. He goes to the movies with his posse. Up on the screen is Vince Vaughn in a trailer to his new movie (thankfully pulled) saying something is "gay," meaning annoying, worthless, something not right. The film makers think it's harmless. Just an expression that all the kids are using. They're so hip and funny. They have lots of gay friends. And their little joke is so much better than the jokes in other straight boy movies where the most upsetting and hilarious thing that can happen to a character is to be perceived as gay. But that kid in the movie theater is not that hip. What he hears is that gay people's lives are a joke. Not the stuff that dreams are made of. And deeper into the closet he goes.

These are facts gay kids live with every day. No way are they prepared to deal with these mean boys and mean girls. Even if a gay kid has a loving family, sometimes it's not enough. Because they have to go out into the world, and the world is a much more dangerous place for these kids.

We are complacent. Too silent. Way too patient with our powers that be. It's time these gay kids stop hearing from the adult world that they are not good enough, not equal, just a joke, an abomination. Schools and parents should immediately let these children know there is help for them out there. Be it the Trevor Project or Dan Savage's "It Gets Better Campaign." And there are churches, temples, and synagogues that would welcome them.

Twenty years ago, a friend was dying in a hospital of AIDS. The TV was on in the background. A famous actress, an Academy Award winner, was on a talk show. She prided herself on being gay friendly. However, she was sharing a story about her nellie hairdresser. About what a little queen he was. The actress minced. She swished. The audience roared. This harmless little joke was the last thing my friend heard before he slipped into a coma. His last words were "They hate us." We have to keep that message away from these kids. Or we are just a population of mean boys and mean girls.

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A famous actress, an Academy Award winner, was on a talk show. She prided herself on being gay friendly. However, she was sharing a story about her nellie hairdresser. About what a little queen he was. The actress minced. She swished. The audience roared.

The hairdresser may have been nellie -- but he must have been a damn good hairdresser, or an actress with an Academy Award would not have been going to him.

I also expect the hairdo was not exactly inexpensive, and that the hairdresser would not have gone bankrupt without her business.

The problem of anti-gay cultural messages, bullying, and gender stereotypes pervades every thread in our cultural fabric. We need to be prepared for a long haul, for as Jim Crow was for African-Americans, we might have to address these issues for a hundred years before making dramatic progress.

Thank You, Mr. Bumbalo, for this much-needed post.

P.S. I was very close to being your 13-year-old boy in a small town and, yes, I stayed in the closet (mostly) until college.

What I have come to realize recently is that there are some kids for which there is no closet -- some boys are so nelly, some girls such natural tom-boys, some youngsters so clearly trans-identified, that they are out of the closet before they had the idea that there was any need for a closet. The people around them figure out their story sooner than they do -- and so often the reaction is devastating.

We need to keep such kids in our mental models about what school bullying is about -- and we need to raise the priority of their plights as we expand our anti-bullying efforts.

Individuals continually tell us how open minded they are and all the Gay friends they have. We need allies who do not remain silent. Gays are continually struggling for true acceptance and our civil rights.

In addition, we need more positive Gay role models.

Victor, thank you so much for this article. Fifty years ago I was one of those kids who watched as my gay schoolmates were ridiculed. I watched and said nothing. I hope I haven't grown up into one of these mean kids you write about.

california panda | November 1, 2010 12:09 AM

Why do we continually insist on being part of, and continue to support, a government and a society that sees us as inferior and unequal? I vow that I will only serve when I am considered equal in all things. Anything else is subjugation.

As much as I disdain the positive/negative things that come from many 'friendly' people I think its not all bad. At least they are talking about us and trying. That's a far cry from the absolute no we used to get.

We need to continue to educate and support our community and allies. Let's not alienate them because they blunder.

By all means speak up, be proud, and fight for change. Just remember though we all err in life. I mean our own community fights it's self at times. Let's work on us while we work on others a well.

Bullying is like a lot of other things. It has to be carefully taught. Until parents get over their own hysteria and the homophobic (small or hidden) thoughts their own parents gave them, bullying will be passed on and on. This will eventually diminish, but it will take time, and in the meantime, children will die.

Zero tolerance for bullies! Put them all in a separate school with tall razor wire chained fences and let them bully each other! Oh wait, we have that. It's called PRISON!

While in high school in the 1960's, I was subjected to bullying. Like so many others who are Gay, I went on to college, graduate school and began a professional career. I realize the past is the past; but it is so heartbreaking to me to hear of the bullying (and suicides)
that are occurring.

I can appreciate that for every Gay person their present situation is different but I personally admire all those who can be open and
speak up. These youth people who are victims of bullying have to hear that it does get better and to please hang it there to experience all
the goods things can will occur.

gregorybrown | November 1, 2010 9:48 AM

Every so often I wade into the swamp of Reader's Comments in a couple of newspapers in fairly large midwestern cities. I know it's a lost cause but my need to set some things out for examination is strong. It's some comfort to know that the group of regulars, however many fake names they use, is actually small and their words are unknown to most readers of the actual print editions. Nonetheless, I think some of what they say is representative of real opinions among real people.
One recurrent theme is that bullying is "just teasing" and that kids should face up and fight back, that the victims are wusses and lack "backbone". What these remarks show is that too many people have an outdated notion of "bullying", thinking back 50 years or so to their own small town experiences as victims--or bullies. They have no idea at all how vicious and deadly harassment and physical violence have become. They don't understand the fragility of children's psyches because they forget their own fragilities, and they are utterly ignorant of how things that not so long ago remained local are now accessible throughout communities and the world via pervasive electronic means. Telling kids that better times will come makes little sense when adults around them have such warped and outdated memories and don't know about daily excursions into hell.

As one of those who was picked on unmercifully in high school I have to say that the damage lasts a life time for some people.

I grew up hating almost everybody else because I was "different". I didn't know what to call my difference at the time, but I was so trans-identified that I couldn't hide the feminine in me and was teased and picked on unmercifully thorughout high school.

The scars are still with me today, and I die a bit each time I read about another child who has taken their life or does something radical because they are picked on. I blame the adults, both parents and teachers for not moving in and stopping it, for not showing they care enough to help someone who is being tormented. In school the assistant principal knew what was happening to me , but his attitude was boys will be boys.
That sort of reaction kills, as surely as the gun or the rope.