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October 2, 2010: On Bullying, Gay Suicides, and Healthy Anger

In case you haven’t been exposed to any news this week, it’s been a really “newsy” week — a really BAD newsy week, that is.  In the past weeks, there have been FIVE — that’s right, FIVE, an entire FIST — of suicides by gay boys and men that are as a result of vicious, repeated, and relentless anti-gay bullying. 

Such as: Seth Walsh, 13 years old, of Tehachapi CA, who hanged himself; Justin Aaberg, 15 years old, of Cooks Head MN, who hanged himself; Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, Indiana, who hanged himself; Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, who shot himself in the head; Tyler Clementi, of Ridgewood NJ, 18 years old, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge; and Raymond Chase, 19, of Monticello, NY, who also hanged himself.  This is an outrage.

Lorri Jean, CEO of the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, has said in the past that the anti-gay rhetoric of the leading anti-gay bigots has killed these kids just as surely as if they had fired guns at them.  They include: Fred Phelps (“pastor” of the church in Mississippi, who protest the funerals of American soldiers who died in war because America “tolerates” homosexuality too much), Tony Perkins (Family Research Council, multi-million dollar political hate group), James Dobson (hugely wealthy bigot head of “Focus on the Family” radio, website, and other media), Lou Sheldon and daughter Andrea Lafferty (Traditional Values Coalition), Donald Wildmon, Joseph Socarides (bullshit artist who tries to wrap his bigotry in “psychology” and boooks on “reparative therapy”), Maggie Gallagher (National Organization for Marriage), Pete Knight, Fifty Cent, Mel Gibson, Eminem, “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger (bullshit-mongering fake radio psychotherapist), Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Jan Brewer, John McCain, etc., etc.  These crass hate-mongers have blood on their hands.

There is SO much anti-gay rhetoric in the air these days, that those words eventually reach the ears of the gay, or presumed gay.  The words are internalized, by both the victims and the bullies, so that the bullies, fueled by their early-teen testosterone rush, are disinhibited and empowered to commit anti-gay violence.  These suicides start as simply as dad using the word “fag” at the dinner table. 

Like many gay men, I was a victim of bullying as well, only thankfully mine was relatively mild.  But it was there, and the teachers it was reported to were so typically “public-sector lazy” and conflict-avoidant that they did NOTHING, just like the school teachers and administrators in these recent cases.  This was despite repeated pleas from parents for them to do something about the bullying their child was experiencing.  (Where was the act of simple suspension from school?  Even THAT was too strenuous an effort for these milquetoast administrators?)

I’ve mentioned before, as a psychotherapist, there is a certain pressure for what we call “affect regulation” — meaning, keep it together, gurl.  Don’t lose it; it sets a bad example.  I even (effectively) teach “anger management” to my clients.  But as a trusted colleague once said, we don’t want to eliminate anger.  The appropriate use of anger is our defense against exploitation and abuse.  ACT-UP was an appropriate expression of anger against bureacrats who were letting AIDS patients die needlessly from government and pharmaceutical inaction.  The Selma Bus Boycott was an appropriate expression of anger about anti-Black racism.  The French Revolution was, too, seeking justice against a rich queen who told the starving people with no bread to “let them eat cake” (she was beheaded).   The Kent State protests against the unjust Vietnam War.  The list goes on.

But what about more controversial expressions of anger?  “The Burning Bed” was a TV movie (with the lovely, late Farrah Fawcett) about an abused wife, Francine Hughes, who killed her abusing husband by burning him in his own bed.  Frankly, I say, good for her.  The vicious bastard had it coming.  What other controversial expressions of anger can we say about bullying?  Basically, I say we give lazy, stupid, collusive, namby-pamby school administrators ONE chance to act on these matters, or we take matters into our own hands. When I was bullied, and I would come home from school upset and talking about it at dinner, my ever-sensitive father used to say, “Well, what did YOU do to provoke it??”.  (Nice guy, huh?  Fortunately, he’s somewhat mellowed out since then, but I have a real hard time forgiving him for that.  That’s parental abandonment in its most rage-inducing form.)  But he did give some advice, about giving the bullies right back whatever they gave out.  “Bullied Bullies Don’t Bully” is basically his message, and while he and I disagree on just about everything else, from gay rights to racism, I agree with him on that.  It’s just simple negative reinforcement for bad behavior.  “Once bitten, twice shy.” 

Perhaps instead of finding daddy’s gun and using it to kill himself, as little Asher Brown, 13, did, he should have taken the gun to school and shot his bully point-blank in the back of the head.  Sure; it would be reported as “tragic” and “horrific”, but I bet it would also be effective in putting a chill on bullying for a while.  Perhaps that “message” would help to counter-act the “messages” from John McCain, Maggie Gallagher, James Dobson, Christine O’Donnell, etc. that abusing gay kids is “OK”.  Remember the “Kill a Biker, Go to Jail” bumper-stickers?  Kind of the same idea.  A few good, dead bullies and somehow I think we might cut down on the number of gay-related teen suicides for a while.

So, maybe it’s not the perfect idea, because if Asher Brown had indeed shot his bully/bullies, he would have spent a nice long time in Juvenile Hall jail, but maybe something non-lethal?  A good non-lethal stabbing with mommy’s best bread knife?  Frankly, if I really had to choose between five dead gay kids and a handful of dead bullies, guess which one I’d pick?  Killing in self-defense of your life is not illegal, and these bullies are murderers just as if they had shot Asher Brown themselves with their gun, by their own hand.  (The issue of having guns in the house accessible to 13-year-old kids is another matter, and my enmity to the NRA will be expressed another time). 

Ultimately, “Burning Bed” abused wife Francine Hughes was acquitted by reason of “insanity” (  I think it’s the most sane thing I’ve ever heard.  If soldiers in war defend themselves by ventilating their enemy full of holes, all for a blood-for-oil war, surely a battered housewife can do the same to save her own life. 

Angry?  Sure I am.  Because I’ve been there; I’ve been the kid who was bullied and saw the “authority” figures of parents, teachers, and administrators do basically NOTHING in response.  While some might say “get over it”, especially to an adult therapist, I disagree.  I will never “get over” the injustice of emotional or physical violence being perpetrated on gay (or perceived gay) people.  This is NOT a time to “manage” or “eliminate” our anger.   This is a time to indulge it, in honor of the kids who gave their lives so that we might be aware of their mortal suffering.  It is not only our OPTION to be infuriated and moved to action, it is our DUTY. 

How?  First of all, the parents of bullying victims need to use the power of the courts to strike fear in the hearts of do-nothing school administrators.  They need to enlist help from the ACLU and sue the pants off of any school system that fails to reasonably and decisively respond to reports of bullying.  A few multi-million-dollar Wrongful Death lawsuit payouts and suddenly Mr. Principal might be a little less dismissive with his “boys will be boys” platitudes to grieving parents.  “Safe Schools” government czar Kevin Jennings needs to get off his ass and actually DEMAND that the government do more, and not be afraid he’s going to lose his invitations to White House dinners if he does so (  It’s time for people to stop being “sad” at the suicides and start being “mad”.  It’s time for mainstream Christians (and Muslims, and Jews, and Hindus) to stop letting their right-wing arms speak for all people of faith in anti-gay ways and to start calling out the right-wing pundits and politicians for being the disgusting bigots that they are.  It’s time for all fair-minded parents to DEMAND an explicit policy from all schools about how they deal with bullying.  It’s time to call out anyone who says it’s ok to discriminate against, hit, push, kick, tease, hidden-webcam, mock, slap, blackmail, or otherwise harrass a person just because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.  Vote them out.  Burn their books.  Boycott their radio show sponsors.  In short, it’s time to get busy.  It’s time to speak for those who no longer can, because they are hanging lifeless by a rope, floating on the water beneath the George Washington Bridge, or dead on the family living room floor with a bullet in their brain.  What would they say if they could still speak?  I think their actions speak very loudly.  It’s time we did, too.  That’s why this “anger management” therapist is really, REALLY angry. 

Five gay suicides in one week?  Perhaps the Universe is telling us that FIVE makes a fist, and it’s time to fight back.

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