The Epidemic

Jamey Rodemeyer lived in my hometown. He was fourteen years old, had a pervasive sense of humor, loved Lady Gaga fiercely and blogged, often, about the fact that he was being mercilessly bullied in school for being gay.

He killed himself on Sunday.

Nothing I can say or write can convey my depth of sadness. Jamey, like many gay youth, asked for help repeatedly, and was repeatedly ignored.

A week from Friday, I am legally marrying the love of my life–a woman. I have been treated despicably because I am an openly gay woman. Every day, the possibility of being treated terribly because of my queerness is a very, very real possibility. I’m twenty-seven.

When I was fifteen, I thought about suicide, too.

You know why I stopped? Lots of reasons that I had to keep remembering, every day when it was very, very difficult. But–funnily enough–I began to become okay with myself because of the only positive example of lesbians I could find, that I clung to in my very fragile stages. The lesbian couple in the just-becoming-popular-at-the-time-anime, Sailor Moon. I have no embarrassment admitting that the candy-coated, pastel cartoon of Sailor Moon was one of the largest pieces in the puzzle of stopping the incredible self loathing I felt.

To straight people, that may seem absolutely ridiculous. But I have a feeling that most gay people reading this (or in existence) have that turning moment–that anchor, that positive example that they used as their life vest when the world told them over and over and over again how fundamentally fucked up they were.

When the entire world tells you that you’re a freak, it’s those moments of salvation in the form of something positive, something good, that can make or break the balance.

It did for me.

I don’t have all of the answers. But I think about the dialogues last week where people scoffed at the idea of gay young adult books. “We don’t need to have gayness in our books–it’ll cause kids to become gay.” “Gay young adult books are worthless.” “Why would you even put gay characters into young adult books?”

I’m a gay author writing gay, young adult books. Obviously, I have a predisposed idea that they are absolutely vital and fundamental. I believe that seeing positive examples of queerness in literature, in culture, are crucial to help stop this fucking epidemic of our queer youth thinking they’re worthless.

People are devastated about Jamey’s death. I’m one of those people. But I’m also angry. Angry that, for the most part, we’re still just shaking our heads, wondering what we can do to make our kids stop killing themselves.

Again, I don’t have all of the answers. But I know that once I knew someone, in real life, who was gay, I felt better about myself. I could talk to someone who understood what I was going through. I know that when I saw positive depictions of queerness, I realized I could stop loathing myself.

Telling our kids “it gets better” is an important first step. Having adults acknowledge that the bullying is horrific, and that they don’t deserve it (which I know many queer youth feel that they do), is absolutely crucial.

But what do we do next?

It’s not a rhetorical question.

The week after my wedding, I want to go to my local Pride association. I know I’m a low level author, but I still want to volunteer my services to go into schools and talk about my experiences. It’s a tiny first step–I don’t know if they can even use me–but I need to make an effort to do something. I’m going to ask if there’s any other place I can volunteer in for queer youth in my community.

Does anyone have any other suggestions?

I’m writing positive books about kids who are gay. But it’s not enough. Obviously, I’m only one person and I don’t have the ego to even think I could make a difference, but I can’t sit here and do nothing. I’m fundamentally sickened by this. I’m crushed by this. If I don’t move, if I don’t do something, I’m in a self gratifying sphere of “that’s terrible. It’ll happen again. So sad.”

It should never happen. It should not keep happening.

I wish, so desperately, that someone had listened to Jamey. That someone had tried to help.

What are we doing? Why are we allowing this to go on, to continue?

Why aren’t we changing this?

I’m only one person. But I’ve got to do something–anything. Maybe that’s self gratifying, too, the need to do something, to not sit by and do nothing when I know that I can do something, that I am, perhaps, able of doing something.

I don’t know. Again–I don’t have all of the answers. I’m trying, just like all of us, to try and make sense of something that is fucking tragic, that should never have happened.

…I’m so, so sorry, Jamey.

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About Sarah Diemer

I write about heroic, magical girls who love girls. I drink a lot of coffee. Follow me at http://twitter.com/sediemer or find out more about my work at http://sarahdiemerauthor.wordpress.com
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13 Responses to The Epidemic

  1. Tatyana says:

    That breaks my heart that yet another young beautiful human being felt that he was worthless for being gay… my heart goes out to those who knew him and I wish from the bottom of my heart that we won’t have more young men and women taking their lives for being who they are… Gay.
    I’m going to put this in my own journal and I hope everyone on my f-list reads this!
    *LOVE*

    Like

  2. Laura says:

    This breaks my heart 😦 I don’t even know how to respond. I’m so pissed off about the lack of punishment for bullying in high schools and I’m even more pissed at parents and adult authorities who do FUCKING NOTHING while a teen is in pain and desperately needs support.. and then takes his/her life. There is something seriously wrong with America and humanity as a whole when we allow these things to happen. The authorities have every tool at their disposal to stop gay teen bullying and, in general, nothing is being done. It’s beyond infuriating.

    Like

  3. Rachel M. says:

    I’ve found it particularly painful, in this boy’s story, that he didn’t seem to be without support. I’m sure you’ve seen his “It Gets Better” YouTube video where he both acknowledges the pain of teasing as well as the existence of local friends (although all girls) and powerful, supportive internet relationships that eased his sense of isolation. He was exposed to positive GLBT role models and he felt, or at least said he felt, that coming out as bi gave him some support, relief, understanding. He had all that, more than a lot of GLBT youth might feel they have, and it still wasn’t enough to pull him out of the darkness.

    I don’t think this is a gay issue–though there is no doubt that gay youth are dramatically more likely to consider suicide. I was systematically, mercilessly teased for being tall, being shy, being smart, being pale, being a redhead, whatever could be used to cut me from the herd of my classmates and make a single target of me. I had faultless, unswerving support at home and I *still* considered suicide as a way out. Bullying and psychological abuse, whether in schools or over the internet, is such an accepted part of the normal school/coming-of-age experience. How often are kids like this sent back to school day-after-day despite complaining of abuse and painful teasing? It is killing children and making monsters of many, many, many more.

    I think anyway you mobilize within your community to meet the need you see can only have a positive effect. Gods know, we need some voices of compassion and outreach, to reclaim the power of community. ❤ Children shouldn't be put into the position of having to work out bullying problems by themselves or just put up with it until graduation frees them. :/

    Like

    • Sarah says:

      Though he was with friend support and internet support, the way that the local school district has responded to this is what upsets me the most.

      Obviously, my story of finding positive role models isn’t consistent for everyone contemplating suicide–but it was a tipping point for me, and I know many others. It wasn’t for him. That’s why I want to do something besides write gay books.

      The school, as with most schools, turned a blind eye to the bullying, and the bullying needs to stop. I don’t know how to do that. I know many people are trying. Something that I can do, or try to, is to talk to the gay kids who are going through this, try to give them a better toolkit–not that I necessarily know what that is, either. But this is the only thing I can think of at this time that I can do as something that’s positive in the situation–if you can think of anything else, I would would really appreciate hearing suggestions. ❤ ❤ ❤ 🙂

      Love you, lady!

      Like

      • Rachel M. says:

        It is just so tragic, like you said, that everyone knew about the bullying, about his traumas, and he had counselors and therapists and parents and teachers and whatever else and still…

        It’s so awful and such a horrible, heart-breaking waste.

        I think that you stepping up and participating in your local Pride organizations, continuing to be a human face of the GLBT reality is powerful stuff. ❤

        Like

  4. Faye says:

    I just wanted to let you know that I shared this on my Facebook – I hope at least ONE person finds it, reads it, and lets it really sink in.

    I love that you’re so determined to actually take action, and I love and respect you as much as anyone can love and respect someone from afar.

    Literature isn’t the only answer – it will take a lot to get us to a point where something like this is no longer conceivable – but it’s something, and the only warmth in my heart after reading this story is the thought of someone suicidal being touched enough by you (hopefully you’ll get the chance to speak to people directly through volunteer work) so that they reconsider.

    But I think the issue needs to be tackled from both sides. Awareness should be spread amongst allies, but the other side needs to be handled as well. What the fuck is up with the school systems that such savage bullying is acceptable? Why is homosexuality considered a viable excuse for bullying when it wouldn’t be tolerated if it was racial or religious in nature? Why do administrators turn the other cheek? Is it because they don’t actually give a shit about bullying, and only care about instances where it will make them look bad if they don’t do something?

    I hate how it’s more socially acceptable to attack certain minorities than others, and it’s always for bullshit reasons. We need to undergo a serious cultural change, and considering the large portion of bigoted dimwits that populate (and run) this country, the optimist in me can’t help but waver a bit. =/

    Like

  5. Gemma says:

    *hug* he is in my heart and prayers 😦

    Like

  6. Raardvarks says:

    I also watched Sailor Moon, but we didn’t have cable or tapes of it, so I never made it to the part where the lesbian couple is introduced (I have watched almost the entire series since then, though). My only “positive” portrayal of queer people came from the anime Utena.

    I am so sorry about Jamey, my thoughts are with those who loved him.

    Like

  7. Kate says:

    It is an epidemic. Americans killing their own…it seems harsh to put it that way, but that is the reality.

    Bullying of all sorts is wrong, regardless! But being bullied for being gay or being perceived as gay seems to be more widespread. I wanted to die when I was 15, the age that I came out. And I didn’t live in a close-minded town, mind you. There was no one like me, that I was aware of. Jen wanted to as well, and she came from a close-minded town. I was bullied my whole life for being “different”. I can understand completely how Jamey felt…and it is such a tragedy that with all the support in the world, he still felt defeated.

    “But I have a feeling that most gay people reading this (or in existence) have that turning moment–that anchor, that positive example that they used as their life vest when the world told them over and over and over again how fundamentally fucked up they were.” …yes yes yes!

    Literature, despite there not being too many GLBTQ books at our convenience 13-14 years ago, helped me. I can’t recall the book by name today, but it involved two teenage girls that fall in love. I had never read anything like it before, and it was a small comfort. Something that I could relate to.

    Literature alone won’t conquer these problems in our society, but I think it is a good start. I think you would be an amazing voice inside of schools, if they let you. The positive? You are trying to do something…most people are just discussing it on comment sections of news sites.

    Like

  8. Valerie Black says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I just saw this via google+… I’m so sad to hear about Jamey. It’s really something to consider that even with all the new outlets and means of self-expression/communication that technology offers, these can just as easily become hijacked as a forum for further bullying.

    I think talking in schools is a great idea, but as someone with a modicum of public school teaching background, I can see how it might be difficult to get that kind of access in public schools, for a range of reasons. A few thoughts came to mind, though.

    1) I would suggest contacting not only schools but also local libraries, to see about hosting some kind of talk or workshop. If you could lead an actual creative writing workshop into which you can incorporate talking about some of your own experiences and perspectives, it might be something that schools/libraries would be more receptive to hosting.

    This brings me to my main idea, 2) why not start an ongoing teen writing circle, with specific focus on ‘outside the box’ characters and situations? This could be an ongoing, mentorship environment that would help you reach out to many. Just knowing that something like this even exists could make a difference to others (validation). You could partner with a local library or a school, or possibly even a community center or unitarian church for meeting space, and have a weekly or biweekly meetup to share, exchange, do some guided exercises, just talk…

    I think creating an environment where young people get to think more/more critically about who they are, and the characters they love to read about, want to create– it just sounds like a very cool idea, and one that could spread to other communities as well. I used to go to writing circles/workshops as a young teen, and I have many cherished memories of my experiences there– and I know I would have absolutely loved to attend something like this. What do you think?

    Like

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