I'm still thinking about Tyler Clementi.
About two months ago now, overwhelmed by the experience of having his privacy invaded by his roommate, who'd live streamed footage of him having sex with another boy, Clementi-- by all accounts a sensitive, thoughtful kid and talented musician-- threw himself off of the George Washington Bridge. The circumstances around Clementi's tragic death have sparked a much-needed conversation about homophobic bullying, especially since it comes on the heels of the recent suicides of so many other gay teens. I'm glad those conversations are happening-- but I want to focus on another, broader aspect of this tragedy.
The thing that struck me, and haunts me still about Clementi's death is the casual cruelty of his roommate Dhaurun Ravi. On September 19th Ravi tweeted “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Three days later Clementi, unable to process this violation, took his own life.
And I keep asking myself: What made Ravi think it was okay to do something like this?
What essential messages about boundaries did he not receive? How can he have reached young manhood with so little basic, human compassion?
The default explanation for his actions is homophobia, and that may be true... But I don't think it's only that. Why should we assume that Ravi wouldn't have played the same cruel prank on a straight roommate? (Although it's clear that if he had it wouldn't have had the same tragic result.) For me, the fact that Ravi felt empowered to blindly abuse Clementi with no thought of the consequences is a chilling statement about a culture that celebrates cruelty as entertainment. This question brings me squarely into Old Fart territory, but I don't care: In a cultural landscape where people attack one another physically and emotionally for sport, there are no consequences for stupid, dangerous behavior and routine cruelty is openly rewarded how can we expect kids like Dhaurun Ravi to get the message that what he did to Tyler Clementi isn't okay? The most frightening thing to me is the thought that Dhaurun Ravi isn't a monster, but just a kid acting on the premises he has learned up until now.
The tragedy is that Tyler Clementi had to die for him to understand that other people bleed when you cut them.
The wonderful Jo Nubian has addressed another element of this issue--the bullying that is often incited by kids who don't perform "normative" gender roles-- in a terrific post on Race-Talk called, Tolerance, Acceptance and Princesses. Jo writes, as the mom to a little girl who sleeps in her tiara, about Dyson Kiloadavis, the "Princess Boy" who likes dressing in pretty girl's clothes. The video that accompanies her essay is perhaps the anti-Jerry Springer: a healthy, well adjusted family thoughtfully discussing their relationship to a member who is acting differently from them in terms of gender expression. I dare you not to choke up when Dyson's older brother says, of his desire to dress as a princess for Halloween, "Just let him be happy." Amen.