The circumstance behind Tyler Clementi’s death sickens me to the core. A young man with a shy smile and a whole life ahead of him ended his own life after his homosexuality was posted on the internet for all the world to see. How was his gayness placed on the internet? His roommate at Rutgers, Dharun Ravi, thought it would be fascinating (interesting? titillating? fun? who knows) to set his webcam to tape Tyler having sex with a date in their dorm room, and then to tweet the taping to others.
A jury has now found Ravi guilty of “invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering and hindering arrest.” He could face up to 10 years in prison and deportation to his native India, because he is in the US on a green card and non-citizen felons usually get deported.
I cannot recall seeing anything resembling remorse on the part of Mr. Ravi during this whole sad affair. The young man seems arrogantly in denial of what has occurred, a young man bullied into committing suicide, and how his actions led to that horrible act. Even during the trial he could have taken a plea bargain, which would have spared him possible jail time and deportation. But no, he refused to take it. He seemed hellbent to defend himself, to clear his good name. That he thought he had a good name to defend boggles the mind. Mr. Ravi is as clueless as he is, apparently, remorseless.
But a comment his attorney Steven Altman made stuck out for me and demonstrated that the cluelessness is not limited to Mr. Ravi. The prosecution charged, and successfully proved, that Mr. Ravi acted out of antigay bias, that he wanted to intimidate and humiliate Tyler because he was gay. Mr. Altman countered by saying during closing arguments,
“He hasn’t lived long enough to have any experience with homosexuality or gays. He doesn’t know anything about it. He just graduated high school.”
As ridiculous as that statement is, I can sadly see some truth in it. It’s possible that Dharun Ravi lived a sheltered life which had little or no exposure to homosexuality. He grew up in Plainboro, New Jersey, just a stone’s through from New York City, in a family that could probably be described as well off. But never mind that. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that what his attorney asserted is true, that Mr. Ravi really was not exposed to “others” until he got to Rutgers. This still doesn’t excuse Mr. Ravi’s apparent lack of a moral compass, but that’s not what struck me when I read his attorney’s statement. Rather, I saw instantly another example of the invisibility of queerness and the consequences it produces. Homosexuality has always been and largely continues to be treated as an “adult” thing. One does not “become” gay until 18. There are no such things as gay pre-teens or even teens. You wake up one day on or after your 18th birthday and BOING! you realize that you’re gay. That’s how it works, right?
Well, no. That’s how society would like to portray the issue. But reality is something quite different. Some of us have very vivid memories of attractions to the same sex, long before hitting the big 1-8. Some of us have painful memories of how we rejected those feelings or hated ourselves for them. Some of us had to claw our way through a lot of bullshit to realize that we weren’t evil wretches bound for hell. Some of us even possess, nestled with the thorns of youth, triumphs, stolen kisses or just intimate glances. Some lucky ones defied the bigots and lived lives out of the closet at an early age with the support and encouragement of family and friends, maybe even attending the prom. Some of us have blogged about our experiences growing up gay.
I call it the Little Johnny double standard. When Little Johnny likes Little Sally, it’s all “awwws” and “ain’t that cute.” But when Little Johnny likes Little Timmy, it’s something less than positive.
Last year, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill calling for California schools to include LGBT history in their curriculums. “History should be honest,” the Governor said at the time. Honesty and education will go a long way not only in helping future Tyler Clementis accept themselves and love themselves, but it might also help prevent future, “sheltered” Dharun Ravis from turning into cowardly bigots who bully and torment people they don’t understand or accept. Education is the only true weapon we have. We must use it for things to get better.
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.