I’ve had Tyler on my mind for the past week. I can’t seem to shake it. I call him “Tyler” not because I know him. I should refer to him as Mr. Clementi out of respect. But I think if I knew Tyler, we would have been friends.
I’m older now, amost 30 years older than Tyler, but I have not been able to shake the flashbacks of what it was like to be 18 years old, gay, and terrified. By the time I was 18, I had known I was gay for several years, for as much as I understood what that meant. But I knew for damned sure since I was at least 15. And I lived in terror of people finding out.
Anyone looking back on MY life would consider me lucky. Sure I was called faggot by every cruel and not-so-cruel person I came into contact with. I was also overweight, scared out of my mind on a daily basis, and didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. By 18, I had gone on a crash diet. I was 6 feet tall, had a 31 inch waist and weighed about 170 pounds. It was the night I graduated high school that I had my first sexual encounter with a guy I had a crush on for a while. I didn’t know then, and don’t know now, why it happened, why this guy liked me, or why he was interested in a sexual relationship with me. But it happened. And I was in heaven. Somebody out there cared about me. Somebody that I cared about, maybe even loved, held me in his arms and awakened things in me that had been pent up for so long. Somebody wrapped his arms around me and let me fall asleep against his chest. I woke that same way. I did not know that happiness like that existed. I had never experienced happiness before that time that I can remember. But finally I knew what they meant by “happy”.
So I can not imagine (and I am welling up as I type this) what would have happened, or how it would have affected my life, if two hateful losers broadcasted my secret to the whole world. I haven’t seen, nor do I want to, the video in question. But even if it was as simple as a beautiful first kiss, a kiss that lingered for a long time, for the first time, then the possibility that the world was laughing at me for what I was finally feeling would have crushed me.
I don’t know the history of Tyler Clementi. I don’t know if the experience at his college was the first or second or tenth. It doesn’t matter. Nobody deserves what Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei did. Betrayed by his own roommate just a few weeks into the school year. How do you face that without the right support system.
In a perfect world, what would be broadcast instead to the world is the trial and conviction of Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei. What punishment is fair for invading another human being’s most intimate expressions and behaviors without his consent. This was not an innocent prank. Ravi and Wei knew exactly what they were doing. Their intention was to totally and completely humiliate Tyler Clementi to a point beyond repair. What other reason could there possibly be for what they did. The perpetrators and their defenders may come up with all kinds of reasons or explanations. But no matter what, there is NO excuse. Again, this was not a prank. It was an intentional, malicious, hateful attack.
Maybe too much time has passed and my wounds have healed. But I think I was lucky to find the support of some very good friends who accepted me completely for who I was. And eventually, my family came around to the point where I would bring my boyfriend (the few times when I had one) to a social event. Today, it’s just not an issue. Partly because the world has changed a lot since I came out (or so I thought), and partly because I am so accepting of my own sexuality. I don’t have an issue with it so why should you. I don’t hate myself so why should you. I don’t force my sexuality down anyone’s throat, but I won’t deny it nor will I miss an opportunity to correct someone who doesn’t know I’m gay. If someone refers to my wife or girlfriend, I simply say “I’m gay”. I don’t believe that sexuality should be flaunted by anyone, gay or straight. I don’t want to watch a straight couple grope each other on a park bench.
I wish so much that Tyler was my friend. I know, I just know, that if we were friends, I could have helped him get through this. I would bring him to places to be around people who just don’t give a shit if you are gay. And I’m not talking about bringing him to gay bars. I’m talking about normal heterosexuals or homosexuals (although most people I know are straight) who treat you like a person, not a “type” of person.
This is probably from watching too many movies or TV, but I keep picturing me, there, on the bridge (and I’m going to cry again) holding out my hand to Tyler. And just simply, and quietly, I take his hand and ease him down to the ground. Then I give him a hug and tell him it’s going to be OK. “We’ll face it together”.
So many young men have killed themselves just his month – all because of the idea that their families and the world won’t accept them for being gay. I am amazed that in 2010, the attitudes of some are so far behind the rest of the world. How can it be that we live in a world that has gay marriages, civil unions, domestic partners, gay adoptive parents, openly gay politicians and clergy; ideas that were unthinkable just 20 years ago. Yet that same world has so much hate for the exact same ideas. I can only conclude that it is our fault. It is the fault of those that are more progressive thinkers. We haven’t spoken out enough, we’ve tolerated this hate too much, and there are not enough of us watching the bridges for the ones that need a hand to get down. The time has come. Keep your eyes, and ears, and especially your mind and heart, open. Only we can change it by de-stigmatizing it and making sure that all people, not just gay people, are accepted and loved.
As for Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei; the same god that they might quote to condemn homosexuality (they must, why else would they have done what they did) is the same god who said “an eye for an eye”. So do we make them stand on the edge of that same bridge and force them to do the same? I doubt Tyler would have wanted that. I might be mad enough to do it, but he wouldn’t be. You can tell, just from the few pictures you might see of him.
So in the end, do we really need to be reminded, one more time, to love and respect each other while you have the chance. Because you never know what tomorrow will bring. What might be “harmless hate” to some, will be the end of the road for others. Do you really want that on your conscience.
To my friend Tyler: Hi Tyler, you don’t know me. My name is Ron. And I want to let you know that I’m thinking about you. You are in my thoughts and you probably always will be. Just know that while you may not have known it, there are so many people who love and respect you. And they don’t care if you’re gay. Maybe somebody, even just one person, will learn from what happened to you and decide to make different choices. I will keep a candle burning for you. I’ts my way of leaving the light on.