Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hate: If You Give a Gay a Gun...

Signing online this morning, I was hit with not one but two blows on the GLBT front. Yesterday I read the story of a gay college student who was secretly filmed by his roommate while having a sexual encounter, then the roommate broadcast the video online. The roommate and an accomplice were charged with invasion of privacy for filming without consent and broadcasting the content. Today it was confirmed that as a result of this incident, the student, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide. As shocking and as horrifying as this story is, I was dismayed, but not thrown into despair. However, the second blow came when I signed onto Huffington Post and found that a 13 year old, Seth Walsh, had died nine days after hanging himself from a tree in what soon became a successful suicide attempt. He too killed himself due to being excessively taunted for his homosexuality. This was the moment the tears blurred my vision.

The pain of taunting and fears of being rejected is nothing new to me, and high school was one of the most difficult times of my life. I achieved a vague understanding of my sexuality when I was 14, but still believed I was attracted to men to some extent, either because I truly didn't know or because I was clinging to some semblance of normalcy. I even forced myself to hang posters of the latest teen heartthrobs on my walls because I knew it was the normal thing to do, whether I liked them or not. To this day I still don't see why JTT was so cute to everyone else.

In a house where homosexuality was not accepted, because "God hates gays" and I was "going to Hell", I thought I could be myself a little more at school. Though I wasn't a total dyke, I had pictures of attractive women on folders and maybe a few in bikinis inside, and those few classmates who were more intuitive figured it out, proceeding to make my life hell. A girl who came to the conclusion that I liked her constantly whispered and pointed me out to friends every time our paths crossed, an encounter always followed by disgusted looks and cruel laughter. A classmate once leaned across the aisle and whispered homophobic insults into my ear, forcing me to jump up from my desk and leave the classroom, running to a favorite teacher's room and I broke down crying on her desk. I even had a teacher who, having seen a bikini photo in my binder, informed my mother on Parent Teacher Conference night that I had inappropriate pictures of women in my folder that needed to be removed; a curve ball I had never seen coming, a complaint that was never brought to my attention beforehand. The evening concluded with an angry and embarrassed rant from my mother, driving me to tears, and souring our already bitter relationship even more.

My issues with my sexuality were just a few of many stemming from my childhood and current situation, but I know it was one of the issues in the front of my mind when I swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills one night at the age of 15. The despair of never feeling normal, never feeling right, and never being accepted tore through me. When so many other things set me apart from my peers, why did I have to be gay too? Luckily, I became ill and vomited most of the pills up, the rest just made me sleepy as I stumbled back into Hell the next morning for classes. But the taunting didn't stop, and it didn't stop at me.

I witnessed one of my friends, still very much in denial but obvious to everyone else, being repeatedly gay-bashed, beaten with hockey sticks in PE and called names. My heart broke when he was humiliated in front of the class as the same teacher who outed me to my mother on conference night told him to "stop dancing like a stupid little gay man" during one of his more cheerful moments. Others were smarter, more discreet. It wasn't until after high school, thanks to Facebook and MySpace, when you found out who was truly gay, because everyone else knew coming out in that environment could drive you to your death.

My senior year, I began the tentative process of coming out to friends and a few family members that I thought would be supportive. The reactions were mixed. Writing letters because I was fearful of facing the rejection head on, some were surprisingly supportive, even getting angry at my assumption that my sexuality would change anything between us. Others were hostile and refused to speak to me again. Many said they would pray for me, as though I had some horrible disease only divine intervention could resolve. Being that I was so close to leaving high school, I wasn't so concerned about losing some friends, but still hurt by the ones who left, wondering if I should have said anything at all, if I should have waited a few more years for maturity to set in (two weeks ago, I ran into the girl who had mocked me to her friends; she hugged me and chatted me up like an old friend).

But there's nothing that says coming out after high school is coming out safely. Obviously, as demonstrated by Tyler, college isn't safe either, nor is anything after that. Many I've known have lost jobs, lost friends, been asked to leave their churches, been asked to leave their personal lives out of the office, and worst of all, lost family over their sexuality. I still don't come out to people until I gauge their viewpoints on homosexuality (the Prop 8 issue makes this a lot easier). I still haven't come out to many family members for fear of rejection (though I'm aware of the risk of writing this online, I kind of want to just get it over with). And, in working at a therapeutic treatment facility with predominantly Christian people who don't hide their devotion to their faith, I live with the fear of being found out, not knowing what their reactions would be or if I would be asked to leave (this anxiety has especially increased since I accidentally sent a link of this blog to one of my co-workers, praying she didn't see it).

The anti-gay plague affecting today's youth is growing stronger. Despite my earlier blog that today's generation is more open-minded, there are still many who are tainted by their parents, tainted by their religions, who are raised to be hateful, teachings that they can't rise above, as evidenced by the four** GLBT suicides this month. Even in death, anti-gay comments have been left on Tyler's memorial pages. And our government is not helping issues. While some states have taken the positive steps to validate the existence of the GLBT community in legalizing marriage and gay adoption, many other states are fighting marriage, Congress can't agree on DADT and continue to fail with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. What are we showing our kids? As my favorite lesbian blogger, Ms. Snarker tweeted, "when a government says it's OK to discriminate, youth thinks it's OK to hate".

These tragedies need to stop. This hate needs to stop. There's no reason for 13 yr olds to be hanging themselves, no reason for people to have to choose between living in fear or living a lie. To those hurting now, I can say from experience, it gets better. It's not perfect, but you can choose to live the life you're given and find the light through the darkness, or you can bury yourself in it. I was given a second chance and I'm grateful for it every single day. I still face rejection, I still face loss, but I still have enough love in my life to get me through. I hope you can find it too.

Much love and thanks to the family and friends who never left.

If you or someone you know is struggling with homosexuality, there is hope. Visit: It Gets Better on YouTube, or call 1-866-4-U-Trevor for a suicide hotline at The Trevor Project.

**UPDATE: The day after the publication of this blog, a fifth GLBT college student, Raymond Chase committed suicide...condolences, thoughts, prayers, love to the families of all the victims.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When Morons Play with Matches

This past week, as we remembered the tragedy of 9/11, there was much more animosity toward the Islamic faith than in anniversaries past. Deep-seated emotions tied into the terrorist attacks of the World Trade Centers, Pentagon, and Flight 93 meshed with newfound apprehension and anger as the controversy of building an Islamic Community Center has taken center stage in recent news (no it is not a mosque, no it is not solely for Muslims, and no it is not directly on Ground Zero). However, despite the ongoing battle of that war, we won a small battle of our own last week when a Florida pastor of a small, insignificant Christian community declared that he would burn a collection of Qu'rans on the nine-year mark of the terrorist attacks on the US.

Pastor Terry Jones had planned a protest that involved the fiery desecration of the holy book of Islam, arguing that he was upset about the building of the "mosque" so close to the former site of the Twin Towers (about the same time last year he sported an "Islam is of the Devil" shirt long before such plans were revealed. Methinks I see a pattern). Despite the fact that his small church had no more than 35 regular parishioners, this tiny congregation garnered worldwide attention in what would later be called an "epic fail" on the media's part as he received the acknowledgment he so desperately sought. As news of his plans spread across the globe, protests ensued where demonstrations of pastoral effigies, pleas for Obama's death, and US flag burning flooded the streets of various Muslim countries.

Initially when I read of Jones' plans, I was appalled and angered. But, being the proponent for free speech that I am through the good and the bad, and truly believing this act could not be stopped, all I could do was implore my Muslim friends to ignore it so to not give this fool what he wanted: a reaction. However, seeing the protests and the fury he managed to elicit from the world, I realized simply ignoring him was not going to be an adequate solution. I watched as attitudes toward the US soured even more, and was deeply offended by the burning of my nation's banner. However, the one thing that disturbed me the most was a quote a young man from Kabul made during their protests, stating, "we know this is not just the decision of a church. It is the decision of the president and the entire United States."

Now hold on there, Scooter. Much like Muslims don't like to be overgeneralized with terrorists, Americans don't take kindly to being lopped in with hateful, bigoted Christian extremists either. Ironically, it took the threat of burning a holy book for us to prove it.

Many non-Muslims took a stand against this "Burn a Qu'ran Day", some of public persuasion (that nice Jolie woman), some of considerable power on their own (Sen. Clinton), and many of considerable power combined (the rest of us). Petitions were signed, Facebook pages were created and liked, and anti-burning protests took place all over the globe. Gradually, as dissent grew, one of two reasons pushed Jones to cancel the burning: either he realized how foolish he'd been and gathered together with the local mosque to hold hands and sing Kumbaya (it could happen, with faith and love...or some LSD and that damn Barney song), or after pressure from the government due to the possibility of endangering Americans abroad, he backed down. Whatever the reason, it was over, and he desperately tried to save face by claiming that he accomplished his goal by showing the radical side of Islam, but actually only demonstrated that thanks to today's media principles, any idiot can get on TV.

Naturally, as with any failed attempt to be a jackass, there are many more who leap at the opportunity to fulfill the prophecy. Another mock demonstration in Texas ended abruptly when a young skateboarder snatched a doomed copy of the Qu'ran, already soaked in lighter fluid, from a Christian fundamentalist group who had planned to burn it on a barbecue in a park. Protesters of all backgrounds, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists gathered for a protest organized by a Unitarian church and even laid their hands over the grill of the barbecue to prevent the fundamentalist group from lighting it. The book was not retrieved and the burning was cancelled.

I've come to believe that there is nothing more powerful for a cause than having people who won't directly benefit from its success or suffer from its failure add their voices to it. When you fall into the median of any great dispute, it is your responsibility to facilitate a mutual understanding, a compromise, a peace treaty, or just simple tolerance of one another. We are the ones who must bridge the gap between those polarizing to either ends of the argument. I believe this was well demonstrated here and hopefully showed the world's Muslims that they were not the only ones hurt and angered, and they were not the only ones fighting the burning of this book.

Now I've spoken before on my feelings of holy items and the importance that religions place on inanimate objects, but for those who don't remember or didn't read it, I hardly care for it. I don't believe these physical possessions bring us closer to God, no matter what sentiment has been tied to them. I believe that our connection to God comes only from the strength of our souls and our hearts. Yes, these books act as guiding lights for those who follow them (I'm spiritual, not religious, and choose not to have a book), however it is not the book itself that is important, but the message that you find inside. The pages, the covers, the binding, are not God's, and so long as you carry that message in your heart, no one can ever truly burn it. As one person wrote: "the living Qu'ran, who are all those with pure hearts, is untouched". Because I believe that more people will try to mimick this event and accomplish it, I caution you all to keep this in mind, to rise above the madness and turn away from the ignorance. Then you will be untouchable.

Despite the anger, disbelief, and frustration this entire ordeal stirred up, I do believe that some good came from it, and will go so far as to say that this was necessary for us to find our mutually shared humanity. In what could be our flickering light of hope, when this evil ignorance reared its ugly head, suddenly we came crawling from beneath our rocks and gathered together to fight it, rather than sitting at home on the couch, watching the news and sadly shaking our heads. It called us to action and ultimately, good prevailed. Perhaps we humans have a chance after all.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Damn That Pretty Face

Since I composed my last blog, I’ve had a great deal of reflecting, rethinking, and reframing to do, which has driven me to write another post on the matter and readdress some issues with my newfound perspectives. The initial post on Queen Rania not only embodied my own emotional disruption, but elicited a strong response from many readers on various points of the spectrum, from defending her, to expressing anger and frustration about the state of their country, to blatant accusations of shady business deals and laying blame for maltreatment of children in far off countries to which she has no ties.

Rania vs. Queen Rania
Such is the problem for public personas and those of us who follow them, deciphering between the reality and the fantasy of who these people are, who they present themselves to be, and who others claim them to be. Accused of being the epitome of pretention, despite Rania’s claims that she uses the internet to allow people to get closer to her “real self”, it could very easily be argued that the “self” Rania portrays online is no more realistic than the self she portrays in every other public domain of her life. Some people even argue it’s not really her posting. However, in light of Occam’s razor, perhaps she really is just being herself and trying her hardest to prove it to a world of naysayers. So how do we know who’s who? God help me for alluding to Eminem but will the real Queen Rania please stand up?

Publicity vs. Philanthropy
Sadly, with all the doubt and suspicions, no one will ever truly know who the real Rania is. I don’t know her and I do not foresee myself bumping into her down at 7-11 while I’m snatching a Big Gulp to sustain a crippling Diet Coke addiction (I said Diet Coke…the soda…put away the 800 numbers). However, there can be no fantasy without some basis of reality, and Rania cannot portray herself to be a philanthropist without actually accomplishing some good. Whether it’s a nothing more than a photo op or a woman just doing her job with a photographer on her tail, there are always beneficiaries of her work. As one person told me, does it matter what her motives are so long as someone’s being helped? Ultimately, no. People don’t care if they’re being used for a front page spread to gain public favor when they’re starving or freezing, as long as they get the food they need and the clothing to keep them warm. And while it’s not the stuff role models are made of, if Rania is truly self-serving and self-indulgent in her work, so long as people are being taken care of, that will be an issue she will have to contend with when she meets whomever she answers to morally. In other words, not our problem.

Role Models vs. Models Playing Roles
A few people were surprised of the investment I’ve made in this woman in terms of admiration and expectation. As I briefly alluded to in the postscript of my previous blog, role models have always been in short supply in my world and I often needed to look to public figures for guidance. Some came and went, because let’s face it; 13 year olds are not great judges of character when it comes to picking personal influences. But even today, I feel I still need the positive influence and the guidance to help direct me down the right path in life, a set example to aspire towards, and though some may find it childish that a 26 year old looks to public figures for such, I don’t believe our need for that crucial example ever dies no matter how old we get, and what’s wrong with admiring someone who seems to embody the values you wish to have?

Now herein lies the problems with role models, especially the public kind we never get to meet. From a safe distance and filtered through TV screens and magazine pages, it becomes all too easy to forget that these people are, in fact, nothing more than human beings, regular people behind superfluous titles who are given to every day imperfections that make us human. Hence, we build these individuals up in our minds and are greatly disappointed when we find they are not who we hoped (who could forget that gut-wrenching moment when Julia Child called Julie’s blog “stupid”?), and Rania is no different. Of course if she ever calls my blog stupid there will be swift retribution of epic proportions…in other words I will grab a small bottle of tequila and spend the evening flipping off my computer screen…but I will do so swiftly! But I will be the first to say (actually I’m like the third after a few friends gave me a verbal knock upside the head) that I set impossible expectations of this woman and in turn set myself up for failure.

I was greatly disappointed when I learned of all the suffering that still goes on in Jordan, how many people are still hungry, still freezing through the winters, still struggling to survive. But then, as I was browsing the discussion board of Rania’s Facebook page, I began to see what could only be described as a digital wailing wall. With topics entitled “I Need Help”, “Only You Can Help This Woman!”, and “Why?”, posts range from begging for help with education, organizations for the disabled, calling for advocacy of Human Rights issues, even requests to help some find a wife, a job, or low airfare to Jordan. And I realized, how can this woman do so much? How is she supposed to solve every single problem for every single person in her country, and then some? No doubt she prioritizes and tackles the most pressing matters first. But the people of Jordan have every right to be upset, having to sit back and watch as her charity is bestowed upon someone else, just waiting and wondering “when will it be my turn? When will my suffering be enough to get someone’s attention?” And when you’re in pain, all you see is the one person who seems to have the power to help, and the fact that she doesn’t. They can’t see the burden of a country, the sack of troubles and worries she seems to carry on her back. And fake persona or not, no one can listen to those voices pleading for help and go home to a restful sleep at night. It will never be enough, she will never be enough. And I’m beginning to pity her plight right alongside the other Jordanians.

Dollars and Sense
Now I don’t want this to sound like I’m back-tracking my way up to oblivion again. While I’ve changed my perspective on Rania the person, Rania the queen still has some work to do. I still can’t defend the spending of the royal family, because excessive spending is not something I’m familiar with. I am a self-proclaimed anti-materialist and anti-conspicuous consumer, I shop for clothes at Wal-Mart and Target, I pass on accessories and the latest gadget, and I prefer to spend my birthdays in a quiet low-priced restaurant enjoying a turkey sandwich, topped off with a cupcake my mother buys for me (thanks Ma). It’s not because I’m broke, it’s not because I am technologically challenged, and it’s not because I’m the biggest bore in SoCal (course you won’t find me dancing on the pool tables at The Colorado either -ahem- Miss M). I just know there are better things I can be spending my money on. There’s no need to have the shiniest, fanciest car just so you can drive around and show off the fact that you can afford it. There’s no need to pay $80 for a shirt that cost a company $4 to make just because it has a well-known name sewn on the tag, a tag no one will see. And while 40 is a big birthday, I don’t know if I would celebrate it on a luxury yacht in France. Not when there are people in the world who don't even have safe drinking water. Now I’m not asking for a vow of poverty, but do people really need 20 pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes? In the scheme of things, the people who truly matter don’t give a damn about what’s on your feet anyways. I stand by my previous comments on the matter, something in Jordan has to change, and it can start by selling a Prada bag and feeding a few hundred families.

Internet Checks and Balances
Likewise, I won’t change my beef with the internet censorship. I had a vague recollection of an interview Rania gave bragging about free internet in Jordan and meant to post it in the last blog, but couldn’t locate it until now. Attending Le Web in Paris during December of last year, Rania denounced internet restrictions, claiming that such a system of censorship is “not sustainable, and will never last” and goes so far as to call it a violation of human rights. Remarkably, she echoes the comments I made (or rather I unintentionally echoed her) that efforts should be made to resolve situations creating criticism rather than in trying to silence that criticism. So what gives? Ironically, the bill was passed just a few weeks after Rania returned from France. Either Rania was bullshitting us, or there’s some serious discrepancies between the viewpoints of the queen and the Jordanian government, but either way, someone’s looking bad.**

Now there is hope at the end of this tale. In what could be called coincidental, or maybe the woman actually read this blog, in response to the birthday wishes she received on Twitter, Rania wrote “When ur [sic] in ur 20s u think these old 40yr olds must have it figured out…not true! Ur still a little confused! Questioning, exploring and seeking ways to make urself and everything around u better.” So she has acknowledged that she is not one of those omniscient leaders I was complaining about two blogs ago and that she, like all of us, is still learning and still growing, and sure enough, imperfect. And God help her, for one reason or another, she's trying. Whether or not this persona is the real Rania, until we meet at the soda fountain of a local convenience store, I can only take her at face value and hope that she is who she claims to be. If she is putting on a fa├žade, that’s on her head, if I wrongfully accuse her, then it’s on mine. Is it worse to believe a liar or condemn an honest person?

Author's Note: If all else fails, she's still pretty freakin' hot.

**UPDATE: It was brought to my attention by one of my readers that an article was published on the Canadian Reuters site 2 days prior to the composition of this blog addressing the Jordanian internet censorship. After heavy criticism from the public sector of Jordan and concerns of the image that would portray to the western world, the incredibly vague bill restricting freedom of speech on the internet was amended to include only criminal issues such as pornography and e-fraud. Yay for you Jordan! Guess Rania was right, it won't last.