on being an asshole—or not

October 5th, 2010

I’m feeling a little bit cranky. About so many things. And the fact that I have a double ear infection and seem to have a Death Star-like tractor beam for every contagion within a 10-mile radius is just part of it.

But more than my never-ending snot-a-thon, I’m annoyed that  that people can be so, so, not nice. I’m also annoyed because apparently, I was wrong. I have a lot invested in being right. I hate to be wrong.

A couple of months ago, I was all grooving on the fact that Will Grayson, Will Grayson was the first gay-themed young-adult novel to hit the NYT Bestseller list (and on top of that to be totally awesome). What made me happiest was what a not big deal it was. How the gay relationships in the book were so not a big deal because to teens today gay relationships were so not a big deal.

Maybe in some circles. Maybe in the hopeful future of awesomeness so imagined by John Green and David Levithan. But here. Now. Apparently not.

Just as the buildup of puss has burst one of my eardrums, the last few weeks of news have burst my bubble of people-can love-who-they-want-because-the kids-are-all-right-with-it-ness. Turns out, some kids, not so much. First we had the arrival of the It Gets Better Project—and if you have not seen Dan Savage and his partner Terry’s video, watch it now, please—which is awesome and sucky at the same time. Awesome for obvious reasons. Sucky for its pure necessity, which is that LGBT teens are way more likely to be bullied and harassed; one study found that 40 percent (!!!) of LGBT high schoolers had attempted suicide, as opposed to ten percent of the rest of the high school population.

The premise of the project is that for gay teens it gets better after high school. Which is true. Except when it isn’t. I won’t go into the Tyler Clementi tragedy here except to say that the It Get Better message got lost on him. Or it got there too late. Or too soon. Only a few weeks into college and he’s dead. Maybe if some assholes had shot and broadcast video of him having sex in his junior year, he’d have been able to handle it better. Maybe he would’ve turned the whole embarrassment into some kind of new social networking phenomenon, the way Mark Zuckerberg turned being a lonely outsider into being a gazillionaire Facbook launcher. Who knows? Not us. We’ll never know.

Amid all the Concerned Talk about cyberbullying and privacy, leave it to Sarah Silverman to cut through the bullshit.

“They learned it from watching you.”

Harsh words. Harsh truths. And it goes beyond gaybashing. Parents wonder why cyberbullying and every day bullying has gotten so bad. You can blame Facebook all you want—and sure, the disconnect of the Interwebby world makes it all the easier—but, dude! Look what is going on in our country right now. Look how talk show hosts behave. Look how political opponents treat one another. Not as people with ideological differences on how tax money should be used, but as mortal enemies. You can’t compare your opponents to Nazis over and over again and let the rhetoric get heated and not expect that toxicity leak into the water we’re all drinking.

Dude, we had a President, or have, present tense, for now, whose biggest failing, as far as I can see, is his inability to fight this fire with fire. He’s civil by nature. In turn, he’s been accused of being Hitler (really? people, can we at least come up with a new Big Baddie to compare to? Stalin). An evil socialist (again, might I suggest Stalin)? A Muslim extremist (after all, Obama is one letter away from Osama!!!) He tried to be civil in Washington and got mud all over him. Come November 2nd, we’ll see how far that civility got him. (Well, that and the extremely wussy Congress, whose members seem so bent on hanging onto their seats that they refuse to do anything bold. Even when they have a mandate. But I digress.)

The toxicity is everywhere. I get that part of it is the economy. People out of work. Scared. Fear makes us behave in not our best manner. Fear makes us look for scapegoats, be it the queer kid at school, the illegal alien “stealing” the job we never wanted in the first place, the Jews, the Gypsies, the….Take a pick. We’ve all been there. But right now, no one is keeping a check on the incivility, looking at the costs. Hopefully you guys, the generation coming up, are smarter than us. Hopefully you’ll figure out a different way to do business.

I don’t know much about the people who made that video of Tyler Clementi. But I would bet pretty much anything on this: After they put their video up on the web, after the hoots of their laughter died down, I bet they were left with a hard, heavy kernel of something unpleasant inside of them, whether they admitted to those feelings, even acknowledged them, or not.

The thing about walking around with that kernel in you is that it makes you feel like shit. And when you feel like shit, you do more shitty things. And the kernels multiply until you’re walking around with a stomach full of rocks and it’s hard to figure out where your heart is anymore and then it’s a hop, skip and a jump to  Hey you faggot. What the fuck are you looking at????

Which is such a not nice way to live your life. Especially considering the alternative, which is to be civil. Because every time you are civil, instead of being left with some kernel of disgust with yourself, a little light goes on. A tiny flower blooms. An angel rings a bell. A chocolate-chip cookie is born. Whatever images floats your boat, that’s what happens. You feel good inside. Feeling good makes you feel warm and fuzzy and that prompts you do other nice things. It’s called a Virtuous Cycle. When you’re acting like this, you have less inclination to call someone a Slutbag of Skank on her FB page (unless that is your personal endearment) or to, you know, broadcast someone’s intimate private moments. You have less inclination to call someone a motherf$#$%! just because they pulled into the lane in front of you a wee bit too close. You might even find yourself able to sit down and have a conversation with somebody completely different from you and disagree on every last thing and instead of thinking: Oh my god, what a total douchenozzle that person was, you will think: Gee, it takes all types, doesn’t it and I had no idea that there were so many uses for fish heads.

And if you happen to meet someone whose opinions or lifestyles are so abhorrent to you that you cannot stand the mere sound of their voice. You know what you can do? Not call for legislation against them. Or video tape them. Or bash them in a blog. Or try to ban them. You can just go on living your happy life and ignore them. And if they’re running for office,  including, like you know, Student Assembly President at the University of Michigan, you can always just vote against them. Unless you don’t actually go to that college. Then you should just probably ignore them. Maybe go to the movies. I hear The Social Network is really good.

  1. Stunning, Gayle. I can’t even think of what to say in this comment box because you said it all. I’m proud you’re my friend. xox

  2. Spike Lee said, “Do the right thing.”
    And you said it pretty great here too.
    FYI, the Obama interview in the current Rolling Stone is fantastic.
    As is the interview about the Tea Party.
    There are always going to be mean, unhappy people who want others to join them in their mean, unhappy world. That is the unfortunate state of the world, but reminders to be nice do help. I hope.

  3. Excellent post! I very much believe in a “live and let live” world. It’s how I was raised in a time where such views were wildly unpopular! (Damn hippy-like Grandparents!) I’m raising my children with the same view…acceptance, knowledge and tolerance. Which is fortunate as my son, who has Cerebral Palsy, is frequently bullied for being a “cripple.” Good thing I taught him name calling is a sign of ignorance. (And that his Mama will cheerfully call the Mama of anyone who calls him names.)

    I agree wholeheartedly…the meanness that we see in the world is learned at home. It’s our job as parents to do it right. Unfortnately, many are failing miserably.

    Thank you for this post!

  4. Yes. That’s it exactly. All of it.

    We choose the world we live in, so why not choose a better world?

  5. Thank you putting into words what most of us are thinking, and doing it so eloquently was an added treat…:-)

  6. Thank you, Gayle. I don’t think anyone could have said it better.

  7. I was just about to blog about this issue when I saw your post. You have expressed the anger and anguish – and the solution so beautifully, that I will pass this on to all of my friends. Thank you.

  8. I’m in love with this post.
    That is all.

  9. Once again, great blog, Gayle. I wish that all adults could see it the way you and John and David do. It’s really sad, living in a small town and going to a small high school, the way some people in my town and at my school act about those people of the LGBT interest. I have a lot of gay friends, and it’s always different to how people respond. And I know with a lot of adults, it’s a Really Big Deal – that sometimes they can’t even come to accept. But, from my standpoint, it’s great how people are acting now as opposed to even five years ago. While there is always room for improvement, it’s nice to see that there is improvement.

  10. Great post.
    I agree with everything you said and think that Sarah Silverman is so right. When adults act like bullies it’s no wonder that teens do the same.

  11. Beautiful post, Gayle. It’s so sad to think that our generation’s LGBT teens (and adults) are treated much the same way that blacks were treated prior to and during the Civil Rights movement in this country. All I can say is, Knowledge is Power. Today’s young people have long strides to make, and as many have pointed out, those steps towards tolerance begin at home. Wake up, parents, you have a much larger responsibility to your children than making sure they are fed and clothed; make sure they are decent, compassionate, and good-natured individuals, and the rest will fall into place.

  12. Yes, Sarah Silverman. Yes, you. People like me, kids like me, are so lucky for this kind of support. For me, it trumps all else.

  13. Gayle. This is your best blog yet. I am going to link it on my web site.

  14. Aww, Greg, I’m truly honored. XX

  15. Hi Gayle. I am a friend (and fan) of Greg Forman. I jumped to your blog from his. I wish we could get your message on the 6:00 news. But sadly, only the stories of some kid who has already killed himself will make it there. I have a son in the 5th grade. He comes home on a daily basis upset about being bullied. Interestingly, the insult of choice in his class is “gay”. Now, this class doesn’t really even know what that means. But they know it is “bad”. They are getting that somewhere. Following “gay”, the next insult of choice is “fat”. My son is teased for being the biggest kid in the class; his best friend is teased for having diabetes; his other friend is teased for being the smallest boy in the class. My son was disciplined for calling the bully a “son of a b****”. Seems the truth was not the thing to say.

  16. omg, my heart is still racing. did you nail it or what! it is a sad day, every day, when people choose ugliness over kindness.

  17. Word.

    I keep wanting everyone to gather around, hold hands and sing, What the World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love.

  18. Great piece! I remember you back when…’ve come a long way, baby!

    Also, I’ve loved your books.

  19. Gayle I can’t believe how many wondeful responses you recieved for this blog. Right on daughter!


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