Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thinking about Tyler Clementi

I realized very quickly after Alyce was born that the world would never be the same again. Of course I was a new parent in love with my little one. I slowly began to identify myself as her mama and figure out all the things I needed to do in my job as “the parent” (I realize that last statement makes it sound as though I figured it all out in those early days. Scratch that: I began the very long and often labyrinthine journey of becoming a parent).

But what made me catch my breath one day when Alyce was only a month old was the way I reacted to the news of a child’s death. At that moment it seemed every news story involved the abuse or death of a child. And the TV was filled--just FILLED--with shows that must have been under contract (or law, perhaps) to focus each episode on a) the abduction of a child, b) the death of a child, c) crazy and dangerous childbirth that leads to the death of a baby or mother, or d) some mixture of the three. I remember opening a forwarded email sent by a friend’s mother and being face to face with the utterly horrific details of a child’s murder. I was so furious with her for sending it to me and I felt assaulted by these details.

Of course I’d always been saddened by the death of child, but something about having my own changed everything. It really changed the whole world. I found myself physically and emotionally reacting in a way I hadn’t experienced before. Those children could be my children and I couldn’t imagine a world where children suffered this way. I would cry reading the paper while thinking about the parents who made that child, chased after her, and watched her grow, just as I did Alyce. I would feel sick when I considered the new reality those parents faced. Needless to say, Matt begged me to stop reading the paper and prescribed a TV diet of 30 Rock.

I have spent the last couple of days thinking about Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who committed suicide last week. From what I’ve gathered in the news, two dorm mates secretly filmed him being intimate with another man and posted it on facebook. Tyler then jumped off a bridge. I imagined myself as a freshman in university and immediately remembered the excitement I felt in beginning my life, all those possibilities. I imagine that Tyler felt the same way. But instead of exploring those possibilities, Tyler was humiliated and ended his life. And so now I think of Alyce and Shira and I want to do everything I can to protect them from this kind of humiliation.

But I also feel something a bit different this time--a sense of responsibility to ensure that my daughters learn to live and act in the world with an empathy that might prevent these things from happening. My daughters are too young to talk to them about Tyler, but at two and a half, Alyce is old enough for me to start talking with her about how people feel and how we can affect each other with our words.

I’ve read that Tyler’s parents have spoken out with hopes that what happened to Tyler will remind us to stand up against the hate and humiliation many LGBT teens face everyday. I’m sure very little can bring solace to them right now, but I want them to know, I got the message. Loud and clear.

I needed to talk about this tonight. Thanks for reading.

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