Wednesday, October 20, 2010

IMHO: Fear of difference perpetuates abuse

Why would someone choose to end his/her own life? Why -- when people who face death fight so hard to live -- would someone choose death over life?

These are questions that many Oakland University students are asking today in view of the suicide of one of our fellow students, Corey Jackson, 19, of Warren.

Jackson was found yesterday and the OU family was informed last night via email. Today, the medical examiner confirmed suicide as the cause of death.

Jackson was gay. OU police are denying that bullying was a factor in his death. Yet, according to a family member, "He said 'I don't know what's wrong. Ever since I came out people are treating me different. I don't know what to do. I don't know where I belong.'"

I did not know Jackson.

I do not know the situation that drove him to take his own life. I do not judge his decision or condemn the act. I can only try to understand, empathize,and, in the process, perhaps help others.

I am a depressive. It runs in my family. Depressives are often considered to be at risk for suicide. When I initially started therapy nine years ago, one of the first questions I was asked was, "Have you ever had suicidal thoughts or tried to commit suicide?"

I could honestly answer no.

And the one thing that has kept me on track is something so simple -- "It (suicide) is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."

No matter what struggles we face in life, someone else has lived through it. And it will continue to be that way -- but it's only temporary. Whatever circumstances we must endure -- they will be resolved, but we must not give up.

However, when you are the one who must endure, it isn't always so easy and I can empathize with Jackson.

As a young person I was teased relentlessly through middle school and high school.

I wasn't like other kids. I saw things differently and chose to express myself freely through actions and dress. I marched to a different drummer, and because I didn't conform, I was targeted for abuse and vicious rumors.

When I think back now, it scares me how intolerant young people were of even superficial differences -- let alone a different sexual identity.

Many of my teenage peers would have been considered homophobic. Homosexuality was a concept that scared them. They didn't understand -- or try to understand it. I don't think they even knew the full meaning of the word. They simply created an "other" to pick on to somehow confirm their "normativity."

Back at Royal Oak's Kimball High School in the early 1980s, it was a huge insult with a lasting stigma to be called "gay." It violated the ultimate norm as set by teenage society in Royal Oak at that particular time.

Now I wonder how many of my former classmates have "come out" over the years? I wonder too if others have grown up and developed a more accepting attitude?

Some never will and the perpetuation of ridicule and abuse that so affected Corey Jackson is proof.

When we think about oppressions and biases that divide us -- racism, sexism, ageism, naturism, etc. -- we have to realize they are all connected and perpetuate each other. If we oppose one, are we allowing another to continue?

We must continually check our own thoughts, language, assumptions, and actions. Even something as innocent as a joke can perpetuate oppression and hatred.

Also, it is not enough to simply be tolerant. The word tolerance implies that we simply don't want to talk about an issue and with silence comes perceived neutrality. We need to aim for acceptance -- through our actions, thoughts, and words.

Blessed Be, Corey.

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