On September 22, 2010, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death off the George Washington bridge into the Hudson River. For two days preceding the suicide, Clementi had unmistakably sexual trysts with another man in his university dormitory room.
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Somehow, Clementi learned that his roommate Dharun Ravi had captured the events via the Webcam of a computer in the room and broadcast it on the Internet (Friedman, 2010). Ravi had monitored the streaming video in another computer in the room of friend Molly Wei, just down the corridor from his room and Clementi’s.
Evidence that Clementi knew what had happened surfaced in the form of posts in the homosexual pornography site www.justusboys.com describing just such events on the given dates. A user using the anonymized handle “cit2mo” revealed how he noticed the Webcam was pointed at his bed and, on checking the roommate’s Twitter account, learned that Ravi had invited followers to watch. “Cit2mo” admitted that he had “made out” with the same man on both days.
Subsequently, the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office took the view that both Ravi and Wei were liable on four counts of invasion of privacy. The lobby group Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network rushed to charge bullying and harassment. Another explanation for the despair and hopelessness that leads to suicide, however, may lie with cases such as that of Ohio high school senior Jessica Logan.
In 2008, Logan sent explicit photos of herself over mobile phone networks to her boyfriend. After they broke up, the latter forwarded the photos to friends who shared those with their own social networks. Eventually, the photos reached students at seven high schools in the area. After being called a “whore” and “porn queen” by fellow students, Logan hanged herself. The damage to her reputation, at least in her view, was too vast to live with.
The risks of impulsively using that “Send” button on a mobile phone to transmit racy photos to boyfriends is demonstrated even more vividly by the examples of such celebrities as Cheetah Girls actress Adrienne Bailon, High School Musical headliner Vanessa Hudgens, and Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus.
The invasion of their privacy and damage to reputation did not precipitate suicide. Public exposure was nevertheless scandalous. The same month, three teenage boys in Houston, Minnesota and Indiana also committed suicide after sustained periods of insults and harassment for being homosexual.
The focus of this paper is the society’s aversion to homosexuals as a supposed cause of male homosexual teen suicide cases. We will observe the sources devoted to the situation with teenage male homosexuality and the society’s perception and attitude towards male homosexuals and project this data to Tyler Clementi’s tragic case.
To begin the discussion, let us first provide certain statistical background on teenage male homosexuality. Culling authoritative surveys from the 1970s to the early 1990s about the sexual mores and behavior of teenagers, Braverman and Strasburger (1995) report that from five to eight percent of 11th and 12th grade boys and girls admit to feelings of homosexual or lesbian attraction.
While confusion about gender orientation is to be expected in adolescence, the more glaring fact may be that self-reported homosexual activity by the time they turn 19 is considerably higher.
More adolescent boys (17%) than girls (6%) profess to having been involved in actual homosexual activity. Projected to 2009 estimates for age by sex, that 17% incidence of male homosexual behavior would mean a headcount of about 3.8 million today. Now, let us observe what these young homosexual males have to face during the period of their sexual development.
The formation of sexual identity is crucial to adolescent development. Since sexual identity is based on, among others, comparison with peers and social norms, adolescent boys convinced that they are homosexual cannot avoid the conviction that they are a marginalized population. They must generally conceal their condition because their families, peer groups, school authorities, physicians and mental health caregivers presume heterosexuality is the norm.
Being even vaguely confused about heterosexual status is decidedly at odds with the drives that dominate one’s teenage years. Adolescents are driven to please their peer group, enjoy the widest possible acceptance and experiment sexually. Social norms and standards being what they are, Braverman and Strasburger (1995) assert, boys eschew dress and behavior that is stereotypically feminine or homosexual. Otherwise, they risk ridicule by peers, outright rejection, and diminished self-image.
Adults may believe it is fashionable to tolerate sexual activity by the young but remain worried about such consequences as pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases. Parents and school authorities are also decidedly hostile and contemptuous of homosexuality (Fontaine & Hammond, 1996). Such norms, perceptions and abhorrent attitudes are naturally absorbed by older children and young adolescents.
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These attitudes then form another reason to bully those who show the least inclination to feminine pastimes and behavior. Hence, the overwhelming majority of clearly homosexual adolescent males are subject to at least insults, just under half are threatened with violence, one-third are chased or stalked and one in six suffer actual physical assault (Locke, 1998).
The combination of a society that adheres to heterosexuality as the norm and peers who enforce conformity in the strongest possible terms increases the mental health risk factors for homosexual boys. Sublimation, externalized denial, self-hatred owing to internalized homophobia, and gaining no support from anyone but their own kind pave the way for family discord, depression and such self-destructive behavior as dropping out of school, running away to homelessness, substance abuse and suicide (Yarhouse & Tan, 2005).
The situation becomes aggravated by the information that emphasizes links between homosexuality and a range of social problems. Particularly, the research has demonstrated that heterosexual men who express their sexual “preference” as pedophilia have their counterparts among homosexuals.
Attesting to having carried out hundreds of interviews with pederasts, youthful victims and their parents, Rossman (1976) asserted that there is in America a vast underground of adult homosexuals who commit pederasty with prepubescent and teenage boys. Some act singly, in small circles or with entire networks of support, recognition and belonging.
Astoundingly, the predators justify their offers of money to young boys in exchange for intimacy by claiming how they themselves were victimized when they were at such vulnerable ages. Homosexual circles are at pains to deny pederasty because of the social stigma and legal sanctions it carries (Sagarin, 1978).
This victimizing of the young is a stigma that liberals like to cast on social conservatives and the religious. For example, liberals like to impugn Catholic dogma about the sanctity of marriage and the inviolability of life from the womb by pointing to the number of boys and young adolescent males who suffered sexual indiscretions at the hands of priests.
The argument, of course, is that the Catholic Church cannot bear witness about confining sexual activity within the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman if there are frail humans who populate the hierarchy of priests and bishops.
By laying the justifications of pederasts open for scrutiny, Rossman makes the reader wonder why homosexuals should not themselves be subject to the same “sexual offender” status that heterosexual pedophiles do. If pedophiles cannot be trusted to teach, counsel, coach, babysit, or otherwise come in close contact with, potential victims, should not pederasts be subject to the same barriers in decent society?
Another social problem that associates with homosexuals is HIV and other STD. Homosexuals are the main at-risk group for contracting HIV, hepatitis and other sexually-transmitted diseases. This is particularly true for those initiated into such behavior by older homosexuals who have had multiple sexual liaisons with men and who have a very casual attitude about unprotected exchanges of body fluids (Braverman and Strasburger, 1995).
Thus, despite homosexuality is officially recognized by the society as a norm, it actually remains an object of its violent condemnation. However, the much-talked-of cases of male teen homosexual suicide seem to somewhat mitigate the existing hostility.
Alarmed by the tragedy that was the Clementi suicide and three others that occurred the same month, lobbyists for homosexuality have, among others, mounted countermeasures like a YouTube post where two adult homosexuals attempt to console teenagers currently suffering anxiety about their own sexual development that they can surmount this and go on to lead fulfilling professional lives.
The Catholic Church itself and Jewish self-help groups bemoaned the despair that drove Clementi to suicide by reminding the public that homosexuals also deserve to be treated with dignity (Zimmermann, 2010). However, it remains true that the Church and organized religion in general condemn homosexuality as immoral for being contrary to Biblical teachings. This is a serious cause of distress and denial for pious homosexual boys (Yarhouse & Tan, 2005).
Any teen suicide is reason to bewail the loss of young life, especially if it could have been avoided. On more objective review, the Clementi case is an example of sexual identity at odds with religion, society at large, male peers, school authorities more watchful of racial issues, and even the U.S. government (which has the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in Federal statutes and has appealed the injunction about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law forbidding openly homosexual men from serving in the military).
No bullying or harassment occurred in this instance. The shame, embarrassment and guilt at having been involuntarily revealed as a practicing homosexual drove the Rutgers freshman to suicide.
Braverman, P. K. & Strasburger, V. C. (1995). Adolescent sexual activity. Clinical Pediatrics, 32 (11) 658-68.
Fontaine, J. H. & Hammond, N. L. (1996). Counseling issues with gay and lesbian adolescents. Adolescence, 31 (124).
Friedman, E. (2010). Victim of secret dorm sex tape posts Facebook goodbye, jumps to his death. Retrieved from ABC World News. https://abcnews.go.com/US/victim-secret-dorm-sex-tape-commits-suicide/story?id=11758716
Locke, J. (1998), Treatment of homophobia in a gay male adolescent. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 52 (2) 202-213.
Rossman, P. (1976). Sexual experience between men and boys: Exploring the pederast underground. New York: Association Press.
Sagarin, E. (1978). The pious preacher and the pleading pederasts. PsycCRITIQUES, 23 (3).
Saewyc, E.M., Poon, C.S., Homma, Y. & Skay, C. L. (2008). Stigma management? The links between enacted stigma and teen pregnancy trends among gay, lesbian, and bisexual students in British Columbia. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 17 (3) 123-40.
Yarhouse, M. A. & Tan, E. S. N. (2005). Addressing religious conflicts in adolescents who experience sexual identity confusion. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 36, (5) 530–536 DOI: 10.1037/0735-7028.36.5.530.
Zimmermann, C. (2010). Bullying, teen suicides prompt soul-searching among religious groups. Retrieved from Catholic News Service. https://www.catholicnews.com/