Shame is a likely culprit, and guilt very well may have lent itself to the inward-out rotting of Justin, Asher, Tyler and other victims of suicide. You can bet anger played a role, as well as confusion or maybe isolation. And somewhere in it all, wedding together every taunt and jeer offered them by the world as it is, a particular brand of hopelessness refused each request for acceptance. It'd be foolish to think we could really know the nature of their torture; that knowing is gone with the dead.
But on the matter of where that tyrrany wells from, there is no question. We legislate it. Worse, we deify it. Until there is an understanding that we author Tyler's and Justin's and Asher's rejection on the very parchment of our ballots, we will underestimate our assault on this piece of America. It does not take the effort of a shouted slur to conjure up vulgarity, only the declaration that a person's love is unworthy of an instituion granted to everyone else. How foolish are we to think that passive aggression from the pulpit is anything less than the gallows when the norm is a radical love from on high?
On points like this one, those spaces in our lives where we affect each other simply with our language or what we choose to laugh at or tune in to every morning, we have the frightening capactiy to become one another's disease. I think its reasonable to assume that the worst things we communicate between each other will act as the ceiling to our goodness, that if we hand demagogues the microphone or continue to wallow in the mediocrity of outdated anecdotes about what's "natural" or "godly" we promise ourselves a future of the same failures we had yesterday. Our language is the masterpiece of our species and yet we take such little offense when someone wields it recklessly. At the moment, America's loudest rhetors are the one's assuring us of our entitlements, of our protagonism and encouraging the anger we feel so righteously toward what is different and outside our upbringing. I can't imagine that the America-lost, so bemoaned by the masses today, was an America that only included narratives which made us comfortable. To me that sounds like a weak America, an America devoid of wisdom or patience or a learning ear. That can't possibly be the object of our nostalgia.
On the subject of young, gay men and women we need to find ourselves again as the compassionate, empathetic people we have all managed to be one time or another. Allies need to strengthen their allegiance, leaving no doubt over our support of the various communities of sexual orientation. And simultaneously, we need to reign in our own fever pitch, constantly prepared to offer a tempered conversation with anyone willing to reexamine their own views (or ours) on homosexuality.
This month's elections paraded the power rhetoric has to change the course of a nation, and in the same way, demonstrates how its no small thing that our country's gay members feel exiled. Afterall, if unarticulated anger can comprise a platform by which we elect the makers of our laws, then how do you project the result of socially acceptable hate speech? It is not a peripheral piece of the American identity. It is a measurement of our maturity and our agility in a changing world; a litmus for our ability to look outward and make decisions in the interest of our neighbor, to recognize other before self. These are values that divide prosperous nations from those handicapped by civil war and on the wings of the right rhetoric we can move from the former toward the latter at a remarkable pace.
I often think the America we remember as the America Of Old didn't actually exist. We imagine our history to be nobler than it was or worse, we imagine it to have been yesterday, whatever best supports our arguments for tomorrow. In viewing the past and in understanding the present we encourage each other to be dishonest with ourselves.
This honesty has been attacked as liberal self-deprecation, a masochistic affinity for one's own bleeding heart. But to think, as a nation we have not come to terms - or demanded legal consequence - over the reality of something like the Iraq war. Whether America's war was 'right' or not is still considered a poll-able opinion, somehow disregarding the volumes of information that leave the illegality, recklessness, irrelevance, and strategic bankruptcy of that invasion utterly naked. And its only an example. In any of our personal lives we can recognize that not understanding the spring of our troubles makes solving them impossible. But if we ask why America has become contemptable in the eyes of so many, or going further, how America has positioned itself as a likely target for terroristic acts then we're singing a traitor's anthem. How does pitting honesty against patriotism help our cause?
Maybe we need to start asking how we can be exceptional again. We've done very well at teaching young people about their entitlements and you can see our reflection in their character. We plant the seeds for the brevity of their attention span, their irreverence for nature, the malignance of their language (and I don't mean "shit, fuck" I mean "that's gay, you got jewed") and we tend the garden religiously. We keep from them the best parts of ourselves because we settle for what's merely understandable when we have the opportunity of what's exceptional. Its understandable that we'd become angry when someone proposes to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero. It would be exceptional to encourage the building of the community center and proclaim that our understanding of the greater religion is not so weak as to be shaken by the perversion of a few. It is understandable to be confused by a sexuality that is not our own. It is exceptional to move through that confusion with dialogue, fellowship, and inclusion. We opt for the convenience of traditional pollution over the challenge of better energy sources. We communicate that diffuse culpability excuses our assault on the environment. American exceptionalism is spineless rhetoric, hollowed and drained by our own obsession with our right to mediocrity. We choose just barely understandable, when exceptional is in reach.
The crises, though, hide amongst us in the now; there is no longer a benign option for mediocrity. Our flatlined sense of self-improvement and stewardship has created violence against our own, an environment wading into catastrophe and a world hostile to the Great American Dichotomy. We need fiscal stability, we need jobs, we need better parenting and safer borders, we need to battle terrorism, obesity and hunger and homelessness. But they are all accessories on our humility, entirely dependent on whether we allow wisdom to inform our work and patience to pace our choices. Five deaths, the headlines say, five pushed far enough away they stopped trying to come back. But its five and counting. In a world of interdependence, endemic selfishness is the greatest tool for destruction. Freedoms of opinion and expression are the treasures of America but sheltering one another's prejudices toward gays or Muslims under the banner of liberty works for the injury of our union. An individual right to prejudice doesn't have to mean collective complacency toward it and destruction doesn't have to be America's best-wielded weapon. We must ask exceptional things of ourselves, we must be better for each other than we were for Justin, Asher, and Tyler.