Yes, she's strange and different...but not THAT different.

17 November 2010

A letter

(The following letter was sent to TrueChild for general dissemination. I'm disseminating.)

Dear Family and Friends:

As we approach the holidays, sadly, some kids will never get to celebrate them because they have been harassed and bullied so much that they decided their only way out of this life was to end it. A couple of days ago, I sent an email to many of you expressing my heart-break over the recent string of gay teen suicides.

Let’s get real; you can’t talk about resolving the bullying issue without talking about gender stereotypes and institutionalized homophobia in this country. 95% of all bullying is directed at those who are perceived as “different” – and the main point of difference is the adherence to gender stereotypes, that a little boy is not “masculine” enough or a little girl is not “feminine” enough. In fact the three classes of kids who are bullied the most are boys who are not masculine enough, girls who are not feminine enough, and girls whose bodies develop sooner than their peers.

Dr. Michael Kimmel, one of the nation’s leading experts on masculinity and renowned author, notes that every time we see a teen suicide or a school shooting, it’s always some dweeby, introspective, outsider kid who’s gotten harassed daily, beaten up, pushed around, called “faggot” and “queer” and “bitch” and it’s almost always a boy.

In fact, GLSEN says that 90% of boys report having been called “fag” at some point. If only 10-15% of boys are gay, that means up to 85% of this kind of bullying is directed at kids who are straight. It just makes me want to shout, “It’s their gender, stupid!”

We need to have a new kind of dialogue in this country that goes beyond just talking about homophobia to talking about masculinity and femininity and breaking down the gender labels that often provoke bullying, anti-gay rhetoric and whole host of social issues.

My cousin Mike has two twin boys, Kevin and David, who came out six years ago in 10th grade at the age of 15. Mike was bold enough to share his story with me. His honest portrayal of the psychological road he and his wife, Teena, traveled down with their two sons after learning they were gay was really eye-opening and just goes to show that even those of us who think we are “open and accepting” have to fight the societal pressures and stereotypes so deeply ingrained into our psyche and social fabric of our society.

The gay social stigma and bullying will end when we start to address gender stereotypes head on. It just takes one person to save a despondent kid from feeling like they have absolutely no other alternative than to commit suicide because they’re taunted, pushed around and bullied after school for not “manning up” and/or not fitting the definition of masculinity. So I challenge all of you to:

• Have a discussion with your own kids about true tolerance and acceptance of people who are different than they are; teach them to celebrate differences instead of crucify them.

• Step in when you see a child being bullied/ridiculed and called “sissy,” “faggot,” or any other slew of derogatory terms, even if that child is not yours.

• Make sure your school has a 0% tolerance policy for bullying, an anti-bullying curriculum (which all students must take part in), and standard operating procedures for handling bullying situations.

• Support non-profit organizations like TrueChild whose primary mission is to dispel gender stereotypes in our society, often the underpinning cause of bullying and homophobia.

As you can see, this issue is near and dear to me for the very reason why it resonates with so many people – everyone has been affected by bullying in some form or fashion, and the repercussions of bullying as we have witnessed lately can be devastating and deadly.

So this holiday season, in lieu of gifts, please join me in donating to TrueChild, which works tirelessly to redefine what it means to be a “man” or a “woman” in today’s society and to get rid of those old labels that not only give bullying a platform to exist but hold all kids back from achieving their full potential.


Bill Arthur
Miami, Florida

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