Thursday, October 21, 2010

Claiming the Victim

Today we have noted thinker Kevin McCullough, responsible for such brilliant witticisms as "Removing job protections for pro-life physicians is like forcing abolitionists to own and rape slaves", and "Being a feminist mother is like being your daughter's pimp." With such a great (albeit unhinged) mind, you can tell we're in for something really special.

Of course, Kevin does not disappoint. Discussing the suicide of gay college student Tyler Clementi, McCullough says this:
The assumptions made on many of these broadcast, print, and web based reports follow the idea that Tyler felt so bullied by the roommate and girlfriend who evilly and immorally taped him, that he had no option but to turn to suicide. This has been quickly adopted as the authoritative version of what happened and the need for psychologically profiling both the bullies who did it and other youths who engage in homosexual behavior.
So far, this is technically true. A lot of assumptions do get made in the modern-day 24/7 newscycle, and they aren't always accurate. Journalists like a good narrative, and sometimes one gets constructed before all the information is available. However there's a world of difference between merely pointing out the construction of the narrative and proposing a radical counter-narrative, which is what McCullough does. In his view, there is another compelling argument for what happened:
Perhaps Tyler had a genuinely sensitive conscience, perhaps he had great respect for both his family and his God, perhaps he felt ashamed of actions because he knew they were immoral. Hence a completely different narrative could be told, one that encourages young people towards moral choices.
Excuse me? So he committed suicide because he was "sensitive," "had respect" for his family and God, and therefore was filled with such incredible shame he killed himself? How is that a better narrative for young people?

When I first read this, I thought McCullough was saying that suicide was a "moral choice" for gay people, and I was infuriated. Then I realized that by "moral choices," he meant, "choosing not to be gay." Which is idiotic, but not surprising, and at least marginally better than telling gay people to jump off bridges.

McCullough is trying to re-write Clementi as a conflicted Christian martyr, so ashamed of how he had disrespected God that he was left with only one way out. This is beyond disgusting; it's obscene. It is true that Clementi was active in his church, an evangelical conservative church that requires gay members to be celibate and apparently includes an "ex-gay" ministry. But that to me only reinforces the point that a huge part of Clementi's shame was due to the fear that, aside from merely being humiliated at his school, he was now going to be ostracized and possibly kicked out of his church. That's got far more in common with bullying and social isolation than deciding that you're so conflicted between your sexual orientation and your religious beliefs that you have to kill yourself. Give me a break.

There's something else that's deeply disturbing about this bit of rhetoric. Some Christians are using Clementi's death as a catalyst to take a close look at themselves and their attitudes towards gays. Even the freaking Southern Baptists are doing a double-take. But McCullough will have none of it. For him, there was no outside issue that lead to Clementi's death; it was all due to his internal struggles; his fault. Rather than having the cautionary tale be about the terrible danger of people invading others' privacy and humiliating them, the cautionary tale turns into "don't be gay or you'll be so morally trapped you'll ultimately kill yourself." What a bastard.
The truth is Tyler was doing something he did feel shame and embarrassment for. Just like the thirteen year old who gets caught with a stash of pornography in his bedroom, or the college student that gets his girlfriend pregnant, Tyler was seeking sexual satisfaction in secretive ways that he hoped certainly would never come to light.
Yes, and just like any decent person would be appalled at anyone, particularly a young person, who was so filled with self-loathing, shame and fear that they were willing to kill themselves rather than let people know  they had a porn stash, so too this case is a loud warning about the climate that is still fomented in many churches, whether consciously or not. Even if you believe that being gay or looking at porn are sins, the concept that people who commit these sins are so far gone they don't deserve to live is heading into the crazyland theology of the Westboro Baptist Church.

McCullough is quick to attack the "radical anti-God activists" allegedly exploiting Clementi, claiming they are trying to remake him in Matthew Sheppard's image. Maybe he should look in the mirror. McCullough is doing the exact same thing, trying to make Clementi over in his own image-- a conservative Christian who sees being gay as incompatible with being moral, decent, or made in the image of God. A man who sees being gay and being Christian (or moral) as mutually exclusive. Never mind that there's far less evidence to support his theory than the one he's objecting to. McCullough would rather make crap up than go down the slippery slope of acknowledging that being gay is still not a bed of roses, or that the abuse GLBT folks get isn't self-deserved. After all, what kind of message does that send to the kids?

Clementi doesn't have to be a mirror image of Matt Sheppard to be important. But suggesting he was Jesus on the cross, crucified by his own "moral shame"-- and that it was entirely his fault because, after all, he was gay-- is beyond outrageous.

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