Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Human Dignity and Doom on the George Washington Bridge

Bridge. Gay. Jump. Roommate. Suicide.

Reading only those five words brings me back to some my darkest memories of college. That's where my mind's been for some of today, when I wasn't thinking of this story that is too tragic for words.

I'm not Tyler Clementi (shown above), but I almost was. Suffice to say, as I tried to figure out how to deal with my same-sex attractions as a young adult, I had quite the roller-coaster ride emotionally, philosophically, and spiritually.

Those challenges haven't completely gone away, but they've lessened and changed as I've found friends to talk to about it, homosexual and bisexual men who are serious about pursuing chastity in their lives, and especially hetero guys who genuinely value knowing about me.

I won't blame you for questioning my seriousness about chastity if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook. I can only plead that you consider the possibility that making jokes along those lines might help me avoid living along those lines.

Tyler Clementi's foray into living out things he'd only imagined hasn't gone so well. It seems obvious now, but I wonder how obvious it was to his roommate Dharun Ravi that if a guy asks for privacy - and conceals the fact that it's so he can be romantic with another man - the guy probably won't be okay with his sexual experimentation being literally broadcast to the world. Sure Ravi knew this to some extent, but did he have any clue what he was toying with? I think the truth is neither Clementi nor Ravi knew what they were toying with.

My mind is flooded with questions for both of them, of course especially questions we'll never know the answer to.

I wonder if Tyler Clementi's family knew. Did he have anyone to talk to? Was he at all aware of any avenues besides sexually acting out, and once that was exposed, killing himself? Was jumping from the George Washington Bridge something he'd thought about before and the extreme shame of this occasion just triggered him to act on it?

I wonder what his mix of friends was. Did he consider his roommate a friend? I would have been Tyler's friend. I would have answered any question he had about my experience if we could have talked in a private way. I would have listened to him. I would have told him he was valuable to me just as a fellow man with a soul.

As for Dharun Ravi (pictured below with Molly Wei), I am at least a little bit comforted by how utterly ruined his name is and how much like the scum of the earth he must feel right now.

What if instead of asking Ravi for privacy, Clementi had asked him to talk about where he was at with his sexuality, would Ravi have listened? I can only assume not. I can only assume that to someone like Ravi, Tyler Clementi was more a two-dimensional freakshow than he was a real person. At least that's what I get from this lugubrious tweet of his:

Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.

But Tyler was real. He had a real musical talent, a real smile, and a real heartbeat. And now he doesn't.

I've seen an outpouring of shock and anger at this prank gone so horribly wrong today on Twitter and some in the New York and national media. Naturally, a lot of folks express support for Clementi's family.

I've also already spotted tweets seeking to raise money for gay teen suicide prevention and efforts by gay advocacy groups to renew interest in their "anti-bullying" campaigns. I waited all day for a tweet from Lady Gaga tying this tragedy to her campaign to repeal 'Don't Ask-Don't Tell'. I'm sure there's a "marriage equality" angle too.

You can find all that stuff everywhere else, so I won't feel bad saving my own take for right here.

Tyler Clementi obviously had some level of sexual attraction for men. In a sick way, his acting on it cost him his life. Dharun Ravi may have done exactly what someone would have to do to get Clementi to destroy himself, but Clementi was still the one who did it. Because I see my old self (and some of my yet-current self) in him, I believe that Tyler's fundamental error here was in not accepting his own human dignity. His parents believed in it. I believed in it though I only know of him in death. He didn't believe in it.

Tyler sacrificed some of his dignity to give in to his curiosity at least a couple times. Yet when the bright light of public scrutiny shone down on what he had considered his own secret world, all Tyler could see was what he was ashamed of. All he could see was how broken he was. Maybe all he could see was that he might as well be a two-dimensional carnival character to people like Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei and their friends. I think maybe the worst Tyler saw in himself was all of a sudden just too close to how hundreds or thousands of others saw him. In the end, even on an iconic bridge, on a beautiful night with a spectacular view of Manhattan, the Palisades, and the shimmery water below, all Tyler Clementi could see was certain doom.

Like I said, I was there once. Actually a few times. In my case, when I broke down and told my straight college roommate that I was attracted to men, specifically him, and that I couldn't take my infatuation with him anymore...he held me. It was something he'd never done before nor wanted to. He assured me of his steadfast friendship. He bought me lunch, listened to me, and prayed with me too. Our relationship was sometimes strained after that, though we were doing pretty well five years later when I served as best man at his wedding. But what I noticed most was that when my heart found genuine friendship with this guy, my sexual imagination didn't fixate on him very much anymore.

In fact, I've been blessed to find that real friendships with other men give me in reality what my libido is looking for in fantasy.

Yes, I know that's not the gay experience you're used to hearing. It's still mine and I wish I could have talked with Tyler Clementi about it and listened to him talk about his. I would have told him that there is more for guys like us. There can be friendship, insight, adventure, unselfish love, and forgiveness if you want to look for it. There's so much more than doom.

I'm in New York right now. I got here the day before Clementi leaped to his death, and I'm leaving tomorrow, a day after news of his death broke. On a night when he was in sheer emotional and mental hell across the river, I was in a room catching up, laughing, and praying with other guys living with same-sex attraction. No one said Tyler's name, but we prayed for him nonetheless. I will pray for him and his family by name now. Definitely whenever I see the George Washington Bridge.


  1. Trev,

    My heart breaks for this young man. As you know, my path has been radically different from your own. But I totally support, respect and admire your walk in faith and where it has lead you.

    I share your heartfelt wish that Tyler had had a friend like you. He was obviously uncomfortable with himself. Disastrously so.

    Young people struggling with same-sex attraction need to know there are multiple options. They can "come out" as gay or bi, or they can choose a life of celibacy. I really truly hope that this post finds its way to those who need it - who need a different option than the way the predominant gay culture offers them - and take it to heart.

  2. Thank you for sharing. Keep spreading hope and love. No one should ever feel like they have to kill themselves because of something they struggle with.

    If you don't mind. I will pray for you and him also. You are a light that many people need.

  3. This was a horrific story. It saddened m to read it earlier today. Man's inhumanity to man. Would love to see some Jack McCoy-like prosecutor pursue reckless endangerment charges against these two ... well, a word I won't use here.

    They need to do real time inside of a prison cell. Their actions are directly responsible for the loss of a human life.

  4. Trev, your words here resonate with me. All I could think of after reading about what Tyler went through made me think of my beautiful niece, and what she might have done if her college roommate had outed her to the world as a lesbian before she fully accepted herself & had a chance for our family to come to terms with it. My niece had 4 years of college before she finally accepted herself enough to be able to feel no shame. Tyler wasn't given that chance. I grieve for a beautiful soul lost and for the family this vicious act left behind. Your words make sense and I wish Tyler could have had you as his friend.

  5. Beautiful post. It's such a tragic story. I hope Ravi and Wei spend the next 5 years behind bars.

    Love to all,

  6. Thank you for your words, I enjoyed reading them and I respect your thoughts.

    No one is a 'two-dimensional freakshow'. This resonates with me. People just need to stop condemning other people because there is more to everyone than meets the eye.