Suicide, Hatred, and the Intersection of Exposure and Escalation [Updated]

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, October 11, 2010 11:00 PM

Gays and lesbians committing suicide isn't really a new thing, but the current level of exposure kind of is. We've entered a more-than-likely short-lived era where people at the margins committing suicide means something to the mainstream. It's hard to tell if it is spectacle, sympathy, or shock, but getting the images of suffering young men (and perhaps women, though this current news cycle has few if any) into the heads of those who mistake design for choice, psychology for stubbornness, is a good thing.

Yet there is always a reactionary pull that would rather put us in the stone age than endeavor to understand our fellow man. That pull is gaining strength, tensing, ready to spring. A devastating high-exposure hate crime in New York, where nine men tortured one man and two teenagers because they were gay, has been revealed to the nation, and the nation is taken aback. But is the nation flinching? Is there any sense of responsibility among those who have helped perpetrate the kind of thinking that would lead to such a crime being possible?

Perhaps in the case of Zach Harrington, a 19-year-old who stood up for something and could not bear to live knowing what had risen to meet him, a direct line of cause and effect can be seen by those who have refused to see much else. As in the case of the men who committed a hate crime and the man who committed suicide, no one made them do what they did. No one forced them to the point of harm. But to disown the rhetoric that helped to justify what has happened is in many ways as dangerous.

There are at least two movements that will result, or at least gain force, from what has happened. One is positive. People are banding together, trying to give a support net to those who feel they are alone and trapped in a hostile world. Athletes are speaking out against bullying. Hundreds of people have dedicated videos to those needing to hear a supportive voice. These are good things - one seeks to remove the reasoning for some of these suicides, while the other seeks to help those unsure of the value of their existence.

But the other, more sinister movement is one that thrives on misanthropy. This is the one that feeds off of deplorable hate crimes and the thought of less like-minded individuals on earth, even if it results from an unbearable suffering. This is where exposure and escalation meet, with each extending in opposite directions. Time will tell the effects, but we will see at least a few more waves as a result of what has happened, both negative and positive, before the media's waters lie still again.

It's hard knowing that it always gets worse before it gets better, that there will always be suicidal actions borne out of feelings of anguish and self-hatred, that not everyone will change. But we can hope that out of the tragedies and sick actions taken against people who seek only to be themselves, good can come.

Until Wednesday.

Update: This is one of the best "It Gets Better" videos I've seen, and it illustrates my point about disowning rhetoric.

Sarah Silverman:

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