CPPNJ - The Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy of New Jersey

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Condolences and contradictions -- an unnecessary death

Jumping off the gw bridge sorry

When Tyler Clementi plunged into the Hudson River hours after posting those chilling words on his Facebook page, the Rutgers University freshman became the latest in a string of suicides of gay teenagers taunted by their peers.

Forty-one years after the Stonewall Riots launched the gay rights movement, nine out of ten LGBT students report experiencing harassment and nearly two-thirds of them feel unsafe in school. The incongruities are astounding -- young people are coming out far earlier then ever, yet suicide related to homosexuality remains the second leading cause of death among youth. Five states and the District of Colombia allow same-sex marriage, yet several more outlaw gay people from adopting or becoming foster parents because of the "risk" they pose to unplaceable children. And talented young students with the rest of their lives to look forward to jump off the George Washington Bridge.

The more things change, the more homophobia remains ingrained.

More than three decades after the DSM belatedly removed homosexuality as an illness, I still sometimes treat men and women of all ages tormented by their same-sex attraction -- successful businesspeople terrified of being outed on the job; gay parents worried they could be reported for child abuse if they show their children too much affection in public; adults and adolescents disowned by family or sent to counselors not to treat their depression but to change their sexual orientation. I also see many lesbians, gay men and bisexual patients who are out, open and proud.

A couple of years ago, I taught a course in Gender and Sexuality for CPPNJ. Several candidates wanted to know what caused homosexuality. Could childhood sexual abuse make someone gay? I asked the class why no one wanted to know what caused heterosexuality. Could sexual abuse make someone straight? When we are sitting with heterosexual patients, do we ever think to wonder about how their sexual orientation affects them?

We should. The difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality is not that one is normal and the other not, it is that one is the unquestioned norm and the other can be a frightening threat. We are all raised in a heterosexual society almost always by heterosexual parents (although that too is changing).

Less than a week before Tyler Clementi's suicide, Atlanta mega-preacher Eddie Long was accused of forcing young male church members to have sex with him. Not surprisingly, Long has famously decried homosexuality. What terrifies people within themselves can cause them to rail against others with the same issues. If they can try to eradicate it in others, they don't have to deal with it in themselves. Of course, what is disowned is often acted out, with real consequences on real people.

Rest in peace, Tyler.

-- Eric Sherman, LCSW

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