From the heartfelt pleas of celebs such as Lady Gaga to new protective legislation coming from Queen’s Park, bullying is well on its way to becoming the newest cause du jour. Hell, it even has its own ribbons (ranging from purple to a sort of pinstripe-y black and blue). Of course, our community is no stranger to the dire effects of bullying: name-calling, baiting, bashing, torture, murder and suicide are all too common in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans youth, and it’s heartening to see mainstream society begin to dip its toe into our own particular cultural problem.
In light of all this positive, supportive media exposure, I can’t help but find it hugely ironic that we homos have such a strong propensity for bullying within our own communities. From catty sneers to drunken bitch slaps, gay men can be as vicious as any Grade 8 girl, staking out their territory with a ruthlessness that is as breathtaking as it is disturbing. Parties can become a nightmare if some nasty queen takes a dislike to you, engendering guilty laughter from others as he lets fly with the scathing wit so many of us were forced to hone in our own defence as kids.
But we’re not kids anymore. We’re adults living in a world that can still be quite hostile toward us. So why on earth are we still ripping each other to shreds? Sure, there’s the bitchy fag appeal that’s kept our profile in movies and TV shows so depressingly static, but when do we cross the line into the sort of behaviour that so many of us have suffered under from intolerant homophobes?
Celebrity blogger and reformed bitch Perez Hilton certainly knows of what I speak. Hollywood stars used to quake in their boots lest they elicit Hilton’s funny but cruel edicts regarding their hair, clothing or behaviour, until Friends star Jennifer Aniston finally asked him the simple question: “Why are you so mean?”
To his enormous credit, Hilton took Aniston’s query to heart, copping to the sort of bullying that he so often derided on his blog and vowing to turn over a new leaf. And he’s kept his word, wielding his humour in a less vicious manner – more of a gentle tease than an ego-smashing slam dunk. Some predicted this kinder, softer Perez would mean a loss of online viewers, but Hilton’s site continues to thrive, commanding some of the priciest online ad space available on the interwebs.
So, why are we so mean? Is it as simple as the idiom that most bullies are former victims? Or is it just fun to make someone feel sad?
Like so many of us, I was routinely bullied in high school. I had pop cans chucked at my head, nasty names lobbed about me like grenades, and a home life that bordered on torture. And yet, I remember so clearly that one day in Grade 10, sitting on the school bus on my way home and suddenly feeling the compulsion to join my fellow students in screaming obscenities out the window at a tiny effete classmate who had the courage to wear knickerbocker pants to school. Pack mentality? Or finally the chance to vent my own repressed hurt and rage at a weaker target? Probably a bit of both, in retrospect.
Recently, I began reading Xtra’s comments section. Huge mistake, some of my colleagues told me; online message boards are notoriously vicious, providing a safely anonymous outlet for the armchair bully’s vitriol. But I have to confess, I found the whole thing fascinating – not only because it’s pretty cool that readers had actually read my work and been compelled to comment, but also because I simply wasn’t expecting the level of mud being slung in my general direction.
The truth is, I’m not a great writer. I’m perfectly adequate at interviewing folks and getting their stories across, but my main talent is in getting my work in on schedule and with the least amount of editing fuss. So maybe if my ego were more engaged, I would have been hurt by what I read regarding my gender (indeterminate), my writing (abysmal) and my outlook (idiotic, bordering on lunacy). But it’s hard for me to take this stuff seriously, given that I’m still surprised Xtra continues to toss work my way.
Even harder when the taunting missives are signed with some fake name, made up to ensure its trollish master can revel in his or her anonymity while lashing out at others. But the question remains, why do we act like this, while still asking the hetero world to stop metaphorically and literally beating us up?
I don’t know. I’m not sure we’ll ever know, really. But it strikes me as tragically odd that, for a community whose losses from bullying are so current and so pervasive, our most bloodthirsty and tireless enemy may just be ourselves.