Subject: black dusters and nail polish
Date: Wed 21 Apr 1999 - 14:27:04 BST
When you heard the news from Littleton, Colorado, the tale of some boys
called the "trenchcoat mafia," who dressed funny, were outcasts and even wore
makeup and nailpolish who brought bombs and guns to school to kill 15 people
and injure 20, what were your thoughts?
Did you think "How can they do this! Anyone who could do this
incomprehensible thing is beyond my understanding?"
Or did you think -- like I did -- "I understand those kids. Alienated,
pressured and in pain until they cracked?"
I'm old enough to have gone to high school in a time when death was real, on
the evening news everynight from Vietnam. Slaughter on this scale was
unimaginable to us, but then again we didn't have the movies kids see today,
the Internet, or access to automatic weapons. Our Anarchists Handbooks told
us how to bomb, murder and kill for what appeared to be political reasons.
"It doesn't take a weatherman to figure out which way the wind is blowing."
Today, though, the personal is political. And when I heard the story of the
twisted rage that these children felt, rage so strong that they could
dehumanize their fellow students and play out their own dramas of revenge and
murder against flesh and blood, my first feeling is simple: If I was in high
school today, I would know these kids. I wouldn't be one of the two that
cracked, but I would know them.
Lots of people feel an iconic linkage to the gay and transgendered people who
are murdered in the world, the objects of the rage of the world. In this
case, I feel an iconic linkage to the children who felt the rage to kill, to
kill themselves, their own individuality, to strike out against a world that
has hurt them, hurt them badly.
As I meet transgendered people in the world, people who were queer kids and
pounded into normativity, I see lots of pain. While very few act out in the
way these children did, they do strike out from pain, slash and hit and hurt
in a rage that expresses some unspeakable pain, some deep wound, some tragic
death in their own soul. These are people who feel the need to slam those
who they feel oppress and misrepresent them, people who are not very nice in
the defense of their own comfort and freedom.
I feel this fear and rage at a world that has tried to silence me. No matter
how far I come in finding healing, in working to be mature and graceful in my
life, that pain is a touchstone for me, always there and always vivid. I
wonder, if I had had the chance, what I would have said to those boys in
Littleton who felt so alienated, so hurt, because I know that whatever I
would have said to them is something that many people need to hear, people
who feel their own pain, pain so strong it lets us objectify and hurt others.
It's conventional wisdom that many, if not most, children who commit suicide
are struggling with their own queerness, and see death as the only way to
resolve the sense that they are torn between being who they believe
themselves to be and who they feel demanded to be. Homicide, though, is the
flip side of suicide, a striking out. CBS News this week had a special about
"suicide by cop," threatening a police officer to get yourself killed, and in
Littleton even the sheriff called this event "a suicide mission." They went,
but they took their tormentors with them, in the best tradition of American
People have homicidal feelings, from the transient "I'll kill her!" to the
complex, schemes and plans. The goal of society is not to stop the feelings,
but to stop people acting on them. We stigmatize and shame the acting out of
those feelings, put them beyond the pale. But sometimes, the controls fail,
and then the networks run out to report an "unimaginable tragedy" part of "an
epidemic of school violence" that shows "the corruption of children by a
media soaked [godless)? culture" or "the corruption of a society that
venerates gun violence and freedom, lead by the NRA" -- you pick.
The rage, the pain, the hurt. We suffer and we act out, abusing ourselves,
setting ourselves up for abuse, or striking out against others, even with
guns and bombs.
I feel for the kids who were killed or injured in Littleton, but I also
remember that less than one in a million kids will be killed at school, that
this is not an epidemic. I feel for the families who have a loss, but I also
know that loss is part of life.
But I feel, too, for those kids who acted out, going on a murderous spree,
because they were so much in pain that going out in a blaze seemed like a
good idea. I know those kids, know them well. They are not unfathomable to
Acting out against the pain, even when that acting out hurts others, or
slaughters them seems to be a response to a society which you believe can't
accept or embrace you. And that is something every queer person can
understand, even if their own pain is so strong and their healing so limited
that they feel a need to declare that they are so normal they would never
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