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Sunday 11 October 2009

Antigay Bullying: An American Perspective

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 2nd June 2009

Recently I read Michael Kimmel's excellent Guyland (2008) about the dysfunctions of adolescent male identity. What did it have to say about antigay (and straight nonconformist) bullying?

Michael Kimmel's book Guyland

Kimmel condemns the culture of adolescent male aggression in some US high schools, in which verbal and physical abuse is commonplace and directed against those viewed as vulnerable or isolated. It involves physical aggression and/or verbal abuse, usually with some homophobic content, It's adolescent male self-policing, involving petty peer tyranny over one's choice of footwear, food, dress, friends, sporting team preferences ad nauseum.

It's supposedly about the absence of masculinity amongst young gay men (and nonconformist straight guys too) at high school.

Nonconformist straight teenagers can and do get targeted if they're non-athletic, well-dressed, bookish and reserved. Kimmel recounts several harrowing stories of unrelenting verbal harassment, physical aggression, pseudo rape and other acts of crude gender policing, including playground and home room harassment, In two cases recounted, the harassment was severe enough for two young men, one a nonconformist straight male, the other a young gay male, to drop out, complete high school elsewhere, and then sue the school and its administrators for negligence in its duty to insure student safety within their learning environment. In the case of the young gay man, he suffered severe enough injuries to require hospitalisation and experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. Happily, the courts awarded him one million dollars in damages against the negligent institution in question. Thus, in the United States, schools may be legally liable if they don't take active steps to stop the abuse, centred on the tort of professional negligence.

As for the bullies themselves, their own experience of hierarchy and entitlement ends when they leave school. They often have poor communication skills and are liable to end up engaging in substance abuse and criminal activity. In other words, the schools also fail them through not checking their aggression early enough. In the case of the bullied, some turn to substance abuse, or youth suicide. In the United States, libertarian gun ownership laws have led to several tragedies when victims of persistent school harassment and abuse snapped and went on school shooting sprees, as a hideous reassertion of their heterosexual masculinity through violent vengeance against perceived tormentors.

To young gay men (and any nonconformist straight guys also reading this), who have experienced antigay bullying: If your school fails to enforce its anti-bullying policies, then go over their heads. Complain to the Department of Education directly, and get them to investigate. If the abuse is severe enough, then try to get Legal Aid and take a professional negligence case against your school administrators. You don't have to put up with this.

Thrive and survive.


Strongly recommended:

Michael Kimmel: Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men: Harper: New York: 2008.

Craig Young - 2nd June 2009

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