Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hey! I AM Spartacus, JACKASS!

I don't always have so-called "normal" reactions to topical events.  Consider this my attempt at full disclosure while reading this piece.

Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide recently.  The exact date doesn't matter - certainly not to his parents - but the fact that he was 14 years old does.  It matters a lot.

I remember 14.  I was a freshman at St. Francis Prep. High School when I was 14 and I faced that new experience with an daunting amount of fear and trepidation but not because of bullying.  I had just spent eight of the most miserable academic years on the planet in a catholic elementary school.  The institution I attended would have made Torquemada proud.  Things were so bad - for me...I can't really speak for anyone else - that I told my parents, later in life, that had St. Francis been more of the same, I would have dropped out at sixteen.  St. Francis was not more of the same.  It was a gem and I acquired my love of learning within its walls.  I am proud to say that love continues to this day.

That is not to say that I fit in at St. Francis.  I was probably bullied but being the odd duck that I am, I didn't notice and, if I did, I didn't care.  I did the usual high school things.  I tried out for the football team and ended up the water boy.  I segued to track - where no one got cut - even though I wasn't fast.  My nickname was "Physique" which meant I didn't have a single muscle worth mentioning.  The only medal I received was from the end of year meet.  Everyone got a medal.  From there I moved to the Science Club and the Drama Society and the School Paper.  I was a geek.  Still am...but I went to dances and wore the school beenie at football games and attended all the sport rallies "in the alley" (we were an urban school) and had a genuinely good time.  Good enough that I would do it again.

That is not to say that I didn't notice other people who didn't quite fit in.  Some of those guys (it was an all boy school) were unhappy.  Most, I realize now, were gay or gave the appearance that they might be gay.  They went through their day scared; the fear wasn't always noticable but it did percolate to the surface often enough to be obvious.  One guy routinely flinched if you went to touch him even if just to shake his hand.  I never occured to me that he was in pain almost everyday.  14 year olds shouldn't notice those things.  It's part of the innocence of youth and it shouldn't race out the door too quickly or too early.  Sadly, today, loss of innocence is an olympic event.

Some years later, I met several openly gay men - some from work, some from the theatre - and one of them became a good and steady friend.  He was, in the mid-eighties, just beginning to find his voice as an advocate for gay rights.  He wrote letters and complained vehemently about discrimination and celebrated joyously when the City of New York passed a gay rights bill.  We went to gay bars together - I think he wanted to see if I would be shocked - and attended at least one gay play.  I was never uncomfortable.  I didn't waste time thinking about being straight in a bar or a theater peopled with gay men.  I am proud of the fact that I have always been content in my own skin and have rarely lost sleep over what other people think of me.  The downside is that you don't always notice all the crap that bothers, frustrates, damages and sometimes kills other people.  It's not water off a ducks back.  And it shouldn't be.

Another thing I don't understand is why...why, why, why!...human beings find it necessary to draw distinction between each other and, even worse, waste all that time deciding which distinctions are worthy of praise and which are deserving of ridicule.  I find the whole thing stupid and I've never been good with stupidity.

In the movie Spartacus the Romans demand that the slaves surrended Spartacus.  "Who is Spartacus?"  The slaves respond, to a man, "I am Spartacus...I am Spartacus".  All of which brings me back to the title of this piece and Jamey Rodemeyer.  His blogs (the excerpts published in the news articles at least) say a lot of things.  Some of them scream to the pain he was feeling and some scream to the universe.  "Is anyone out there?"  Jamey Rodemeyer felt isolated.  I do not know if it would have helped but if someone...anyone... had stood up and shouted, "I AM SPARTACUS" maybe there would have been something more than an echo in the void.  Maybe then, someone else would think to join the chorus and maybe that is all that is needed.  In the face of bigotry and fear and abject stupidity, three simple words:


Think about it.

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