Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Suicides at my school

The world has been following the story of Amanda Todd, the British Columbia teenagers who committed suicide two weeks ago after years of cyberbullying. 

Two students connected with our school committed suicide this weekend.   One, a grade 9 girl, is a current student and there's been much speculation that her suicide was a 'copycat' situation.   The other suicide was a young man, aged 20, who graduated two years ago and in fact, had been my student.   Our school goes through a student suicide every two or three years or so, so this frequency is quite unusual. 

Since coming out and becoming extremely 'gay-aware', I now consider the possibility that any young person who commits suicide could have been questioning his / her sexuality.   LGBTQ youth have a much higher incidence of suicide and depression than their straight counterparts.  Reliable data on this isn't available but some sources suggest that suicide rates among gay youth could be eight times greater than in the straight population.  

About five years ago, I had a stereotypical `jock` - type student in my class for grades 11 and 12:  handsome, hyper-masculine, star quarterback, city champion wrestler with a cheerleader girlfriend.    But he was quite vocal about his homophobia, a rarity amongst senior students here.  I would even hear whispered homophobic remarks (I suspect) directed at me during class. 

I constantly wondered about his sexuality .... it was very much a `He doth protest too much, methinks` situation.   He graduated,  spent a year at university far from home, returned home for Spring Break and hung himself in his parents` home.   I remain absolutely convinced that he had discovered he was gay and couldn`t deal with the pressures of that:  from his family, society and most importantly, from himseslf.

Several of my teacher-collegues believe, based on long experience, that is the young men enrolled in the lower-rung classes* who suffer the most upon realizing that they are gay.   They are absolutely devastated by this self-realization and are often the most successful at commmiting suicide;  we live in a prime moose-hunting area and rifles are in abundance.

*variously called basic level, remedial, applied or tech-stream.

For a young man discovering that he is gay, his expectations of societal norms such dating a girl, sticking his cock into a vagina, marrying and having children are all shot to hell.  He might not be smart or experienced enough to realize that he could have a rich and full life as a gay man, partly because there are no gay role models in his life.  Presently, there are no gay teachers at my school who are out to their students.

This is the main reason that I want to be out to my students as soon as possible.   I'd be the coolest, most charismatic, most confident gay role for all our students, questioning, straight or LGBTQ.  The fact that I was married and had children before coming out would only be a positive, rerinforcing the fact that our sexuality is complex and for some, not easily understood.

And yet.... I'm holding back for now.  My son is in grade 11 at my school and many of his friends are my students.  Until my divorce is safely finalized and I know for sure that he will be okay, I won't officially come out to my students, although many of them, I think, already know.











22 comments:

  1. That's heartbreaking. So sad when one has so much ahead of them.

    Yes, it's important for everyone to have role models and I'm sure you would be the coolest lgbt teach in town :) But if you are waiting for your son to graduate it's not that long at all... less than two year. Or you could always ask him and leave it up to him to decide.

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    1. Yes, it's very sad!

      There are a number of out gay / lesbian teachers in other schools in town, adored by their students. The LGBTQ ones are ALWAYS the coolest, hippest teachers on any staff.

      My son probably would be okay with me coming out at school. I won't do it until my divorce is final as I fear it will trigger a new wave of erratic behaviour from my wife when she hears about it.

      I offered to switch schools but my son asked me to stay until he graduates from grade 12. Mainly, I'll admit, so that he will get driven into school each day rather than taking the school bus.

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  2. so sorry to hear this sad news. what might those young people have done with their lives? we will never know now. and their families will never have closure. :(

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    1. It's so sad! I didn't know the young girl, but the 20 year old was from an Asian immigrant family. His parents didn't speak English and he was under considerable family pressure. His parents will never get over the loss of their son.

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  3. No child should ever feel the need to end it all. But society, and possibly some evil members of their peer group, push them to it. If everyone would just take a moment to think about how their speech and actions affect those around them, maybe vulnerable kids wouldn't be pushed to it. Unfortunately, most teens find it difficult to think in terms of consequences. Why is that? And what can parents and schools do to get kids to understand that their off-the-cuff remarks have consequences?

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    1. "Lack of empathy for their victims" is pervasive and with the anonymity of cyberbullying where there are no adults monitoring things, vicious bullying is just getting worse and worse.

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  4. You're a very thoughtful and rational guy. But you knew that. I agree that you'd be a great role model for the students. Your self confidence and straight (lol) forward approach to things can only be seen as positives. And the fact that you put your kids' well-being above your own is even more telling (I think a lot of people say that their kids are the most important thing, but behaviors betray them).

    I think that you will do whatever is the best thing at the moment. There is plenty of time to become the role model you want to be and, until then, you're still a great teacher (and role model) and dad. Now ain't that cool!

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  5. This is quite a great post, & you're a great father, teacher, & role model. My hat's off to you! As an aside, why do you think that some of your students already know that you're gay?

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    1. A great question! I started answering but it became so lengthy that I decided to turn it into a post on its own. Watch for it!

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    2. If I may venture to answer that. Buddy is very open person. Anyone with a modicum of "gaydar" would know he is sympathatic. And my experience is if you are seen that way, people assume you ae. I have a very cute guy in my building is gay friendly (his brother is gay) There are those who think he is. He finds it humourous. Real shame he is straight. OTOH, he didn't chose to be straight.

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  6. I'm very happy you're still planning to come out to your school community. And as you are a very good father, you want to make sure it's OK with your son who would still be in that school. How are you planning to do it (if you've planned at all yet)? Speaking at an assembly? A letter in the school paper? Or telling your classes and allowing the news to spread (very rapidly, I would suspect) outward from your core group of students? I assume you'll clear it with administration first.

    If things there are anything like they have been in non-homophobic states in the U.S. for the last decade or so, administration will be thrilled that they'll have an instantly more diverse faculty without doing a special hire. My situation at MIT was interesting because I wasn't in one of the great flagship departments (math, physics, engineering of several types, aero-astro) where coming out would have been both daring and not particularly appreciated, but in the arts where everyone just said, "Oh great -- now there are seven of us!" :-)

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    1. Sorry, Will, I laughed out loud when you said I'd "clear it with administration first." That's the LAST thing I would do!! First of all, I already told them I'm gay; not as a "big announcement" but in passing during a casual conversation. And secondly, it's none of their God-damned business!!

      Our school division is in the top one or two in all of Canada for it's unique LGBTQ initiatives and programmes. My school is so 'gay-friendly' that coming out to the students won't be that big a deal; a one-day wonder at the most.

      So an announcement in the school newspaper or at an assembly would be very much "overkill." I don't think it would be even appropriate....

      I plan to wear one of my Pride T-shirts to school one day and my clever students will figure it out very quickly. Eventually, one of them will get very brave and ask me about it in class. They know I will answer them honestly.

      I also plan to become the teacher-adviser for our very active Gay Straight Alliance group (GSA) and that will provide more evidence for the student body ....

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    2. Well, that's amazing. Your school (or all Canadian schools?) clearly are far ahead even of where we are here in the States. In the most homophobic states you could lose your job coming out at school. Good for Canada!

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    3. According to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (enshrined in our Constitution), no one could lose their job in Canada for being gay. And I firmly believe that to be the case... although there will be exceptions, I'm sure.

      I understand that the publiclly-funded Catholic schools are not particularly gay-friendly. But I belive that public schools across Canada,like mine, are highly supportive (and protective of) LGBTQ folks in the school community, teachers, students and anyone else!

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  7. You said, "A great question! I started answering but it became so lengthy that I decided to turn it into a post on its own. Watch for it!"

    I say, "Well, aren't you just the coolest ever?! I'll be watching for it!"

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  8. I definitely agree that a gay teacher could be a very good role model for students questioning their sexuality. Especially one that wasn't a giant stereotype. I wish there had been such a person at my school.

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    1. I agree. Thanks for commenting! A gay teacher like me would also be an excellent role model for STRAIGHT students, parents and staff as well. It's important for everyone to see a gay man who's happy, confident and living an ordinary life just like everyone else.

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  9. I am so sorry to hear of these suicides. Of course, being from BC, Amanda Todd is front and centre right now. Even at our PAC meeting last night, the Principal gave a little discertation about it and how it is impacting our school (which geographically is nowhere near Vancouver but by internet is right next door). As I pulled up to the school I noticed a police car parked outside. The Principal revelead that the police were that very evening investigating a cyber-bullying taking place at our school. It is indeed worrisome.

    I agree that you will be an excellent gay role model for the students and staff but I worry that the timing may not be right for you and your son. I hope you don't feel any pressure to come out because of these incidents. The time has to be right for you too.


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    1. Thanks Mike! I agree, I won't be rushing into coming out at school. It might hot happen until my son graduates in 1.5 years.

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  10. I tried suicide twice in my late teens all because of my sexuality, I'm coming 53 years old now,married,kids but still my life feels totally meaningless. I'm only here for my boys(sons that is).

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  11. Thanks for sharing that difficult story. It's not too late for you! Your boys will still be your boys even if you are out. It's up to you to be the star of your own life...

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