October 29th, 2010

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • 80 Beats lets us know that China now has the fastest supercomputer in the world.

  • Centauri Dreams notes that, if anything, it should be easier to form planets in binary systems like the very nearby Alpha Centauri than in planetary systems like our own with single stars.

  • Eastern Approaches rightly criticizes London mayor Boris Johnson for comparing the flight of poor people from London once housing subsidies are cut to ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, as seen from a Serb nationalist perspective, no less.

  • Geocurrents writes about the top 100 tourist destinations in the world, finding surprises in Turkey and southern China alongside expected tourist destinations in the Mediterranean basin, et cetera.

  • Joe. My. God shares the good news that an Arkansas school official who wrote astonishingly homophobic statements on his Facebook wall has no resigned.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy writes about the differences between the latest Narnia movie and C.S. Lewis' original, when the movie (not the book) notes that the Pevensey children's experience made their quotidian lives more difficult.

  • Wasatch Economics reproduces an article by Michael Lind when he says that the biggest threat facing the American economy isn't Japanese-style stagnation, but rather British-style deindustrialization.

  • Windows on Eurasia notes that Tatar mosques--and not only in Tatarstan--are using Tatar, not Russian, as their vehicular language.

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the failure to recognize long-standing patterns of queer teen suicide

As many of you may know, I took part in the It Gets Better YouTube project. It was a brilliant idea on Dan Savage's part, really, using the power of social media to bridge the gap between isolated queer youth and the wider community, incidentally getting not a little international press coverage about the project and the theme of queer teenagers and the particular issues that they face. Even homophobic groups and blogs have had to confront the issue. Ivor Tossell's recent Globe and Mail article sums up the project's appeal.

The fact that this project has gone from grassroots (or as grassroots as you can be if, like Mr. Savage, you’re an enormously popular relationship-advice columnist) to something the Oval Office deems politically expedient is extraordinary.

First, it’s a testament to the project’s universality. Put aside the question of homophobia for a moment. Who hasn’t, at some point, wanted to deliver a message-in-a-bottle to their younger selves? Who hasn’t wanted the reassurance that the trial of adolescence will eventually end? (Never mind youth being wasted on the young: The years that are the hardest are the ones that drag on the longest.)

One of the most refreshing things about the project is how unmanipulative it is. There’s plenty of emotion in tales of harassment, repression, redemption and acceptance. But, by definition, this is a bunch of people talking about how happy they are now. That’s the kind of sentiment it’s easy to get behind.

More importantly, the project arrived at the right moment in North American life.

[. . .] That might be why a project whose audience was meant to be a group of voiceless, at-risk youth has instead found itself on the national agenda, giving leaders a framework for action. It’s become a bridge between the experiences of citizens and the national dialogue, from a teen’s darkened bedroom to the legislature.

It also shows us that online activism doesn’t always stay online. When a groundswell of citizens embraces a cause, it gives leaders an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and provides them with a time, and a reason, to speak out. It’s a framework for taking a stand, and that stand comes none too soon.

But. There's a fatal false assumption here, one that Tossell--and many other commenters on the issue, I hasten to add--has made.

It Gets Better comes at a time when homophobia – like many forms of nativism and xenophobia – is enjoying a period of acceptance in the United States.

The U.S. media still give credibility to the kind of people who put the word “gay” in quotation marks. America is so great, so wild-eyed, that it’s not just debating gay marriage; it’s simultaneously asking itself whether it’s all right to be gay at all. Voices that comfortable urban liberals, gay and straight, once wrote off as hopeless fringe elements are coming to dominate U.S. politics.

Just two weeks ago, the Tea Party-backed Republican candidate for governor in New York, a nasty piece of work named Carl Paladino, delivered a major speech urging that children not be “brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is a ... valid and successful option.” Mr. Paladino was pressed into backpedalling, but the fact remains: This is where their national conversation is at these days.

This is a misreading of the situation. It has never been better to be queer, teenager or otherwise, in the United States particularly but the world generally. Sodomy laws have been abolished; homophobia is increasingly recognized as pernicious; ordinary people and governments recognize the rights of queer people to form families, through adoption and through marriage; `critically, the Internet allows queers regardless their personal background the ability for form communities. If we're talking about a particular moment, it's actually a very good moment.

The fact that queer teens have a vastly, sadly, elevated risk of suicide has been known since the 1980s, along with the fact that this suicide is precipitated directly by ill-treatment; Adam Solomon noted in The Noonday Demon the study demonstrating a statistical link between being a queer teenager and having your locker vandalized. The Youth Suicide website has a disturbingly and distressingly long list of anecdotal, press, and academic studies proving this reality. In my Firefox browser, it comes all told to 38 pages.

And yet, despite this voluminous evidence, in press report after press report, the emphasis is made on a "wave" of queer teenage suicides. There isn't a wave; queer teen suicides are at their normal level. It's only that the mainstream media and the general population have recognized that this phenomenon does in fact exist, and is quite alarming, and does need to be countered.

Better late then never?