Tyler Clementi was an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University when he committed suicide, apparently because his sex life was broadcast online without his consent.
Clementi’s death has sparked an online campaign themed “It Gets Better,” aimed at preventing gay and lesbian teen suicide. The idea is that adults speak about their past experiences with bullying and assure the young people that, as impossible as it seems, life can and does get better, and that terrible feelings and events are temporary and will pass.
But I think that every young person should hear this, regardless of their gender or orientation.
While I am straight, I too was bullied as a child. In my case, it was because I was and am a geek. I got my first pair of glasses in kindergarten or first grade, I actually enjoyed my schoolwork and the only way to pry a book out of my hands was with a crowbar. When video games came around, I liked them too, and I tried to catch new episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation whenever possible. I still have my action figures from the show.
I guess I was lucky, in a way. I was never shoved into a locker or physically beaten up. I never had a slushie thrown into my face like the geeks of “Glee.” But until I moved to Jackson, the vast majority of my own classmates pretended I didn’t exist and would have eaten dinner standing up rather than sit by me in the lunchroom. The other students in my school didn’t even make eye contact with me most of the time, lest they be contaminated with geekiness.
But now I’m a happy, geeky adult, and young people, geeks and popular alike, you need to know: it gets better.
Life does get better when you grow up and get out of school, when you get to choose who you’re around most of the time, when you get to be who you really are and when people actually like you that way.
If you’re getting bullied, you’re not alone, and it’s not your fault, either.
I was shocked my first day of school in Jackson when students — more than one of them! — actually came up to me and talked to me. On purpose! I quickly learned that the rules were different in my new class in Jackson, that my fellow students were pretty accepting, and that I wasn’t going to be invisible anymore.
Now every class is different, and mileage will vary from year to year even within a school, but the important thing here to remember is, whether you’re a boy or a girl, gay or straight, geeky or “normal” (whatever that means), it does get better.
It takes time and work, and it’s not always easy, but life will get better. If you feel tempted to harm yourself, please get help.
If you feel like you can’t talk to your parents or other trusted adult, there are many, many free and confidential suicide prevention hotlines out there.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is only one of them, and can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
It gets better. Give it a chance to.