Clementi Tragedy: Tech Teens' Lust to Expose Isn't Same as Gay-Bashing

Clementi Tragedy: Tech Teens' Lust to Expose Isn't Same as Gay-Bashing

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After two decades in the United States, I still feel a thrill of recognition when I see a South Asian name in the media. A winner on a cooking show on the Food Network, a congressional candidate in Kansas, a new appointee to some team on the White House - it does not matter, there is always that twinge of pride.

I look out for these names. 

That was why I noticed Dharun Ravi’s name. And felt a chill go through me. Tyler Clementi, 18, had jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate and a friend secretly taped him on their webcam having a sexual encounter with another man. And then they streamed it on the Internet.

The roommate’s name was Dharun Ravi. The headline on one article said “Dharun Ravi: The Reason for Tyler Clementi’s Suicide.”

It has a picture of Ravi and the other person involved, Molly Wei. They look like high school yearbook photos. Ravi has curly hair, and a broad smile. He is wearing a black tie and black jacket. He looks like my cousins in New Jersey, the ones that go to Bhangra parties and have stellar GPAs.

It’s easy to call this a horrifying example of homophobia. Ellen Degeneres recorded a moving message about how even in 2010, teenagers are killing themselves because they get bullied for appearing gay.

Yet, I am not sure that is the story. I know nothing about Ravi. I just kept thinking as a newly arrived Indian college student in America, I would have not dared to come out to folks like Ravi’s parents. I would think they would not understand.

But, I would have had no qualms coming out to someone like Dharun Ravi.

My activist friend Urvashi Vaid who went on to head the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force often said not to worry about the conservatism of the uncle-auntie generation of the Indian immigrant community. It’s all changing with the next generation, she’d say. Her nephew was cool with all this. As is my niece. They have grown up knowing gay people. It’s not a big deal.

Could it be too much “not a big deal?” I don’t think it’s as simple as saying Ravi was homophobic. This is not Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, pistol-whipped and left to die, tied to a fence like a scarecrow by men he met at a bar. That was 1998.

This is 2010. Clementi was out to Ravi. He requested permission to use the room to entertain his date. He complained on a forum that his roommate was tweeting about him and had turned the webcam on. He thought about moving out but worried a new roommate could be worse. He said he was “pissed” and his roommate was “obnoxious.” He sounds annoyed, not suicidal, paranoid about finding all the webcams.

In a strange way this is about a nonchalance around sexuality where it has become a public sport. A few years ago, a teenager in India videotaped his female classmate performing oral sex on him on his cell phone and emailed it around. It got auctioned off on India's subsidiary of eBay and became a viral sensation. The young woman apparently had to leave the country. Did he intend to hound her out of the country? Probably not. Just as Ravi and Wei probably never intended for Clementi to jump off a bridge.

Maybe they thought they were just having fun. A sort of online game of showmanship and truth-or-dare with ever higher stakes. Privacy meant nothing. It was just a game and they needed to outfox Clementi to get to the next level. We want people to watch us online. We want them to follow us on Twitter. We don’t care that our online hijinks have real-life consequences. It’s as if we get more points in our virtual worlds if we catch our friends in flagrante delicto. We are perpetually on candid camera, playing gotcha with our webcams.

Coming out has always been a lonely process. You could grow up in a country with a billion people and not know how to find another gay person. I remember standing in a phone booth in Mumbai, trying to pluck up the courage to call a newsweekly because one of their editors had come out as gay in an article I had read. I never did make the call.

The Internet changed that. Now gay men and women, coming out in small towns, in remote corners can safely find other people to chat with, create virtual world wide webs of support while sitting in their own bedrooms. An Internet group in India, GayBombay eventually became a flesh-and-blood group that hosted parent support meets.

Yet, Clementi's death proves the Internet is a double-edged sword. Ravi and Wei are accused by the media of sexually harassing and bullying Clementi. That they could have done any time, in person, in private. They were not even trying to out him. They just wanted the world to see him online with his pants down. They wanted to tweet about it. They wanted to make his private encounter a "free show" for the world to see. They probably thought it was not a big deal. But it was. Horribly so. Done without his consent and streamed to the whole world to see.

It's just life in the online world where everything is fair game and privacy is just a Facebook option.

Chillingly, Clementi left behind his last message as an update on his Facebook page.

"Jumping off the gw bridge, sorry."
 

Comments

 
Anonymous

Posted Oct 1 2010

You are making excuses for inexcusable behavior, no matter what their last names were.

Anonymous

Posted Oct 1 2010

How can you NOT see their behavior as uncivil and a form of bullying ? Your logic and rationalization escape me.
As a mixed heritage American, I simply cannot find a justifiable excuse in the "you have to understand" response you seem to be having.

Anonymous

Posted Oct 2 2010

I am very disappointed in your article. I listen to you a lot on the radio and think very highly of you, but I think you've gotten this event all wrong, and I think the ethnicity of those involved has clouded your judgement.

I think the act of Ravi and Wei was incredibly thoughtless and mean. I do think their actions are what led to Clementi jumping off the bridge. He has been described in articles as being a very private person. Everyone should be able to choose when and if they come out to someone. These things were taken away from him.

It seems as though you are making excuses for Ravi and Wei and there deplorable behavior.

Anonymous

Posted Oct 2 2010

very dismissive and insensitive

Anonymous

Posted Oct 3 2010

Takes the situation to lightly. The offense was real: insensitivity, veiled homophobia.

Sandip Roy

Posted Oct 3 2010

I dont think I am trying to excuse their behavior or justify it. I am just saying the story is more complicated than a straightforward case of homophobia. Look, I am Indian American, I know there is homophobia in spades in my community. But in this case, i think there is also something going on about the role of privacy and our online lives. It struck me that the way we have tried to reconstruct what happened was from online records. The way these two kids tried to humiliate Clementi was online. The way Clementi left his "suicide note" was online.

Sandip Roy

Posted Oct 3 2010

I am sorry you thought that I was trying to excuse inexcusable behavior. i was not. I was just saying that my read of it was the story was not just an open-shut case of homophobia.

Anonymous

Posted Oct 10 2010

www.viqtorino.wordpress.com
www.twitter.com/BowTiePundit

Gay Left Exploits Suicides for Political Gain

Tragic are the fates of Tyler Clementi and all self-slain gays. But most tragic is the exploitation of their deaths—deaths which the gay Left now actively spin into political gold. In times of dwindling Democrat donations and discouraging legislative defeat, gay special interest groups are now mobilizing to boost LGBT boodle and bolster the agenda’s ailing morale—all with gay suicide victims in toe.

The Left is frantically patting its pockets for crumbs. Due in large part to the economic downturn, overall Democrat campaign contributions have ebbed steadily since the 2004 election cycle. Gay special interest donations—nearly all of which buoy Democrat candidates— have also dropped drastically since the 2006 and 2008 cycles, going from $2 million and $1.8 million, respectively, down to $744,040 for 2010 as of September.

Emotional investments have also waned. Despite civil union and adoption rights victories in some states, policy making has been an uphill battle for the gay Left: in 2008, Californians voted to preserve traditional marriage via Proposition 8; in 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted to uphold the ban on male homosexual blood donations; in late 2010, the Senate shot down a defense appropriations bills containing an amendment to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

As gay money and morale diminishes, the media’s latest spate of suicide stories comes as no coincidence. With gay suicides from ages 15 to 24 already projected at 150 annually, why is gay suicide a “national pandemic disease” now?

Because there’s no better way to ramp up political torque and feed the Democrat Mullah Monster than by engineering an anti-gay crisis and stoking liberal zeal.

Democrat-friendly gay groups are now marinating in bully broth to rake in the dinero. The Human Rights Campaign—the largest Democrat-funding gay civil rights group—now headlines bullying as a social justice cause on its website [as of 10/7/10]:

The Arcus Foundation—another top Democrat-subsidizing LGBT organ—also touts the suicide epidemic on its website to finagle donors.

Suicide-baiters like these have subsequently ruffled gay boa feathers everywhere. Facebook, Twitter and the blog-o-sphere now teem with hysterical cries for LGBT donations to “stop this pandemic”.

Gay apologists will whitewash the Left’s demagoguery as “putting faces to a problem”. But the difference between putting faces to a problem and brazen opportunism are the timing and circumstances.

Again, connect the dots: 1) gay and Democrat cash flow is down; 2) gay Left endures back-to-back legislative defeats; 3) though always a problem, gay-bullying is suddenly a pandemic now; 4) LGBT groups flaunt bullying to solicit support.

The only plausible conjecture—and it’s not “mere coincidence”—is that the gay Left is in cahoots with the mainstream media to architect anti-gay fervor.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with having a political agenda. And there’s nothing wrong with making political campaign contributions. But it is wrong to exploit the deaths of our fallen gays—political taxidermy; tombstone lobbying—to prop up that agenda.

Gay irony is rich: using death to bring a movement back to life.

Anonymous

Posted Oct 10 2010

The gay Left WANTS the Clementi tradgety to be an "open-shut case of homophohia" so they can demagogue their agenda.

I agree with the substance of Roy's argument--although I call into question whether you support Ravi solely on the basis of ethnic solidarity. If Clementi and Ravi switched places, would you be so quick to defend Clementi or would you knee jerkly chalk it up to obvious homophobia?

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