Editor’s Note: The following letters are in response to Paul Varnell’s column “Death by Homophobia” in the February 28 issue of Lavender:
What is it going to take to pass hate-crime legislation? Another person to be murdered because they are gay? Homophobia in schools has reached the extreme of one youth killing another because a student was not afraid to “express his gayness.” It is sad that we, as GLBT people, have to hide who we are in certain situations to be safe.
In “Death by Homophobia,” Paul Varnell suggested that Lawrence King needed “some other, less risky, ways to express his gayness.” I understand what the author is saying, that safety in this case was more important than self-expression. However, it is unfortunate that this is the way it has to be.
Why is it that kids cannot dress the way they want to in school, without worrying about whether they will be a victim of violence?
Paul Varnell implies that some responsible grown-up, gay or otherwise, should have advised Lawrence King that one need not dress in drag to express being gay. My question for Varnell is: What rock have you been living under?
Many men, gay and otherwise, like to dress in a manner traditionally identified as female. Likewise, a significant number of women were born with bodies that are biologically male. Perhaps King was more accurately a victim of—oh, I don’t know, maybe—transphobia?
King’s manner of dress most certainly made him more vulnerable to violence. The problem, however, does not lie with his choices, but with a society that continues to punish alternative forms of gender expression, even while ever-so-slowly opening its doors to same-sex orientation.
While all GLBT persons run the risk of falling victim to bigotry, it is the most out, the most “obviously” queer, who are most likely to be attacked. Does that mean that we should be advising kids to stifle their identities?
Maybe King did not dress in drag because he thought that was the only way to express being gay. Maybe he dressed in drag because, like so many other brave souls out there, he wanted to and dared to be him(or her)self.
According to Varnell’s reasoning, African American youth would be well-advised to behave as Caucasian as possible; Muslim youth should take care to steer clear of traditional garb; and Latino youth would do well to avoid the Spanish language.
The fact is that we all deserve to live our lives authentically, and it benefits no one to blame a victim’s tragic death on genuine self-expression.
Paul Varnell’s “Death by Homophobia” could just as easily been called “Death by Transphobia,” and it’s painfully ironic that the author does not make that connection. He has no right to judge if someone identifies or expresses their gayness “correctly,” except for himself.
Gender identity and gender discrimination are obviously at least part of the issue for at least those who attacked the teen, if not also for the teen, the school officials, and seemingly even Varnell.
What would I advise the teen to do? As a former adviser for Together for Youth, a queer youth group in Duluth, Minnesota, that has had crossdressing, gay-identified teens in attendance: Get in touch with transgender and/or genderqueer groups and resources; don’t be afraid to find out and be proud of who you are. I was a dyke when I facilitated those support meetings. I’m a transman now.
Varnell’s wish—“Shouldn’t someone have advised him against going to school dressed in a way that exposed him to harassment”—is misogynist and transphobic. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by another example of a G not understanding any relation to us T’s.
Thanks for E.B. Boatner’s editorial in the same issue that brings Lavender back to its senses. Instead of blaming the eighth grader for being attacked, let’s all work together to make the world a safer place for all kids to discover who they are.
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