I've noticed a trend in several media sources lately that has me disturbed. When the topic of Kony2012 and the group behind it, Invisible Children, many cite the group's ties to religious fundamentalists. Fair enough. Others talk about the group's mission and whether or not they're helping or hurting Ugandans. Again, a valid topic.
Many blogs and newspapers though - straight and gay - seem to be more interested in speculating about founder Jason Russell's sexual orientation. After the guy had a mental breakdown last week and was found wandering the streets of San Diego naked and ranting, the same sites were more concerned about his dangly bits and effeminate hand gestures than showing the least bit of compassion for someone who's obviously in mental distress. Even the International Business Timesjumped on the bandwagon.
We're not gonna say Russell comes off gay in this clip--mainly because we don't have to: Russell pretty much outs himself with his slow-leak sibilant esses and talk of "making Hollywood musicals like Moulin Rouge and Chicago and Hairspray."
The video and some more thoughts after the break. Because I'm just as guilty; I just didn't put it on the internet.
Russell is a handsome man and he does have some stereotypical "gay" mannerisms and, apparently, interests. Here's a short clip from his speech before Jerry Falwell clones at Liberty University.
He likes musicals. He uses a lot of hand gestures. His voice doesn't sound like a cigarette smoking, beer drinking trucker's. And he's married.
Obviously this allows us to see into his innermost psyche and declare him a big fat closet case, right? A real man wouldn't want to make musicals, amIright? Stereotypes exist for a reason and this guy fits them all so, bammo, closet case. Snap judgement made.
What is it about us a community that we've fine-tuned our radar to not only find other gay men who we could befriend, date, or fuck, but also allows us to pinpoint the far right religious fundamentalist closet cases like Marcus Bachmann or Ted Haggard? What gives us the right to make these decisions about "enemies" while at the same time we preach to straight people that they shouldn't judge us?
I watched the first TMZ video of Russell running around the streets of San Diego with a sympathetic eye. I felt sorry for him. As a person with bipolar disorder, I know how close I've come to being hospitalized when the disease flares up.
The video is painful for me to watch because I'd die of embarrassment if I did that. I can rationalize with myself that if it did happen, it wouldn't be my fault obviously, but that doesn't take away the small seed of fear that it could happen to me too. It makes me feel embarrassed for him.
I know that stress if a major trigger and there's nothing more stressful than being talked about non-stop by media outlets worldwide. I sympathized. I wanted to protect him from some of the slings and arrows that come when people realize you have a mental disorder. It's painful and obviously doesn't help recovery. For someone who's already in that head space, the extra attention and gossip about their mental health only makes things worse.
Soon enough another video found it's way to the gossip site. Queerty introduced it with, "...in addition to highlighting Russell's pretty smokin' bod, it reveals some gesturing that's more limp-wristed than Rip Taylor trying to put our a three-alarm fire in WeHo."
Here's the thing. When I watched that video I thought the same thing. I, literally, looked at Jerame and said, "Well, this guy is obviously a closet case." My disapproving holier-than-thou morality went right out the window and I knew that Russell was a secret mo. I mean, how obvious is it? Look at those hand gestures!
It took me about 3 minutes of sitting on the couch full of smug condescension before I snapped back to reality. Who gives a fuck? Is this man's sexuality that important? Or is compassion for his situation? Talk about adding fuel to an already raging fire... "Hey, we realize you're having a nervous breakdown right now because of all the attention you've garnered in the past couple of weeks, but how about we question your personal moral integrity while you're already sick? That's bound to help you feel better quickly!"
[I deleted a YouTube video that was purported to be Russell, but was actually a hoax from this section. I also deleted three paragraphs about the video.]
Russell's wife has now come forward to blame the stress of the video's success and the subsequent internet hateful remarks and conjecture that inevitably followed. I believe her. As a frequent target of ire on the web, it can be very depressing and downright dangerous to read some of the things that are written about me by people who don't know me at all. While some of it is simply ludicrous, other jabs cut deeply. It takes a toll. It wasn't that long ago that I confessed to a regular reader that I wasn't writing about anything of importance at the time because my mental health was a little unstable thanks to stress, overwork, and constant personal attacks on the web.
Sadly, oftentimes the people who need help the most are the least likely to get it. A friend said a couple of months ago that he'd seen a young homeless man at a Chicago bus stop who was obviously mentally ill. He talked about how his partner mentioned that if the man had been on medication, he probably wouldn't be in the position he was.
"I started to think about people I know, and how some of them might have just been lucky to have access to the various things they needed to avoiding a similar fate," he said. "It was sobering."
I'm one of those people. If it weren't for the medications I take daily, there's a chance that I could have been out banging on cars and screaming naked in the streets. I think that's the much bigger discussion that's being overlooked.