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On Youtube there is an interview with Lambda Literary award winning writer Kate Bornstein, promoting Borstein’s then-new book Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and other Outlaws (Seven Stories Press), essentially a suicide survival guide. The interview takes a turn towards the disturbing when Kate opens up the discussion for callers. Many callers resort to highly inappropriate, offensive, juvenile comments. One caller asks about the smell of Kate’s “fake” vagina, another states he had his buttocks surgically sewn up and now defecates through his penis, one claims to have his testes caught in a mousetrap, and another states he contemplated suicide due to bad diarrhea. The comments were infantile and debasing—and particularly disheartening since they were coming from what sounded like grown men. It was uncomfortable to watch. Youtube suggested I might be interested in the video after I watched Bornstein’s video contribution to the It Gets Better project. In it, ze states that some days ze questions if it does get better. If the day of the interview wasn’t one of those days, I shudder to think what one would look like.
Viewing the video amplified for me the importance of the book that was being promoted. There was no shame to the callers’ crassness and hostility. These were not male callers fearful of their voices being recognized and being outed as intolerant or uneducated. It is a video they might play for their friends, elbowing each other at what they think is a good line. When the calls were terminated, the callers would redial to continue the harassment.
This treatment of an adult, Brown graduate, and author of numerous books illuminates only a small slice of what adolescents face. It can be a cruel world and watching that video is painful proof.
I don’t know personally know Kate Bornstein but I felt for hir. What was disturbing was how seemingly unfazed ze was by the callers. I assume being the recipient of such vitriol is commonplace. Hearing the harshness of how differentness is handled is discouraging.
The harassing callers are possibly parents, neighbors, husbands, and big brothers to someone. The Internet doesn’t seem to be a safe space for transmitting personal information due to cyber bulling and predators. There is also the question of how does a young person safely access information with parental web filers that vet content and flagged words automatically sending a history report to parents’ email addresses.
A physical book can still be the safest means, whether it’s checked out, read discreetly in the stacks, or even pilfered out of desperation. The Hello Cruel World website gives suggestions on purchasing the book and how to donate it to libraries. If our own personal experience with bullying, hostility, and feelings of isolation weren’t reason enough to donate copies of the book to libraries, watching that interview was enough.
Author Note: Kate’s gender free pronouns of choice, hir and ze, are used.