Give A Damn And Mean It

How many teenagers, gay or straight, need to commit suicide or be bullied to death for us wake the fuck up? I remember hearing about Matthew Shepard—twelve years ago—and weeping. I was mystified that his story was true. I think of him now and weep again. At the time, I was naive enough to think it would be an isolated incident. He was tortured and beaten to death for being brave enough to show the world who he was. We should all be so brave and not hide behind our bullshit “How are you?” “Oh, fine and you” interactions. We should all have the courage to be real. And we should be accepted for it. No matter what.

I don’t need to remind you that it is 2010. And still, we haven’t learned. Acceptance is fleeting, intolerance seeps through the pores of too many to counter those who give a damn. And giving a damn is not enough. We need to really fucking give a damn. We need to model acceptance and compassion and refuse to accept less. When someone makes a “cheap Jew” joke, I call bullshit. I don’t care if it makes them uncomfortable. It should. It is not OK and I won’t stand for it.

While this topic is particularly inflammatory with respect to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender equality, it doesn’t stop there. Teenagers especially are at risk, but I see it already in my elementary school age children. Bullying comes in the form of what some erroneously term “harmless teasing” about athletic ability (lack thereof), academic achievement (since when is kicking ass at math and loving to read “bad?”), even glasses wearing. Really? A kid needs glasses and that merits ganging up on him and making him cry. Where the fuck are these kids learning that such behavior is OK?

I rarely pepper my posts with the f-bomb but frankly I am so angry that I cannot see straight. I wish I could find a more potent word to express how angry I am. I want to drop the f-atom bomb. I want an f-mushroom cloud to descend upon those who will not recognize that enough is fucking enough.

I am horrified when I hear about bullying of any kind. What is wrong with our nation, our communities when we cannot bear the thought of accepting people for who they are? Thin, not thin, white, black, rich, poor, athletic, academic, both. I was mercilessly teased in elementary school for being chubby. “Blubber” was the term of choice and I simply took it. Ashamed beyond belief, at a loss as to how to respond, I simply took it. A teacher finally stepped in and I remember her asking my teaser “How do you think it makes Jenny feel when you call her that?” It ended then, but the word echoed in my mind for years after and left a scar I still carry.

I was also teased for being white. I know, poor little white girl, not such a sob story, but it’s true. I was the only white girl in my homeroom and was called “honky” every day throughout junior high. Finally, the matriarch of our class, Adrienne, took the offender aside and said “Yo, Kevin, you leave Jenny alone, she white but she’s cooler than all of ya’ll.” I felt the farthest thing from cool in my OshKosh overalls, chubbiness, good grades and hippie hair, but Adrienne vouched for me, and to her credit, she saw past my exterior to who I was. I still got called “honky” but it didn’t hurt quite as much.  

I know we all have our stories. Rare is the person who did not feel awkward at some point growing up, especially in junior high school. My way around it was to be stoned most of the time, not a strategy I’d recommend. I wish I had been able to talk to my parents, to be honest with my friends about who I was and how I felt. And to celebrate my incredible strengths. Finally, I did. And I believe we must pave the way for all children to do the same: To celebrate their strengths.

My mother, for all of her faults, is an amazing educator and gets how different kids best learn. I eventually transferred to a private school made up of brilliant, creative, academically excellent teachers and students who were all, in many ways, alternative. We were celebrated and appreciated for our special gifts while still learning our ABCs and 123s, paving the way to whatever future we wanted whether it was college, grad school, music, filmmaking, writing, sales, IT, marketing, you name it. What we learned was that we were valued for who we were, no matter what. And that is what we need to teach and preach and practice.

None of what happened to me compares to the persecution of these young people in recent news. We must all start treating each other with respect and compassion. All the time. We must teach this to our children. Now. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Smile at the guy slicing your deli meat. Treat him with respect. Do you like getting flipped off and yelled at in traffic? No? Then don’t do it to me. Do you like being cut in front of in line? Then pay attention to those around you and respect the process. Don’t sneer at your partner. Smile. Give a kiss, a hug. Love your children. Put your money where your vote is. Act up. Vote for equal rights. Be pissed off when they’re not granted. Get angry. Start giving a damn and acting like it. Stop assuming someone else will do it for you. And open your heart to those who might need an ear. Not one more Matthew Shepard or Tyler Clementi. Not one more.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Social Psych, Jenny Kanevsky. Jenny Kanevsky said: Give A Damn And Mean It: […]


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