For Jamel, We Must Do Better
An utterly devastating news story made its way online today, one that never should have had to be written.
A wonderfully brave 9-year-old boy named Jamel Myles was reported dead after committing suicide, just days after coming out as gay. Again, he was 9 years old.
The fact that a child was pushed to such a dark, helpless place because of other children’s taunts is sadly one that we’ve heard before, which is why I’m writing this. There’s many factors to the story that make it so difficult to process, like the realisation that a 9-year-old child has most likely asked Google how they should kill themselves.
The most frustrating is knowing fine well that the children who lead Jamel to take his own life learned their homophobia from people who already know its effects can be fatal.
Parents, guardians, siblings, other relatives, family friends — older people who have read or heard stories just like this before. Yes, children today have unlimited access to the internet that could expose them to unthinkable kinds of behaviour but the responsibility ultimately lies in the hands of the bullies’ elders.
People have perceived being young and gay as the easiest it has ever been, which in some ways I do understand, however I do not agree. Remembering how all-encompassing it felt to receive a hateful or threatening message on MSN at 11, I simply cannot imagine how horrific bullying must be today when kids cannot escape from school as their entire world extends to social media from unbelievably young ages. Those suffering probably aren’t able to cry on their walk home from school then forget about it for 8 hours when their phones are going off with more of the same.
To anyone dim enough to squawk “you got gay marriage?” when confronted with homophobia, this should make it quite clear that the bigotry and hatred spewed at queer people has nothing to do with marriage. It never fucking has been.
Almost immediately after the story hit Twitter, replies claiming he was “too young” to come out or be “flaunting” it flooded in. As did the classic “I blame the media” because someone must be be blamed for horrifying homosexuality. The frightening thing is that those who say these sorts of things can wholeheartedly believe that they’re not homophobic. It’s the same people who will call their mate a “poof” as lad banter then try to guilt trip you when you call them out on it. No matter how liberal you may think you are, take a proper look at yourself.
Believing someone is “too young” to know their sexuality or to come out is inherently homophobic because it implies that it being queer is a choice — and worse, the wrong choice. It also excuses Jamel’s bullies as you align yourself with them in believing that someone like him wholly embracing himself is wrong. So then, when faced with a child’s suicide, do you believe it is merely the result of welcome abuse that you would agree with?
No, he did not have a sexuality, and nor did I at 9 years old. I didn’t understand what I was because of a deafening silence and no resources to help me figure out what me being different meant. In today’s (slightly) more queer-friendly landscape, resources are there, role models are there, people for young queer kids to relate with are there. Luckily, this can save younger people from the seemingly never-ending years of confusion that past generations endured. This does not mean that he was sexual or trying to be with his coming out; he was just confident in who he was at an age that many wish they could have been, and supremely brave to tell the world. The fact that Jamel came out didn’t warrant his abuse, just like not coming out didn’t save myself or countless others from receiving any.
Being gay or queer in any way is much more than the sexuality. I can only speak for myself here but being gay is my femininity, my interests, my taste, my blood — and this is all part of the problem. It’s what continues to intimidate and frighten people, for reasons that I will never truly understand no matter how much I study human behaviour. Whether queer people make themselves known or not, they will be attacked — and this is a pattern that can only ever change if those responsible, all of us, teach future generations.
Listen to the adults who were fortunate enough to survive. Realise that they were children just like Jamel and the others struggling today. We don’t just magically appear as teenagers or adults, which every person so ignorant to suggest so knows fine well as they were likely the ones doing the bullying when we were kids. In a world that seems to be reverting back to its former ways every day it seems ridiculous to say let’s learn from the past, but it is the only hope that we have to ensure that queer youth eventually don’t have to endure such pain.
We cannot let another generation grow up in fear believing there is only one way out. We must encourage love and use our voices loudly to fight for what is right. When a child takes their own life, everyone should realise their responsibility in this world to do better. That’s why I’m writing this.
If anyone feeling lost or in pain ever stumbles upon this, I want you to know that whatever you feel you are, it is more than okay or fine — it’s brilliant. It’s celebrated. It’s beautiful. You are incredible and strong and, most importantly, loved. Reading older strangers across the world say things like this was always difficult for me at times when it seemed completely impossible but please know that no one is worth your life or your shine.
Jamel, your magnificent bravery is awe-inspiring, and I’m so sorry that people weren’t ready for you. Rest in peace, love.
Don’t suffer in silence. If you ever need someone to talk to when feeling low or worse, please call:
Switchboard (UK): 0300 330 0630
The Trevor Project (US): 1–866–488–7386