The desexualization of bullying

I was going to try to come up with a fancier more accessible title, but I can’t right now. But I sure better by May! I’ve been invited to speak at an bullying awareness event in Austin Texas this May. While I jumped at this opportunity to share my work (and support my friend who is organizing the event), I quickly realized that I am no bullying expert. But, for better or for worse, not being a total expert on a topic as not stopped me before…

I am an expert on adolescent sexuality and sexual development. I also have a pretty good handle on youth and technology and how that impacts their development (hence, this blog). So, how to use my strengths in the context of this upcoming event? Tie all of these issues together — sexuality, technology, and bullying. I have found my comfort zone!

What’s odd is that while so much of bullying has a sexual undertone or is blatantly about sex or sexuality or at least gender, most bullying curricula, anti-bullying campaigns, etc., do not acknowledge this important association. Bullying is seen as harassment, teasing, isolation, and assault. But under no circumstances should one put the word “sexual” in front of any of those terms and call it bullying.

Why this separation? Why not discuss sexual harassment while discussing bullying? Where is the conversation about sexual respect and self-worth in curricula that addresses the need to be nice to others? Are (anti) bullying experts afraid to talk about sex? Does it complicate things too much? Does it narrow their message?

Whatever the reason, I think it’s important to accept the fact that a lot of bullying has to do with sexuality. An obvious example is about name-calling due to sexual orientation and/or gender expression (and the “Think Before You Speak” campaign does a good job of calling this out). But what about sexting under pressure? Spreading rumors? Calling someone a ho or slut? These are unfortunately very common ways to bullying another, but where’s the conversation about the sexual components?

I hope to be able to speak more eloquently about this topic in the future. For now, I will continue to explore this rift and see if I can’t begin to bridge the gap between my interests and the important work done to decrease bullying among youth.

Coming Out: Too Good Not to Share

Just posting the New York Times feature, Coming Out, featuring the stories of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. Although inspired by violence, this coverage, which includes the voices of youth involved in the military, their church, and daily life, shows that there can be peace. The main video stories are inspiring, but the reader submissions remind us that not everyone is supported.

Thanks to the internet, everyone can read, learn from, and share these stories. Silence can be broken, people can see that they are not alone, and hopefully a better understanding of sexual and gender orientations can begin to break down the fears so many people have about these typical teens who are so much more than who they love or how they present themselves.

Internet communities: Strengthening the global or local?

I found this post (please excuse the numerous editing issues, as recognized in its own disclaimer) extremely interesting in the way it challenged how young people use the internet to form community. I have read quite a bit speculating (there is so little research and not much anecdotal information either) on how sexual and gender minority are reaching out online to form community. Most of this information discovers how these youth use the internet to reach out of their isolated communities to find others “like them” in other places.

This is not the case here.

Mary Gray, of the Communication and Culture dept. at Indiana University, gives an example of how rural youth use the internet to strengthen their LOCAL community of LGBTQ youth. It’s a neat case study that makes me wonder how widespread it is.

Another point I appreciate: the fact that these youth feel safer in public venues rather than hidden in their own identities, or online. To me, a supporter of these youth, it is reassuring that they are trying to make themselves visible and part of the community.