I was surprised last night when my mom said they should put Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei in jail for what they did to Tyler Clementi, a young man who took his life last week after Ravi and Wei spread video of him engaging sexually with another man on the internet. I shouldn’t be too shocked, she always treated my gay friends as her own, but she’s also always been a little bit homophobic.
Is this because she is from India and Indian culture is uniquely homophobic? Yes and no. South Asian culture is not uniquely homophobic compared to other cultures. There is a vibrant and organized GLBT community in India, not to mention existence and comfort with queer and transgender identity prior to the language of the “gay rights movement.” There is homophobia in India, like anywhere else and when South Asians come to the United States they bring values with them that mix and mingle with American values. And considering recent decisions around DADT and gay marriage, it is clear homophobia is an American value.
Sandip Roy took on this question about homophobia and Ravi and Wei’s desire to expose Clementi concluding it was not as much about Clementi being gay, but more about the “gotchya” culture the internet has facilitated and college students having fun essentially stalking, harassing and ridiculing people online,
Maybe they thought they were just having fun. A sort of online game of showmanship and truth-or-dare with ever higher stakes. Privacy meant nothing. It was just a game and they needed to outfox Clementi to get to the next level. We want people to watch us online. We want them to follow us on Twitter. We don’t care that our online hijinks have real-life consequences. It’s as if we get more points in our virtual worlds if we catch our friends in flagrante delicto. We are perpetually on candid camera, playing gotcha with our webcams.
Roy is right in the sense that the internet has given us tools to further the reality-TV-esque ethos of right now, where we want the “truth,” we want to expose people as frauds and we want to humiliate them. We love to watch people get embarrassed and embarrass themselves. But while I understand this argument, I have to disagree that this was merely a game of show and tell. There was something unique to Clementi’s sexuality that made it more salacious for Ravi and Wei to expose it. If he were not gay, if it were not outside the bounds of what is considered “normal” college sexuality, it would not have been as exciting for Ravi and Wei to post the video a la, “omg teh gay sects!!!!”
Roy expresses that in his experience, he would feel comfortable coming out to someone like Dharun Ravi. I know it is difficult to generalize in these situations, there are always exceptions to the rule, but I probably wouldn’t. Many of my friends in my east coast South Asian community had atrocious views on sexuality, race, class and gender. This is not to put unique blame on them for not being liberal enough (or ignore how many amazing, radical, desis I know!) but to name it. In many ways they were responding to the reality that South Asians are rewarded culturally in the United States for feeding into model minority myths. Myths which are predicated on specific ideas of race, class, gender and sexuality. As South Asians we are often expected to be superhuman Americans that embody everything that is “good” about the American dream. And just as I would have a hard time bringing home someone who is not Indian to marry, I too would have a tough time coming out as gay in my community. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have allies or I wouldn’t be able to do it, I’m just being real. There has always been an extra pressure to be as “normal,” as possible, something I am sure South Asians and non-South-Asians alike can relate to.
It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that Ravi himself was bullied or pressured to be a certain way as a child, like so many young South Asian kids growing up in the US. The unfortunate reality is that sometimes kids that were bullied grow up to be bullies too. As South Asians, we can’t let our fear of being culturally homogenized as uniquely homophobic stop us from pointing out when someone is an asshole and calling them out for it. Ravi and Wei were bullies leveraging their straightness and American bravado to shame someone because of their sexual orientation. Did they intend for Clementi to kill himself? Probably not. But they are guilty of shaming him. Ravi and Wei have both said they didn’t have anything against Clementi’s sexual orientation, but sadly, that doesn’t really matter anymore.