The Rutgers Suicide, Did We Help Create the Problem?

Warning: If you’ve met me fairly recently, let’s say in the past ten years, then some of what I say here may fall under the heading of TMI. If you’ve known me for a long time then well, you probably already know the story, and if you don’t, it’s not going to be a big shocker.

When I was a freshman in college I discovered that people had watched me having sex. Apparently, the guy I was sleeping with arranged it. I’d pretty much forgotten about the incident but it was brought back up for me by two recent events. One, I think the guy involved  just “friended” me on Facebook. The second of course is the Rutgers tragedy. Freshman Tyler Clementi killed himself after his roommate posted a video of him having sex with a guy.

There are a lot of differences between what happened to me and what happened to Tyler. The first being that no one did this to humiliate me. I’m not sure exactly why he did it, but I don’t think it had much to do with me. I found out by accident when one of the watchers told his ex-girlfriend (one of my good friends) in an attempt to humiliate her.

I was embarrassed, but not ashamed or humiliated. I hadn’t loved the guy, or expected much out of him. As I remember, I didn’t even like him all that much. He was hot and he lived nearby. It was what I think the kids today refer to as a “booty call.” As far as I know, the story never really went very far. Even if it had, it probably wouldn’t have mattered that much. Having sex with a hot, but obnoxious guy didn’t contradict either my view of myself, or an image I was trying to project. Clearly, that wasn’t the case for Clementi.

There were also no videos or pictures of my embarrassment. Even if there had been video, there wouldn’t have been any way of distributing it to thousands of people for all-eternity. So, even if I had been humiliated and embarrassed, I would have been able to imagine an end to the humiliation.

Now of course, we live in a world where we all walk around with video cameras in our pockets. People tweet about their miscarriages and update their Facebook statuses with every thought and feeling. Now, we live in a world where I, a 41 year old mother, can retell a story about my teenage sex life with confidence that it’s not the most inappropriately personal thing you’ll come across today.

It is not a big jump to go from someone not respecting his own privacy and someone not understanding the idea of respecting someone else’s privacy. So many of us seem to believe that it doesn’t happen online, it doesn’t really happen. Even Tyler Clementi reportedly updated his Facebook status to say “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”

There will always be people who think that it’s ok to use, embarrass or humiliate others with no regard for the consequences. We can’t stop that. But, what this horrible tragedy shows is that we’ve created a world where those consequences are so much more dire. We’ve created a world where there’s no place to hide from your embarrassments.

I said that I think the guy involved “friended” me recently, but I can’t be sure. He has a common name. But what’s more, I can’t quite reconcile the dirty-hot twenty year old with the pudgy 40-something father I see in those tiny Facebook pictures.

That’s because he and I come from a world where our mistakes and embarrassments were temporary, where we were given the chance to grow and move on from the past.

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