Still, there’s No Liberation Here

At around Midnight a few days ago on Tuesday, April 14th, 2009, I happened to notice a news story on CNN about an 11 year old boy named Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover from Massachusetts, who had been taunted, bullied and harassed daily for almost one year straight because he was perceived as gay.  Days before he would have turned 12 on April 17, unable to take it any longer, Carl committed suicide by hanging himself with an electrical cord in his home.

At the time, his mother was cooking dinner, and when Carl didn’t come downstairs from his third floor bedroom to eat, his mother went upstairs to find out why.  To her indescribable shock and horror, she lived every parent’s worst nightmare when she found her son.  Immediately, she cut the electrical cord with a knife given to her by her daughter, Carl’s sister, to try and free her son, but it was too late.  He was dead.

All of the torture, abuse, threats, names and relentless bullying got the best of him, and as no one at the school or any authorities came to his defense in any meaningful way, Carl couldn’t take it anymore.  He was an African American boy who dreamed of growing up, becoming President one day and changing the world – but those dreams are forever gone.

According to the story, his mother, a woman who had survived breast cancer and homelessness, called the school every week, pleading for them to intervene and do something to stop this and protect her son; and of course, as usual, the school didn’t do enough to protect Carl.  Predictably, the school tried to defend itself with some prepared official media statement designed to exonerate themselves of any wrongdoing which was probably drafted by a lawyer.  Why?  Because now they really do care; not about the safety and life of Carl Hoover, but about getting sued.

I felt such a rush of sadness, emotional grief, and tears, not only for him, but for so many people who have been so relentlessly tortured, bullied, harassed and abused.  Some have committed suicide as they felt there was no way out, while so many others have even been murdered – all because of perceived sexual orientation, and gender identity.

When I heard Carl’s story, it was painfully easy for me to relate to, as I’ve been through it myself as well: from the kids on the playground constantly making fun of me, alienating and abusing me, to junior gang bangers chasing me home threatening me with knives in grade school.

In high school, I was harassed daily by students and teachers alike. I remember the high school band teacher choking me on an out of town choral band trip while everyone just stood there casually and watched.

When I was playing piano accompanying talent show singers at a high school talent show, the football jocks kept slamming the lid that covered the piano keys on my fingers to try and break my fingers while I was playing.  Here’s how it went: they’d slam the lid down, I pulled my fingers back just in a knick of time, then they did it again, and so on, till I eventually slipped and fell off the riser I was on.  The fall gave me a serious bleeding gash on my leg – enough to get stitches, but as you would probably expect, I kept playing.  Even back then, the show must go on was my motto and creed.  Later I found out the wound did indeed need stitches, but it was too late for that, so the scar remains, as do so many from that time period.

Emotionally, psychologically, physically and systematically, I lived through this abuse virtually every day I was in school — and I never threatened, harassed or physically hurt anyone else — ever.  So no, I didn’t deserve it as some people have cynically said, merely just because people didn’t like me for being different, a “faggot,” or because I was considered annoying or strange.  One moronic local even had the audacity to recently post a blog that it was my strangeness that actually killed my father, who transitioned into spirit when I was just 15 years old.

Upon graduating high school, I thought I could live my life as I wanted, and be forever free of this abuse, but I quickly learned how that wasn’t true when someone pulled a gun on me in a Hammond, Indiana White Castle hamburger joint parking lot because my friends and I looked so strange.  This person didn’t pull the trigger thankfully, but just stood there pointing the gun and laughing at me for a while, then he smugly walked away.

I had the same shocking disappointment again when I entered the world of rock ‘n’ roll, as I naively thought that rock ‘n’ roll housed the disenfranchised.  Again, I thought the abuse would finally end – but it didn’t at all.  It was just now done by narrow-minded vicious audiences and critics, as rock ‘n’ roll is a tremendously conformist art form and not a place for real misfits, but only for “acceptable” ones.  Being just a smidgen different is hailed as brilliant, but if you’re really out there like I’ve been, you’re in trouble.

Where do you think the ideas came from to write such songs as Knuckle Sandwich, Joan Fan Club, and No Liberation Here?  They were written from a lifetime of horrible personal experiences and a sense of the never ending pain and terror that one only knows if they’ve lived through it or seen someone they love experience it like Carl Hoover’s mother and sister did.  I frequently receive emails from people as young as early teenagers who have been touched by the message of my work, sharing their stories of alienation, social ostacization and abuse wilth me.   

In Knuckle Sandwich, I say the words that people use to taunt me with:

Hey little boy you want a sandwich to eat
It can make your mouth flow
and it tastes pretty neat
I can feel good when I feed you some food
You’re gonna eat my knuckle sandiwich on white 
Can’t throw a football you don’t know how to fight

Your legs are thin and your arms of flab
And your stomach is mush
and you walk like a fag
Don’t come around I’m gonna give it to you
You’re gonna eat my knuckle sandwich on white
Can’t throw a football you don’t know how to fight
©Copyright 1976

With Joan Fan Club, I put myself in the role of the tormentor in the song.  Journalists knew that the piece was autobiographic by proxy, but there were some “fans,” who actually thought that I was just some asshole rock star getting off on making fun of someone for being fat.  Remember, I was the one who was abused — never the abuser.  This was just my very singular artistic way of writing protest songs.

I knew the composition was a social statement that needed to be said, and that it would be relevant decades later, as proven today where the cultural obsession with females being thin is probably at it’s all time highest.

However, I had no idea who painfully prophetic and close to home the song would one day hit.  In recent years, a young boy committed suicide with his father’s gun because of being tormented at school for being different and fat.  His father is a friend of mine I grew up with who used to listen to the very early Skafish band rehearse, and is now a local police officer.  I remember going to the wake in support of him and his son.

The lyrics to Joan Fan Club mirrored this exact kind of bullying:

Hey fat pig we’re gonna push you down the stairs
That’s right, we’re gonna touch your little pizza face
Fat! Hey fatty, you’re a real fox
You know the whole school wants to go out with you
Can I have your autograph?
©Copyright 1977

No Liberation Here was written for people like Carl Hoover and those who have been murdered, or were tormented to the point of feeling that they needed to commit suicide, for being perceived as gay, “acting gay,” being gay, or not manly by our archaic cowboy culture standards:

We don’t have a right
No liberation here
We can’t walk the streets now
Our faces get beat now
We will not pretend
that we have real rights
Here prison does not need bars
Bloodshed today and we know it will not change
We live in shame
©Copyright 1977

Back in the 1970’s, many in the world of rock music accused me of whining about my fucked up shitty little life, and furthermore, who the fuck cares anyway, they mocked.  Of course they’d say that – they didn’t suffer in the same way I did, so they have no empathy.  But I wasn’t just writing about me – it also represented the overwhelming social issues that I clearly saw that hardly anyone else noticed, and I wrote those pieces as modern protest songs.  Back then, I saw the present for what it really was, and I psychically saw how it would evolve in the future.  I knew over thirty years ago that the brief and seemingly real freedom that was enjoyed if the 1970’s was not going to change anything in the long run or last.  In fact, I knew it would get much worse – and it did.

I have the battle scars to prove it, but thankfully, I’m alive and well, so I’m not complaining.  But unfortunately, what happened to Carl Hoover happens all too often, and the list of those who have lost their lives to suicide and murder for these reasons is too long to mention here.

And it speaks to something much bigger than just one child who unnecessarily and tragically lost his life.  It reflects on the tremendous hypocrisy of America.  If Carl Hoover was bullied for being black, and called the “N” word, there would have been tremendous outcry and swift action taken against anyone would have even uttered such a word.

But of course in this culture, it’s still ok to attack, harass, discriminate, taunt, physically assault and even murder someone for being perceived as gay.  Keep in mind, he wasn’t a young man who ever identified himself as being gay – it was merely the perception that he “acted gay” that did him in – meaning, he didn’t talk like a junior thug and had a more feminine demeanor, which in our cowboy culture, is the ultimate sin.

And one might ask how a country that prides itself on freedom and equality for all is so terribly hypocritical, where gender orientation and sexuality is still such a hot button?  Fortunately, at least there seems to be some awareness and sensitivity regarding racial discrimination and people with disabilities, but even in those areas, there is still a very long way to go.

If the school officials and proper authorities would have acted to protect Carl Hoover in the way they should have and could have done, he would still be alive today.  According to one report, right before his suicide, a girl threatened to beat him up and kill him, and the school’s solution was to make Carl and the girl eat lunch together for several days to “work it out.”

There are several factors that spell out America’s hypocrisy quite clearly:  First, religion plays a huge part in all of this.  With the Christian right morphing Jesus Christ into the ultimate homophobic hit-man, anyone who is perceived as gay (therefore labeled as gay), is ok to attack.  We all hear religious zealots citing the “Word of God” as explaining why it’s ok to discriminate, hate, and even murder.  Have you ever seen the posters that say, “God hates fags?”  Well supposedly, if God said it, then it is a fact, just like the sun rises in the morning.

But there is no way of really proving that God ever said any of this.  People assume that their religious beliefs are irrefutable facts.  And even within the different groups of those who do believe, there are so many variations on such ideologies, that it is ludicrous to simply use the “Word of God” as the justification for such attitudes and actions.  But religion is a terribly powerful and damaging force in this instance as it incites hysteria and mindless action in the masses who don’t think for themselves.

Secondly, we live in a culture that embraces and celebrates the worst and darkest sides of masculinity: men who are violent, ruthlessly powerful, greedy and rich, recreationally cheating on their wife or girlfriend as a validation of their manhood, sexually promiscuous with lots of “hot babes” who are used and dismissed, and asserting controlling, domineering behavior.

To be perceived as gay is to be viewed as weak, effeminate, someone not manly, and ultimately less than a real man.  So just as dogs attack the weaker of the pack to assert primitive dominance, the same thing happens to those who are perceived as gay.  They are attacked verbally, physically and on all levels.

Third, many people are consciously or unconsciously afraid of what might be lurking within their own sexuality.  They might fear that they have gay tendencies and that it’s like a cancer growing within them.  So by hating, it means that they’re normal, manly and a regular guy.  Since many are not as comfortable with their own sexuality as they pretend to be, their internal insecurities become hot buttons and are turned around on others who don’t represent male stereotypes as it holds up a mirror.

Boys who are young are especially sensitive about these issues, because they’re understandably insecure in their own sexuality and manhood, only beginning to come into their own male identity, and filled with fear.  So it gets projected outward and onto someone who can be perceived as gay.

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover paid the ultimate price for other’s insecurities and hatred thrust upon him, and he took his own life because of it.  How many more times will someone die before our primitive society grows up and simply allows people to live in freedom and peace?

Most of us have all heard of the Matthew Shepard story, who was a 21 year old student at the University of Wyoming who was tortured and subsequently murdered in October 1998, near Laramie, Wyoming.  This was all done for only one reason – because he was gay.

Another example of this heinous type of torture was the murder of 15 year old Lawrence King, an eighth grader in California who came out as being gay and wore makeup and nail polish.  He was shot in his school classroom by a 14 year old fellow student and died in February 2008.

Forget the illusion that the entertainment field and pop culture presents: that everyone is happily living in harmony together: gay, bisexual, straight, transgender, the weird folks side by side laughing with the normal folks, tra la la.

If you’re perceived as gay, “act gay,” or are gay, the reality, as it stands now, is that your job, reputation, social standing, property, legal rights, physical safety and actual life are still all at risk in America.

For more information on how to stop the bullying, here are some valuable websites:

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network:

http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/home/index.html

Resources for stopping bullying:

http://www.stopbullyingnow.com/

http://stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/index.asp?area=main

In the uk:

http://www.beatbullying.org/?gclid=CPfa2ZfG-ZkCFQENDQodjCinEQ

© 2009 Jim Skafish 

16 Replies to “Still, there’s No Liberation Here”

  1. I can relate to this in a lot of ways. As a kid I was “different” and therefore found myself in a good deal of fights. Some were won, some were lost, though i never stood down. In high school, i had pierced both of my ears which led to me being suspended. I contacted the ACLU at the time (1983), and even they were not interested. As a senior in High school, i was part of a work study group where i was the only member of the class never to get a job. I found later that the teacher didn’t want the “fagot with the eyeliner” representing his program. I follow stories of gaybashing in the media, particularly those that affect the trans community, and when when you look at the comments in forums related to these stories, it’s downright depressing. There are still many otherwise “upstanding” citizens out there who believe its perfectly acceptable to crush a person’s skull if the victim happened to present themselves as the gender that they felt inside. As far as the music world is concerned, I’ve found both acceptance, and intolerance in surprising places. Like you, I was known for appearing in drag, especially with my previous band. I found that some people who fancied themselves as open minded were suddenly freaked out. Conversely, i found that some people i had perceived as conservatives were actually a little more open minded than i had given them credit for, so go figure? When I’m discussing music with people, I’ve noticed that certain people want no parts of notable artists such as Bob Mould, Thom Yorke, Moby,Michael Stipe, and others, I think all based on the perception that these guys either are, or might be gay. I think in some ways that things are better for today’s youth, but I’m sure that the pressures for an adolescent remain the same. I’d like to conclude by putting some positive spin on this all, but sadly, i can’t.

  2. This is one reason I’m so disillusioned about organized religion these days. The inbred Phelps family and their ilk have made it acceptable to peddle hate speech directed at homosexuals because “the Bible says it’s a sin.”

    The Bible also says that we are not to judge others! And that of all God’s messages, “the greatest of these is love.” But since they only cherry pick the scripture that suits their hateful outlook on life, they will have missed that.

    Inner cities will always be especially difficult for gay kids, because the environment is so harsh and the pecking order is so much more pronounced (and, as you said, the thug culture prevails). But it always breaks my heart when a kid takes his/her own life because they can’t stand the pain anymore and see nothing but a bleak future.

    Oh, and this is beside the point, but I hope Mrs. Hoover cleans that school out–down to the last janitor’s bucket.

  3. Thank you for this Jim. I hope that you don’t mind me reposting this on Facebook so that I may share this very important piece with others.
    Bless you,
    Bill Meehan

  4. Mary Alice — It’s great to reconnect! I just want to let you know how much I appreciate everything you did for me back in the day. Your spirit is amazing! Jim Skafish

  5. Baby Doll — I am deeply touched by your story and your words. I know it’s hard to put a positive spin on it, but we all have to keep pushing for equality and fairness for everyone. I, at least take inspiration in spreading a new gospel of acceptance for everyone. Jim Skafish

  6. Aaron — I appreciate what you’ve said here. It’s hard to embrace organized religion when it has such a fascist edge to it.

    I agree with you, and regarding what I believe is real spirituality, we’re all OK. Jim Skafish

  7. Bill — Thanks for the repost on Facebook. Writing this has been quite emotional for me, but I’ve never run away from emotional pain, but rather, I’ve always tried to confront it with the hope of healing. Jim Skafish

  8. Dan — That is such a good and valid point. Yet, to keep creating, there needs to be sensitivity, or those channels of creative flow can get shut down with the toughness. Jim Skafish

  9. Nice thoughts, but they’re undermined by acting like the Rev. Fred Phelps is some kind of mainstream Christian presence…and nobody should kid themselves that Phelps is just saying out loud what every Christian believes in his or her’s conformist heart. Still, much thanks to Skafish for writing rare songs about high-school torment that didn’t really whine at all. They were actually kind of kick-ass.

  10. Thanks “Sensitive, not Christian.” Phelps may not represent everyone, but the attitudes of extreme right-wing Christianity have been directing the Christian movement ever since the religious right thrust its way into politics and law in the 1970’s. Sure, there’s nice Christians too, but they’re not the ones trying to legislate their moral stance and dismiss others who are coming from a different place. Jim Skafish

  11. Hi Jim,

    I was unaware of this story, so thank you for bringing it to my attention. I always enjoy reading your blog posts as they are so inspirational to me. I can relate to Carl and the experiences he went thru. When I was in grammar school I was constantly picked on because of the way I acted, dressed, and presented myself. I was not one to follow the crowd and I was very kept to myself. People looked at me as being “weird.” This happened all the way up until I graduated high school. Kids would find anything and point it out about me. For instance, if my shorts were too short I would be called gay if I said something like “super cool” I was automatically gay. I remember in 10th grade history class a bunch of punks decided to throw cat toys at me during a movie. Oh how I dreaded when a movie would be shown in class. The same select people would constantly bug the hell out of me until I graduated high school. There were a countless number of times where I would hide in the nurses office and pretend to be sick just for an excuse to go home. Luckily for me my house was a “home” and many kids are not as fortunate to come from a safe environment like myself. While I cannot relate to everything you, or Carl went thru I do know where you are coming from. Many of your songs do speak to me and I can feel the meaning of them. Now I have just finished up my sophomore year of college and I no longer have to deal with the harsh remarks from others. I am not very socially active, but that is fine by me as I chose to lead the life I do. I enjoy life to the fullest and while I am reminded of my past I look towards the future and all that it has to offer.

    Thank you,
    Justin

  12. Justin! I am moved and touched by your words and what you’ve shared here. There must be hope to move to a better life, and it sounds just like you’re doing that. I am so pleased to hear that you’re happier now! Jim

  13. Jim,
    I echo everything you said. We MUST speak up for those too weak or broken to speak out for themselves. Carl couldn’t do it for himself, now we can’t let the Carl’s of the world down by remaining silent. Happy PRIDE to us all!

    Tim Cain
    Boys’ Entrance

  14. Tim! It has always been my sincerest hope that all people: straight, gay, black, white, and everything under the sun could coexist harmoniously and find fascination in each other’s differences — and not react in a primitive tribal fashion. Peace and acceptance to all! Jim

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