Apr 10

“13 Reasons Why”: Teenage Suicide Aftermath

If you hear a song that makes you cry and you don’t want to cry anymore, you don’t listen to that song anymore…But you can’t get away from yourself. You can’t decide not to see yourself anymore. You can’t decide to turn off the noise in your head. Hannah in Jay Asher’s 2007 book Thirteen Reasons Why, the basis for Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why

Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times, about the premise of the new 13-episode series 13 Reasons Why

Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) appears more confident and insightful than most of her 17-year-old peers at Liberty High so, when she commits suicide, her parents, the faculty and most of the student body appear stunned. She did, however, leave behind a series of ‘old school’ cassette tapes that provide clues to why she ended her life — and who’s to blame.

The trailer’s below:

The 13 reasons, it turns out, are actually attributed to 13 different individuals, all of whom receive pertinent tapes. “The group must listen to all seven cassettes and follow her instructions on where to find clues. If they don’t? Their secrets will be publicly divulged. Just how Hannah will exact this posthumous punishment is part of the mystery.”

Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe, introduces Hannah’s friend Clay’s key role:

When the show begins, Clay Jensen [Dylan Minnette] has just received the tapes, and we gradually listen to them with him. The tapes also come with a map that takes Clay to some of the locations in Hannah’s chronicle, which includes both the smaller slights directed at her and weightier stories of slut-shaming and assault…

Clay is a sweet, low-key guy who’s shocked to discover that Hannah considered him one of the offenders. They worked together at the local movie theater, and he had a major but unexpressed crush on her — unexpressed, that is, unless you looked hard into his spellbound eyes. That’s one of the mysteries on the show: When will we find out what Clay did or didn’t do?

Leah Greenblatt, ew.com, on the various things that we find out happened to Hannah:

Some betrayals seem relatively small on their own: A nasty note passed, a face-saving rumor spread, a blossoming friendship derailed by a crush. But others are actual criminal offenses: private photos taken without permission, the cover-up of an accidental death, and, in separate episodes, two brutal rapes.

Maureen Ryan, Variety, lists some compelling questions raised—but not answered:

How can adults tell when the secrets teenagers are hiding are devastating or relatively benign? When do a frustrated teenager’s attempts to deploy healthy skepticism and reasonable detachment slide into depression, and how can a family member or friend spot the difference? How can young men and women — including LGBTQ youth — be true to who they are without fearing the most vicious attitudes of their peers and the community at large?

The essential conclusion of reviewer Dan Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter:

As a series, 13 Reasons Why advocates strongly for communication and basic human decency and shows many of the ways friends and loved ones failed Hannah. If it falls short in exploring the role of depression in Hannah’s situation, the accompanying 30-minute ‘Beyond the Reasons’ episode makes up some of that ground. The conversation-advancing special includes necessary outreach information, expert analysis, behind-the-scenes footage and features executive producers Selena Gomez and Mandy Teefey. It’s a valuable capper to a well-acted series that’s difficult to watch, yet always highly watchable.

Dec 28

“Oddly Normal” By John Schwartz: His Son Grows Up Gay

Oddly Normal is a book for parents, teachers, and anyone who works with children. Mr. Schwartz illustrates how even the most accepting parents often need assistance staying engaged, to best help a child who is not fitting in—in fact, there is a little bit of Joseph Schwartz in every kid. Joseph Clementi, founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation

“Mr. Schwartz” is journalist John Schwartz, who recounts in Oddly Normal the struggles of his teen son Joe to deal with an emerging awareness of being gay.

One day Schwartz was notified that his son was in the hospital after trying to kill himself. From the book description:

Mustering the courage to come out to his classmates, Joe had delivered a tirade about homophobic and sexist attitudes that was greeted with unease and confusion by his fellow students. Hours later, he took an overdose of pills. After a couple of weeks in the hospital and in the locked ward of a psychiatric treatment center, Joe returned to his family. As he recovered, his parents were dismayed by his school’s inability to address — or reluctance to deal with — Joe’s needs. Determined to help their son feel more comfortable in his own skin, Schwartz and his wife, Jeanne, launched their own search for services and groups that could help Joe know he wasn’t alone. In Oddly Normal, Schwartz writes of his family’s struggles within a culture that is changing fast – but not fast enough. Interweaving his narrative with contextual chapters on psychology, law, and common questions, Schwartz shares crucial lessons about helping gay kids learn how to cope in a potentially hostile world. From buying rhinestone-studded toddler shoes to creating a ‘Joseph manual’ for Joe’s teachers; from finding a hairdresser who stocks purple dye to fighting erroneous personality disorder diagnoses, Oddly Normal offers a deeply personal look into one boy’s growing up. Joe, far happier today than he was three years ago, collaborated on this work.

What about therapy? Couldn’t that have helped? Schwartz writes that in crucial and early phases of Joe’s development there was not only a decided lack of help but also a significant dose of misdirection from therapists and counselors. The Daily Beast: “And, not surprisingly, given the sort of ignorant advice and therapy he was getting, Joseph’s problems escalated and things started getting darker.”

Shouldn’t it easier today for kids to come out? Stephen Karam points out in a related article for the New York Times that although growing up gay today has its advantages, there are also some “less obvious challenges.” He adds a pertinent example from his own experience:

Things are vastly better, unquestionably, but for youngsters like Joe, it can also mean losing ‘the ability to hide in the ignorance of others’ during the sensitive years leading up to the decision to come out. (I can relate. As a closeted 14-year-old in Scranton, Pa., I sang a song from ‘Miss Saigon’ in a school talent show; my friends thought I was a tenor and kind of pitchy, not gay.)

A chance to “meet” both parents and their son:

Selected Reviews

Kirkus Reviews: “Schwartz’s frank discussion of a subject many still find taboo will be helpful to parents of LGBT children as one example of how to accept a natural condition with dignity and love. An added bonus is the delightful story written and illustrated by Joe. An honest, earnest, straightforward account of one boy’s coming out.”

Publishers Weekly: “[A] moving account of a family’s journey to raise and protect their gay son…Equally humorous and heartrending, this memoir reveals just what it takes to raise children who are different in a world still resistant.”

Stephen Karam, The New York Times: “In real life, of course, Mr. Schwartz knows no father can guarantee his child will always be happy. But in sharing his family’s story, he may free up other kids like Joseph to be something greater: themselves.”

Dec 27

How We Were (Possibly) “Born This Way”

The recent book Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay grew out of a project created in 2011 by “promosexual” Paul Vitagliano, his “Born This Way Blog” (not officially connected to Lady Gaga or her song).

Below “Paul V.” introduces the blog and its purpose:

In the book 100 LGBTQ lives are represented:

Childhood photographs are accompanied by sweet, funny, and at times heartbreaking personal stories. Collected from around the world and dating from the 1940s to today, these memories speak to the hardships of an unaccepting world and the triumph of pride, self-love, and self-acceptance.

Enjoy this book trailer, basically a collage of photos set to snippets of upbeat and affirmative music:

Some Reviews

Instinct Magazine: “From stories of wearing Mom’s dresses to little girls who just wanted to be tough guys, Born This Way serves some sweet—albeit brief—messages of joy and strength.”

Noah Michelson, The Huffington Post: “While the stories and photos collected in Born This Way range from heartbreaking to hilarious and are each uniquely told by a range of voices, from the famous (like Sen. Barney Frank and singer-songwriter Sia) to ‘everyday’ people, it’s heartening to discover how much common ground we share.”