CAN'T WE ALL
JUST GET ALONG?
11 April 2003
I had another entry planned for tonight. I will probably post it for
tomorrow, but I have something important to talk about.
Last night I reviewed a play called "The Shape of a Girl."
This wasn't a play I was scheduled to review. There are two of us reviewers on the paper
and we split the shows for the year. I do most of the musicals; she does most of the
plays, though we do occasionally overlap.
This play was at the new fancy Mondavi Center, the big cultural
center in town. When the season was announced several months ago, I had hoped to review
several shows there, so I have not purchased any of the high priced tickets for any event
and had not yet been inside the Mondavi Center, because most events were booked for one
night only and we were not reviewing them at all. The few events that were going to
stick around for more than two nights have all been things that the other reviewer has
However, there was a terrible tragedy in her family yesterday, and
so at the last minute, my editor called to ask if I could review this play. I had never
heard of it and I knew nothing about it, though he did read me a brief press release that
The story is loosely based on an incident which took place in
British Columbia in 1997, when the body of a 14 year old high school student, Reena Virk,
was discovered. She had been savagely beaten by members of the very group she'd been
seeking to join. She had been bullied and pummeled and left unconscious in a pool of
water, where she eventually drowned. Her body was not discovered for eight days.
The heroine of the play is Braidie, played by an actress so talented
and so skilled at inhabiting the body of a 15 year old that I was amazed to read the notes
afterwards to discover she's actually 23. It's a monologue and through Braidie's imaginary
conversations with her brother (who is actually away at school), as well as talking to
herself, we gradually learn that her best friend from grammar school is actually a school
bully and their group of friends has been picking on a newcomer, Sofie.
Braidie is greatly affected by the story of Virk's murder and her
conscience begins to eat away at her as she recounts the incidents where they have ganged
up on Sofie. At the end of the play, she has finally gone to someone to report that she
feels Sofie is the victim of bullying and confesses her own part in it.
It's a powerful play and if the paper hadn't recently eliminated the
"star rating" system, I probably would have given it 4 or 5 stars. The sad thing
about it was that the theatre was not filled with teenagers. It's not a preachy play. I
suspect that any adolescent seeing it could relate with Braidie's internal struggles, her
irritation with her "mum" (it's a Canadian play) for being a nag, her wanting to
be part of the group, but uncomfortable with some of the group's activities, etc.
What makes me want to talk about this play for this entry is that I
heard from the entertainment editor this afternoon. By an eerie coincidence, the day
before "The Shape of a Girl" opened, a young gay junior high school student here
in town killed himself. He killed himself because he was in the process of coming to terms
with his homosexuality and apparently couldn't handle the taunts and the bullying of his
peers. I don't kow the details, but I suspect that like my friend Gabi Clayton's son,
Bill, he couldn't see beyond a lifetime of having to deal with the pain and suffering of
being "different" and the very real threat of physical harm that can come from
How dare we, in this country, allow this sort of thing to happen? It
starts with the holier than thou rhetoric of "loving the sinner and hating the
sin," which from the get-go lets kids who are struggling with gender identity
issues know that they are "sinners," whether they have actually had any sexual
experiences or not.
My friend Steve was in his 20s before he even so much as kissed a
man, but all those years growing up, trying to "fit in," trying to like girls
"in that way" he couldn't help but hear the message loud and clear--he was not
as good as "normal" people.
You get organizations like the Boy Scouts which will let just about
anybody in, except those dirty gay boys. (The Boy Soucts of America, that would
be--I don't want to paint the worldwide scouting movement with that black brush--we are
the only country in the world which bans homosexual boys and leaders).
You get churches like the Catholic church where the heirarchy forbids
priests and nuns from ministery to the gay community. I remember years and years ago a
certain Mass in San Francisco which was stopped because it was the Mass where people from
the gay community gathered together to worship. Now isn't that Christ-like?
You get governments which won't even let gay people die to
defend their country.
You get bigots like Dr. Laura spewing hatred over the airwaves.
You get school districts (and parents within those districts) which
fight tooth and nail from allowing a chapter of the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) to come
into the school. What are they afraid of? The GSA is the perfect place to teach tolerance.
It's where gay kids and straight kids can talk about things like bullying and
feeling alone and feeling scared--and not really understanding what it's all about. But in
far too many places, they have been banned, and if a sympathetic school board attempts to
get one established, parents will be there in a flash, fearing that their kid may have to
talk to a queer.
Put all this together with the inequality of rights given to gays vs
straights, relegating the former to the rank of second class citizen, and you've set up an
environment where straight kids think it's OK--and perhaps even a good thing--to beat up a
queer. S/he's not as good as other people, so what the heck? Everybody knows queers are no
Adolescence is a terrible time for anybody. At some time or another
we're all gawky, pimply, tongue-tied, clumsy, feeling stupid, feeing inferior, etc., etc.,
But when we allow bullying to take place for whatever reason--fat
kids, foreign kids, gay kids, shy kids--we are setting the wheels in motion for the tragic
murder of kids like Reena Vick, and for the suicide of this poor student in Davis this
How dare we value our youth so little that we allow this to happen?