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The Queer Thing About School Shooters, Pt. 1

It may have been suggested by an earlier post, but every since the earliest school shootings were reported, I’ve been interested in the stories and people behind them; in particular, the shooters. Every time another one happens, I find myself pouring over articles about the latest shootings and past shootings. This time was no different. I now have a folder in my RSS reader for the VA Tech shootings, which is starting to fill up with articles and posts.

But a couple of nights ago, I came across something I hadn’t thought about until now. I’d written earlier about the anti-gay bullying and harassment I’d experienced in school, and how as result I identified to some degree with the anger the school shooters obviously felt and some expressed. But it wasn’t until I stumbled across a website that suggested I had more in common with these guys than I thought.

It started with web page about sexual orientation harassment in schools that made the following statement.

Five of the eight recent major school shooting incidents have involved anti-gay teasing. Charles ‘Andy’ Williams (left to right), who allegedly killed two at Santana High School in California, reportedly faced anti-gay taunting, as did Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who shot 13 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Calif., and Barry Loukaitis in Moses Lake, Wash., Luke Woodham in Pearl, Miss.; and Michael Carneal in West Paducah, Ky.

It wasn’t the anti-gay harassment that made me do a double take, so much as the number (more than half at the time this site was last updated) school shootings in which it was a factor. Some of the names I recognized, and remembered the shooting they were responsible for. The rest I found myself researching late into the night, long after I should have been in bed.

I didn’t know that Charles Andrew Williams, who killed two and wounded 13 when he opened fire at his California high school, was actually born here in Maryland. Nor did I know that he endured anti-gay harassment.

And a former girlfriend of Charles Andrew Williams — who killed two classmates and injured 13 others at his California high school in March 2001 — reported that Williams was tormented by anti-gay harassment he experienced being the new kid at his high school.

In addition to the run-of-the-mill harassment.

Williams came to California less than two years ago from a town in rural Maryland. After a spell in the town of Twentynine Palms, his dad got a job as a lab technician for the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, and the two moved to Santee (pop. 58,000). Williams was instantly picked on by the bigger, more streetwise kids there. Laura Kennamer, a friend of Andy’s, saw kids burning their lighters and then pressing the hot metal against his neck. “They’d walk up to him and sock him in the face for no reason,” she says. “He wouldn’t do anything about it.” Jennifer Chandler, a freshman, saw the same pattern of torment: “Kids were mean to him. He’d slack it off. Like he kept it all inside.”

Barry Loukatis was another whose shooting at a Washington state high school was said to have its origins in anti-gay harassment.

On Feb. 2, 1996, 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis allegedly gunned down classmate Manuel Vela in Moses Lake, Wash. At the trial, students testified that Loukaitis pledged to kill Vela after Vela repeatedly taunted him by calling him a “faggot.”

And this.

On February 2, 1996, 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis killed a teacher and two students at Frontier Junior High School in Moses Lake, Washington. He had been taunted by school jocks who said he was a “faggot.”

Luke Woodham, who opened fire at Pearl High School in Mississippi? Same story.

One of the things that they are teaching is that school shooters were most often victims of harsh teasing. “They’d always talk about me and push me around and start fights with me and stuff,” Woodham told agents during the interview. “They’d call you gay or call you stupid or fat or whatever. Kids would sometimes throw rocks at me and push and kick me and hit me and stuff like that.”

Michael Carneal, who killed three students and wounded five more at Heath High School in Kentucky? Same story.

Unbeknownst to his family, Michael had spent the year before the shootings battling obsessive fears.

He kept kitchen knives and a sickle under his bed to protect himself from imaginary intruders. He sometimes walked on furniture to avoid the floor, where he thought people with chainsaws were waiting to cut off his feet.

Given his peculiar torment, any teasing by classmates was going to be too much. In his eighth-grade year, the school newspaper printed gossip that Michael and another boy ?had feelings for each other.?

One student began calling him “faggot” or “gay” at least four times a day, Michael told doctors.

And, of course, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris? Pretty much the same story.

And investigators were adamant in dismissing rumors that the killers were gay, which swirled around Columbine High, and some national talk shows, immediately after the tragedy. The rumors seem to have originated two years ago, with a single member of the Trench Coat Mafia who may have been gay or bisexual. Investigators described how the animosity escalated between jocks and the Trench Coat Mafia, and this individual preyed on the jocks’ homophobia to get a rise out of them.

“[He] knew that it freaked the jocks out,” Battan said. “So he quite often would act out — somewhat inappropriately — more to get a reaction than what he may have been thinking or feeling.” Another investigator said that this same person would “taunt [the jocks] back by hugging and kissing on one of the other Trench Coat Mafia guys.” Although Harris and Klebold were only sophomores at the time, rumors have persisted ever since that anyone associated with the Trench Coat Mafia was gay.

But despite all rumors to the contrary, and just like every other school shooter above. Klebold and Harris were not gay. In fact, Harris, in his diary comes across as a frustrated, dejected heterosexual.

“Months have passed. It’s the first Friday night in the final month. Much shit has happened. Vodka has a Tec 9, we test fired all of our babies, we have 6 time clocks ready, 39 crickets, 24 pipe bombs, and the napalm is under construction. Right now I’m trying to get fucked and trying to finish off these time bombs.

“NBK came quick. Why the fuck can’t I get any? I mean, I’m nice and considerate and all that shit, but nooooo…The amount of dramatic irony and foreshadowing is fucking amazing. Everything I see and hear I incorporate into NBK somehow…feels like a goddamn movie sometimes…

“I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things. And no, don’t fucking say, ‘Well, that’s your fault’ because it isn’t, you people had my phone #, and I asked and all, but no no no no no don’t let the weird looking Eric kid come along, oooh fucking nooo.”

That is how the journal ends — not with the howl of the wolf-god, but the whine of the pathetic geek who can’t land a prom date.

And decides everybody deserves to die.

And Cho Seung-Hui? His stalking of female classmates has already been reported, but his creation of an imaginary girlfriend offers a window into his own frustrations.

Girls figured somewhere in his yearnings, but always from a distance.

In his junior year, Mr. Cho told his then-roommates that he had a girlfriend. Her name was Jelly. She was a supermodel who lived in outer space and traveled by spaceship, and she existed only in the dimension of his imagination.

When Andy Koch, one of his roommates, returned to their suite one day, Mr. Cho shooed him away. He told him Jelly was there. He said she called him Spanky. SpankyJelly became his instant-message screen name.

He became fixated on several real female students. Two of them complained to the police that he was calling them, showing up at their rooms and bombarding them with instant messages. They found him bothersome but not threatening. After the second complaint against him in December 2005, the police came by and told him to stop.

A few hours after they left, he sent an instant message to one of his roommates suggesting he might as well kill himself. The campus police were called, and Mr. Cho was sent to an off-campus mental health facility.

This isn’t to suggest that Cho Seun-Hui or Eric Harris might not have gone on their rampages if they’d gotten attention from young women, or gotten laid, lest I be perceived at laying everything at the feet of young women who turned them down. It’s not about that. Instead it goes back to themes of masculinity and definitions of masculinity that I’ve written about before. I heard echoes of it in Jessie Klein’s insightful essay on Huffington Post.

In every school shooting, boys targeted girls who rejected them, boys who called them gay or otherwise belittled them, and other students at the top of the school’s hierarchy–white, wealthy, and athletic–and then shot down other students in an effort to reinstate their injured masculinity.

…Boys are taught to believe that sexual interest from a girl is imperative to affirm their manhood. When boys are rejected by girls, it can bring up fears that they are not perceived by others as strong and powerful and can cause many to doubt their masculinity and heterosexuality. Headlines about Cho confirmed he struggled with these same concerns about his manhood.

If you look at these guys, and look at their lives, one thing they all have in common is that they were not what’s conventionally considered “masculine” in the most superficial sense of the word. (Whether anything beyond the superficial matters to or is valued by their peers or their culture, is another matter altogether.”) Quiet, shy, bookish, bespectacled, non-athletic, slight of build, etc., all of which reads as something less than manly.

But drawing that line of demarcation around manliness or masculinity, thus defining it, means defining those outside that line as well. And if the authors above are defining “what makes a man a man,” then those who fall outside that definition have be seen as not being men no matter how we define ourselves. In that context we are not “real men,” but are either something other than men or something less than men.

And thus, while none of the authors above would necessarily use the terms, we become “sissies” or “faggots” for falling too far outside their ideals of manliness or masculinity. We don’t “act like men” or “like men are supposed to act.” So we are like something other than men. Or like something less than men.

The queer thing about school shooters isn’t that they are queer or that they’re not. It’s that they are, all at once, too queer and not queer enough.

[To be continued.]

Crossposted from The Republic of T.

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