Three years ago yesterday a fellow member of our blogosphere killed himself. That ought to be enough of a trigger warning, but it gets worse. You have been warned. (I am just full of uplifting blog posts these days, aren’t I?)
Three years is too soon to be writing about this. I should have waited five years at least, and ten or twenty years would be safer still. But this death has been on my mind since it popped up on my reminders last Friday, and chances are bad that this blog will survive another two years, or that I will survive another seven or seventeen. So let’s reopen the wound and see what happens.
For maximum imprudence, I’ll refer to this blogger as J. Those of you who remember him will know exactly to whom I am referring, and (I hope) those of you who don’t will have no clue. I think his blog is offline now, which is just as well, as I would feel uncomfortable linking to it.
I first met J as a mutual commenter on a third blog. I do not remember how or when, but at some point I started following his blog too. I felt some concordance when I learned he was a techie, doing some techie thing for an educational institution. At the time I was also working as a techie, and sometimes I recognised some of the tools he was using. J seemed to be a big, friendly guy who (like many of us) struggled with his weight, but who also gave back to his community in many ways. He was an amateur ham radio enthusiast, and helped organize conventions in the area. He also was involved with a support group for LBGTQ+ youth, which I thought was particularly admirable given he lived in a regressive Southern state. (Apologies to those who live in regressive Southern states.)
J met other bloggers from time to time. His online reputation as a friendly, generous guy seemed to carry through to his offline life.
Then, all of a sudden, things unravelled very fast. J posted an ominous blog post, and then a story about a car accident, and then a suicide note. He talked about being accused of a crime, and about his charges being posted in the local media, and how it was the kind of crime one can’t fight against. And then he committed suicide.
It wasn’t difficult to read between the lines, and snooping online for the news story confirmed my suspicions. The police had raided J’s home and confiscated his computer as evidence for an investigation involving internet crimes against children. His work put him on “administrative leave”. J lasted a few days in despair, and then killed himself.
It is important to note that J was not charged with anything. The police had confiscated his computer for an investigation, but J himself had not been directly accused of anything. But from reading his final blog posts, it was clear that the stigma of being guilty by association loomed large in his mind.
I don’t know the details. The polite thing to do would be to refrain from speculation, but I am not polite. I think it is plausible that J may have had incriminating pornography on his computer. For my own cognitive dissonance, I hope that at worst J had been consuming incriminating pornography and not producing it, but I do not know one way or the other. It could also have been that this confiscation was a total mistake, but in my heart I doubt this.
I do know that J found young men attractive, but I have no sense of how young. J blogged a fair amount about a young man who was also gay and also into ham radio. He repeatedly insisted that nothing sexual was happening between them, but I suspected that J was besotted. The two did a lot of extra-curricular activities together, and J felt lonely when the young man was not around.
If J got himself into trouble, I am angry that J got himself into trouble. If J committed acts that hurt children or adolescents or anybody else, then I am even more angry about that. I take a strong stance against exploitation and abuse, although probably not as strong as those who are parents. But there are other things I am not angry at J about.
In some ways I see J as my mirror image. It is well documented (via Shocking Disclosure 3) that my predilections tend towards middle-aged men and women. J’s predilections tended the other way. Both predilections squick most people out, although I am fortunate in that my predilection (while disgusting) is not illegal. Although I am upset with the possible consequences of J’s predilection, I am not angry that he possessed the attractions he did. Simple statistical variance means that if people are allowed to vary in their predilections at all, some will have predilections above the mean and some will have predilections below.
Let’s face it: there are a lot of gay men attracted to those who appear young. This should come as no surprise; although we frown upon it sociologically, biologically human bodies produce the healthiest babies soon after adolescence, which means that being attracted to 14-17 year olds is evolutionarily advantageous. Maybe gay men ought not to be attracted to reproductive suitability the way their straight counterparts are, but I bet they are. Meanwhile, we classify anybody under 18 as a minor and — for good sociological reasons! — prohibit them from being the targets of sexual attraction. Instead we skirt the line by obsessing over twinks, who might be 18 or 20 or 22 years old, but look younger. But few of us are willing to say this out loud, because we do not want to reinforce the slur that conflates homosexuality with pedophilia, the third rail of homosexuality.
If you are a person who is attracted to children — maybe teenagers, maybe those younger — what the hell are you supposed to do? All the treatments I know of (chemical castration! just don’t think about sex! convert yourself to someone attracted to acceptable people!) sound spectacularly ineffective in exactly the same way those treatments didn’t cure gay men of homosexuality in the 1950s and 1960s. Some lucky people find sexual partners who are “of age” but look much younger (hooray for twinks!). That can be a good solution, but it does not work for everybody.
We have no answers, and we would much prefer that these people did not exist. In light of the circumstances surrounding his death, it is so easy to paint everything J was and did in a monstrous light. He worked for an educational institution! He volunteered for LBGTQ+ youth organizations! He harboured a close friendship with a young gay man! He was big and jovial and smiled a lot — just like a child molester! Never mind the nuances of his actions (for example, that he worked as a techie who likely did not have daily interactions with students), or whether he committed any improprieties while engaging in them. As he wrote in his suicide note, the accusation is enough.
I did not know J well, if at all. I do not feel he was a monster, and I think it is a mistake to pretend he was not a part of our community. I have also done monstrous things (although not of the same nature). I have definitely let my sexual predilections influence my actions one way against another, just as you have probably gone out of your way to be helpful to particularly attractive people. That does not mean that we were grooming victims, or that our intentions in doing these things was solely to find bed partners. We all come with mixed motivations, and even when our motivations are impure we can still do good in the world. I sincerely hope J did not harm people. But even if he did, I am reasonably confident that he did not only harm people. It is possible to do bad things and still be a kind and generous person.
I understand that this is an unpopular opinion. I strongly suspect that there are other bloggers who (when they think of J at all) are very angry with him and wanted him to face the consequences of his actions. There are other bloggers who have suffered childhood sexual abuse, and may feel very strongly about the circumstances surrounding J’s death. But I stand by my position. Online or off, we are surrounded by broken, complicated people, and demonizing people when they go beyond the bounds of acceptability (or, in J’s case, are accused of doing so) denies that people who do terrible things are people who are much more similar to us than they are different.
Should J have killed himself? As a nihilist who is also fairly likely to die of suicide, I am the wrong person to ask. I don’t blame J for killing himself. His career at his educational institution was over regardless of the outcome. If he had been charged and arrested, he would have spent time in jail at the bottom of the prison pecking order. If he was charged and found guilty of his accusations, he would likely have ended up on sex offender registries and become unemployable. If he was innocent then things might have been worse, because he would still suffer in custody, and then have the stigma of his accusations follow him around for the rest of his life. If I was facing J’s situation I might well make the same choice.
I understand that others do not share the same view. They view suicide as the coward’s way out. They want to see offenders punished for the sake of vengeance. To me that is irrelevant. If I was accused of crimes and there were victims to whom I could offer restitution or with whom I could engage in restorative justice, then maybe there would be some reason to live. Otherwise? Why bother?
What I do feel is that J’s suicide was awfully convenient for the rest of us. Maybe some of J’s close friends and families still grieve his death, but I am confident nearly all of the blogosphere has moved on. I doubt we bloggers think about J anymore; if his death had not popped up in my reminders I would not have either. If J had lived he might well have been charged with something, and then he might have gone to trial, and we as a community of bloggers might have had to face the possibility that one of our own had come to grief by his own actions. That would have been uncomfortable. Although we in the blogosphere read about many sad things, rarely do they carry the stigma that this accusation would have, and because J took his own life we could forget he ever existed, that he was at one time part of our community, or that he brought with him some difficult issues that we don’t know what to do with. As it was, we were sad for a bit, then read the next blog post and moved on.
None of that is to say that I wished J ill, in the past or now. I am grateful for J’s presence and his blog. I hope he did not hurt others, and if he did I hope those others will heal. I am sorry that things ended badly and that he suffered emotional pain.