Perhaps I’m wrong and it wouldn’t have made a difference if Tyler Clementi had had an older gay friend or mentor to whom he could turn in his moment of mental anguish.
To be sure, it’s not just this story that makes me think of mentoring. The issue of mentoring has been much on my mind since I first started wrestling with my sexuality. The first gay “role model” I had was perhaps one of the most negative influences on my life and on my family as well. And I always wondered if my coming out would have been any smoother had I met an older gay man capable of showing any compassion for my particular situation.
It is perhaps due in large part to his (negative) influence that I was so drawn to the goddess Athene when I read, re-read and listened to the Odyssey in the years after college and in the course of my graduate studies in Mythology. Her gentle guidance stood in stark contrast to his arrogant indifference. She both helps the hero’s son Telemachus find his first (male) friend — and facilitates his reconciliation with his own father. It’s as if Homer knew that we human beings need divine guidance to navigate the treacherous waters when we first leave home and find our way in the world.
This story has stirred up so much with so many of us, in large part because we see ourselves in this young man, recalling the awkwardness of our freshman year in college, our first year away from home, when our aspirations often (unbeknownst to us at the time) conflicted with one another, finding our way in the world while seeking to belong in a new (and often) foreign environment.
Perhaps, the mentor issue comes to my mind because of my own experiences. And other things surely must come to mind to other individuals, gay and straight alike.
The bottom question we need to ask is what can we do to make that journey less treacherous for young men and young women who differ from the social norm. Perhaps, more personal mentoring might help. With Telemachus at least, the Greeks thought a young man in difficult circumstances needed Olympian accompaniment until he found his way in the world.
So for now, let us consider what we can do to make that transition a little easier for young gay men and women first setting off into the world.