Internet information related to Bobby Steele's Suicide: Who (and what) killed Bobby Steele?
The Kurt Cobain section ended
buried beneath the noise of his music and his life." (53: 47)
He was a "feminine" gay-identified boy who "got
beat up a lot." (03: 40)
The following "in between" note had then been written to highlight the fact that in many suicide deaths, if an individual was homosexually oriented, it may often be ignored as it was done in Cobain's case given that he was married and had a daughter. Or: This aspect of the individual, if known, may be denied or suppressed.
NOTE: The "gay" information
related to Kurt Cobain which made the above 'psychological autopsy' possible
is located in two gay and lesbian magazines: The Advocate and OUT. As a
rule, only gay and lesbian people buy these magazines available in some
stores in Calgary, but they are not available in the Calgary Public Library(5),
nor at The University of Calgary library. Therefore, if non-gay people
were researching information to better understand why Kurt Cobain committed
suicide, they would have probably not have encountered the "gay" information
used above, thus severely limiting their understanding of the situation;
unless they had acquired the reading "between the lines" expertise gay
historians have been developing. Writing and speaking "between the lines"
has been a gay tradition in homo-negative societies. The censorship of
gay-related information about famous people, and especially for the ones
who became famous for highly positive reasons, has been the rule. So has
the denial that a youth was gay or lesbian, especially after he/she has
committed suicide, and even when there is abundant evidence to this effect.
The suicide of Bobby Steele in Edmonton, Alberta, is such a case.
Within 30 minutes of having listened to Staples on the CBC News, the Edmonton Journal had been acquired, and I began reading the story of a boy who, in his suicide note, had stated: "I'm not happy... Never was. Never will be." My venture into Bobby's life was then interrupted by the arrival of a gay friend who has recently come out (only to two gay individuals) and had been very depressed. Although his status has improved greatly, he still feels unable to speak to anyone in his family (or in own ethnic community) about his gay identity, because this would involve the most feared experience: coming out to them. As the evening progressed, he reported that, as far back as he can remember, he has not been happy. That, inside, he has always been angry. He recognized himself to be different - to have always been attracted to males, and that he also has had an associated feminine part of Self. This aspect of his personality, however, became more hidden as he grew up because he wanted to be accepted by others.
The next day I finished reading Bobby Steele's story which, in many ways, is similar to Cobain. Bobby was "excellent at drama and music," wrote poetry, performed poorly in other subjects, was "tormented by self-doubt and desire and loneliness," "never felt he could talk to anyone about his problems," and "both felt like outcasts from a chaotic, ugly world." At best, when Bobby began revealing disturbing inner realities to those closest to him, he was told: "That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard." "Ah, write about something happy." The response of a female friend to poetry relating his suicidal intent was to label it "psychotic" and to end the conversation by saying: "...call me before you do something stupid." This was not what Bobby needed to hear from gay and straight friends. For Bobby, suicide was not something "stupid." It was the result of what he was feeling, and what he considered to be his only 'option', the one he would soon take.
Bobby had been venturing into Edmonton's gay community, and he disliked effeminate males who seemed to dominate the scene. He then became friends with a Native gay male who was described to be "no effeminate gay, like so many of the downtown gays were." The Native male had told Bobby that he had once attempted suicide "because he was in love with his best friend and couldn't do anything about it." Bobby was also relating with other gay males, including "Dennis Cambly, the 40-year-old editor of a gay and lesbian magazine [TIMES.10] in Edmonton."
In the August/September issue of TIMES.10, an article was titled "Teenage Homosexual Suicide." Although its focus was about the gay and lesbian youth suicide problem in general, a focus had been placed on Bobby Steele's death. His picture was there along with one of his poems. The Steele family was not happy with this. "In early August, the family was angered when Cambly showed them an article from his magazine... The article said Bobby killed himself because he was gay. Bobby's father "thought his son had been slandered and that Cambly was trying to use Bobby for the gay cause." Both his father and his mother "could accept neither that Bobby was gay, nor that his sexuality was the main reason he had killed himself. They were certain that it wasn't so simple." It was only "after the suicide," however, that "they had learned that Bobby had a few gay friends and had experienced gay sex..." Denial was the response of his father to learning this fact about his son. "Perhaps, [he] thought, his son was inspired to try gay sex because Cobain was such a backer of gay rights and sexual exploration."
Bobby had obviously withheld important information about himself from his family, even though his 25-year-old gay Native friend "had urged Bobby to try to talk with his parents, to be honest with them about himself." But Bobby feared doing this, possibly for good reasons. In my opinion, he was not living in a gay-positive family. His eldest sister, June (who was now not living at home but was visiting), was the kind of person who, after finding her brother's body, and after the police had left, "could still hear the sneering laughter of the demons. She was [also] mad at herself for being afraid; she knew she was born again and God protected her [from demons]." The situation is described when she found the body: "All around her, June heard laughing, the terrible howling laughing of demons. They were gloating over Bobby's death." "Born again" people are, as a rule, extremely homo-negative.
Bobby's father also described demonic presence: "Just as [he] had come to believed in God, he now believed in Satan, a force that could work through groups like Nirvana to damage children." The family objective was to now warn others about Rock groups like Nirvana, and people like Kurt Cobain. They believe them to be at the root-cause of Bobby's suicide, as well as other youth suicides, and that this is the work of Satan acting through such Rock groups. According to Bobby's father, "Cobain is no hero... This [Nirvana-related material] has caused my son's death." Sadly, he could not see that he himself was one of Bobby's major problems, as many fathers of gay youth have been. They emotionally and physically distance themselves from their gay sons, (as he was reported to have done), and they often consider the idea that one of their offspring could be gay as "slander." To say they are heterosexual, however, would be a compliment.
The Edmonton Journal article about Bobby was a means for the "brave" Steele family to spread their belief about the Satan/Cobain cause of Bobby's suicide. Nonetheless, the article contains a wealth of contradicting information. What now needs to be done is good investigative reporting focused on knowing what was happening in Bobby's mind. In an essay, he had written: "I can't wait to see [Cobain] in heaven. Oh and if he's not there I'll be so pissed off... I really hope that I get to meet him. Sure I have feeling for my family (who I think will go to heaven) but it seems I felt more love to a man I didn't even know than to my family." In another essay, Bobby noted that he thought of Cobain "as my savior," which is in sharp contrast to "Jesus Christ" who would be the savior for other family members.
Bobby, knowing his parents well, would have known that they would believe Cobain to be in hell, and that his family's response would have been very negative if he had revealed his gay secret. "Perhaps most upsetting to the Steeles was the issue of Bobby's sexuality." Bobby was seeking a 'savior' and, as many obsessed Christians have done with the Bible, Bobby did the same with Cobain. "[He] analysed every word that came out of Cobain's mouth, whether it was a song lyric or an interview." Therefore, he would have known about Cobain's self-identification as gay, even feminine, and that Cobain had stated that God is gay; but Bobby had doubts. He had concluded that his family was going to heaven, but was not so sure that Cobain would be there, thus revealing that he still harbored society's Christian-related negative attitudes about homosexuality. He probably also shared Cobain's serious self-hatred problem.
Bobby did not reveal his gay nature to his family for good reasons, in spite of the fact that his mother stated: "If Bobby was dealing with sexuality, [I] wish he would have come to [me] and talked." Bobby's closest family member was his sister, Sharon, who was of little help. He had only talked to her "about his sexual experiences with girlfriends," but she had suspected Bobby's homosexuality when she inquired: "Bobby, what is bothering you? I know you hang around kids who have problems with their sexuality, their social ability, their families and all that stuff. Just realize that I am here for you to talk to." Bobby's response, "Sure." was one of indifference, which is understandable given that his sister had indirectly defined "being gay" as someone having problems with their sexuality. True, Bobby was having serious problems, but this was not the help he desperately needed.
Bobby had not found anyone to help him in Edmonton's gay community either, nor did he believe that professional counselling, as suggested by Sharon, would have helped. After all, he knew that professional counselling had failed Kurt Cobain. Furthermore, most mental health professional would not have been able to help him, especially because they would have lacked the Cobain education, the related understanding, and the gay and lesbian youth education required to effectively communicate with Bobby.
Like some young gay males I have met who were heading for serious psychological problems, including suicide, Bobby had a desperate need of his mother's love; but the threat of losing her love was always there. His relationship with her is described: "They fought a lot, but then, out of nowhere, Bobby would hug [his mother] and tell her that he loved her. She returned the affection, often hugging and nuzzling him when he was working on his computer." A recent major outburst at his mother involved Bobby repeatedly "yelling" at her: "Get the hell out of my life. Leave me alone. Stay away from me."
Bobby, as I see it, had an internal 'mother' projected onto his real mother, and this led him to feel, as he had written, that his mother "always seemed to know if he's done something wrong." Therefore, he must have assumed that she knew about his homosexual affairs, and his related gay identity, and he was wondering why she said nothing about this. He must have also been monitoring her closely, especially with respect to how she felt about homosexuality; also expecting her to maybe help him with coming out to her(7) (which was an issue discussed with his Native gay friend). She did not do this, hence, his angry outbursts. She was, in his mind, betraying him. She was not giving him the help he so desperately needed. She was not telling him what she would only say after his death.
Bobby's fear of possible rejection of his mother's love if she knew he was gay would have been near-center in his internal problems. This aspect of gay male personality is, tragically, little understood by mental health professionals. My suspicion is that Bobby was also female-identified, as was Cobain. Bobby, however, projected this gay-related hated aspect of self outward, by manifesting a dislike of effeminate gay males(8). Was Bobby gay?
On CBC's Alberta News, Staples had noted that, after Cobain's death, there had been a number of supposedly "copy-cat suicides" throughout North America, and one of these was noted in the article. A few weeks after Cobain's suicide, "a lonely young man named Greg from Manitoba, a friend of the [Steele] family, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the car." A related discussion occurred in the Steele family, followed by a more personal one between Bobby and Sharon. He asked her: "Do you think he killed himself because of Cobain?" Sharon Replied: "I don't know. The chances are really high." Bobby could have accepted this answer, but a well recognized reason for youth suicide was looming in his mind. This awareness caused him to immediately counter Sharon's answer with: "Do you think he killed himself because he was gay or something?"(9)
Bobby tried to be heterosexual by dating females, and even by supposedly having lost his virginity with a female. This may well have been Cobain's only deadly influence on him. He had also been networking in the gay world, not because he was confused, but because this was a central part of his identity, and important enough to accept the risks involved. As it happens for so many gay and lesbian youth in his situation, "Bobby's world started to fragment. He travelled in different groups, which rarely mixed. For each group he wore a mask, one for Sharon, another for his straight [best] friend Rob Tuson, different masks for his gay friends, his work friends, his school acquaintances, his parents and his computer pals."
Bobby's confusion was partly the result of the aforementioned conflict between his gay identity and personal/social expectations, and it was exacerbated by having to simultaneously live in different worlds; because this is what we continue to inflict on most gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth. With all the masks, Bobby was losing his Self, the result being ever-increasing alienation. Bobby's gay-related problems, however, did not begin with Cobain. They had, like Cobain, begun long ago, at a very young age, as revealed in his suicide note: "I'm not happy...Never was. Never will be... I just can't live anymore... I'm dead.
Using a shotgun, as Cobain had done, but discharging it under his chin as opposed to the left temple, Bobby killed himself. His father wondered after seeing his dead son: "How could Bobby [have executed himself like this] and look so peaceful afterwards?" The answer to this was given in "A Calgary Gay Youth Attempts Suicide." Given what WE do to many of these kids, death is a welcomed relief, because this outcome is perceived to be much better than what he have set up for them to feel in what was described to be a "rotten world." As this youth told me about the moment just before he was sure that his attempted suicide would succeed: "It was the first time in my life that everything was quiet in my mind."
Bobby had not always been so peaceful. Anger is experienced by those seeing no alternative to self-execution. "Later that afternoon, while driving in his car, Bobby took out his Polaroid camera. He stared angrily into it, then took the first of a series of self-portraits that would go with his suicide note. He wanted to show his final mask, his desperate, depressed hidden self, the angry face of someone who felt he had been betrayed, who got no help from his friends, his family, or anyone else in the sad, rotten world." It does not seem like his family received this message, although Staples certainly did.
I hope society learns something from the messages left behind by these gay males. They kill themselves because of socially induced self-hatred directed at their gay, often feminine-related, Selves. They kill themselves after having spent years denying or only partly accepting this aspect of Self, even by trying to be straight, as Cobain and Bobby did. They always recognize never having been happy, and they cannot foresee ever being happy with what is needed the most: gay relationships. How can we ever be happy offering what we hate to someone we supposedly love? How can we foresee ever being happy when we believe that those we most care about will hate us if they knew our true selves. Are gay and lesbian youth ever made to feel they could be happy in this world?
Their hated gay Self is rejected and, as both Bobby and Cobain did, this inner reality will not be mentioned in their suicide notes; because doing this was impossible for them. If they could have fully accepted themselves, they would not have committed suicide. Instead, they would have pursued a very difficult road, undoing the incredible damage done to them.
For me, this DEATH BY DENIAL era cannot end quickly enough. These deaths need not occur. In one of my 1993 letters, I wrote: "We went from shooting Natives to having residential schools so that many Natives would then kill themselves; the latter being the more cruel process, and our deception was the belief we had become more humane." If we wish to live up to our supposedly more "humane" nature, we could do something different. Should we not learn how to identify those gay and lesbian kids who will commit suicide and painlessly execute them before their predictable problems begin? Surely, this would be infinitely more humane than what we continue to inflict on them!
The second-last word belongs to Agnes, Bobby's mother who, like so many mothers of gay males, 'knows' what was one of Bobby's major problems: "She wanted to comfort him now. All his life she had worried about him. He was her most sensitive child, full of secret hurts, afraid to tell anyone, afraid to be ashamed... Agnes had to show Bobby that no matter what, no matter who he was or what he had done, she still loved him. He had to hear it out loud. He had to hear it all the way up to heaven. She would never have stopped loving him. 'I love you, Bobby,' she whispered. 'I love you, Bobby.'"
I could be unkind and suggest that Bobby's mother should have told him that she loved him even though he may be gay. As I told my sister-in-law with respect to not helping her pregnant 19-year-old [lesbian] friend who had shot herself, even after she had seen the gun in her friend's bag at the beach the same day the suicide occurred: "You had not received the education needed to recognize her problems and help her." The same also applies to Bobby's family and his friends, including his gay friends. WE all share responsibility for Bobby's death, and more deaths are to come. The education is not there, not even in the field of suicidology. Another gay kid has committed suicide and homophobic DENIAL rules the day. Another gay kid has died, and WE still refuse to learn anything from it.
2. On September 25, 1994, the Calgary Herald published a shortened 2-page version of the Edmonton Journal's story. Deletions in this article included most of the quoted information about the religious nature of Bobby's family, the recent suicide of a male family friend from Manitoba (and the related telltale conversation), the attempted suicide of Bobby's Native gay friend, and Bobby's dislike of effeminate males. Furthermore, Bobby's suicide note was not reproduced, and it was therefore not reported that Bobby had written about the very common problem of many long term distressed (and often suicidal) gay kids who have known they were 'different' from a young age: "I'm not happy... Never was. Never will be..;" followed by what the ones who do not survive what WE do to them will predictably feel and act out, but rarely state in writing as Bobby did. "I just can't live anymore... I'm dead." A scan of the citations I used to present an decent understanding of Bobby Steele was compared to what was given in the Calgary Herald article. This yielded the estimate that about 40% of the items used (often the most important ones) were deleted, and the deletion is about 50% based on the length of the citations used.
The Calgary Herald article had a number of inserts containing general information about suicide. The WHEN YOU SEE THE STRESS BUILDING... followed by the IF YOU BELIEVE SOMEONE MAY BE SUICIDAL... segments each contained 10 items. The Suicide: Facts & Myths contained 8 facts(?) versus myths, with an introduction stating the supposed fact that "suicide is a needless and permanent solution to short-term problems." This is not quite true, especially when it is gay, lesbian, and bisexual kids attempting and committing suicide. Their problems are most often related to (and are the product of) a very lethal and long-term social homophobic and homohating problem; the one which causes many young gay males I have met to feel (or to have felt for a very long time) exactly what Bobby reported in his suicide note. "I am not happy... Never was."(10)
In the "advice" inserts about suicide, such as the one titled WARNING SIGNS OF SUICIDE (6 items) followed by WHAT TO DO (3 items), nothing is mentioned about "the homosexuality factor." In fact, homosexuality is only mentioned in the WHO TO CALL insert which lists one gay and one lesbian organization in Calgary. The tragic silence about "the homosexuality factor" in youth suicide is fully realized when we read the first two (of three) recommendations made, "Discuss it openly and frankly" with the individual manifesting warning signs such as depression, and "Show interest and support." For many gay and lesbian youth, it is almost impossible for them to respond to such offers of 'help' in homophobic families, homophobic schools, and in a homophobic and homohating society which also produces a homophobic peer group. This was a major problem for Bobby. Most gay and lesbian youth cannot behave as recommended in the title of an inserted article written by Joanne Ramondt, Herald features editor, "Don't be afraid to ask for help." These teenagers are afraid (often terrified) to ask for help because it means revealing their homosexual orientation. They are therefore certainly not being helped when these "advice" articles are totally silent about their existence, and about their socially inflicted communication (isolation/alone, anomie, depression, high anxiety, confusion, anger, unhappiness, terror, etc. ) problems. The last of the 3 items in WHAT TO DO, "Get professional help," is nothing less than sardonic humour given what I have learned in terms of most professionals' inabilities to effectively help very distressed gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth.
For a number of reasons, including some given above, the Calgary Herald article on Bobby's suicide becomes causal in explaining why the tragic gay and lesbian youth suicide is still not being recognized in our society. The Herald article spoke to the title NO CLEAR ANSWERS with the subheading "No one knows for sure why Bobby Steele mimicked the suicide of his hero(11), grunge rocker Kurt Cobain..." But then, no one seems to want to know, including "mainstream" journalists, because "knowing" will certainly enlighten them as to their traditional contribution to the gay and lesbian youth suicide problem. In fact, "knowing" would reveal that articles such as the one the Herald wrote about Bobby's suicide, as well as the inserts, are causal in maintaining the exceptionally high attempted suicide rate for gay and lesbian youth. To a lesser extent, the same applies to the Edmonton Journal article. Nonetheless, it contained enough facts to yield a decent understanding of Bobby. The nature of the Calgary Herald article, however, is not an 'accident', for reasons to be given in the Epilogue.
On September 22, 1990, the Calgary
Herald had published a feature article on the gay and lesbian youth suicide
problem(12), possibly as the result of
temporary insanity. It was authored by Carol Howes and given a telltale
title: Gay Teens Keep Deadly Secret: Real reason for suicide in raft
of other issues. (P. C-l) A long period of atonement (silence) followed,
but the 'gods of homophobia' wanted much more. When Vladimir Horowitz and
Aaron Copland died, related Herald articles did not mention their gay identities,
and all articles related to Kurt Cobain's suicide were silent about his
gay history(13). The 'gods', however, were
still not satisfied, wanting much more to "balance" the 'crime' committed
in 1990. The above described September, 1994 article on Bobby Steele's
suicide was in this category, as were two articles on suicide (to be addressed
in the Epilogue) published on September 7 and 9, 1994. Finally, the 'gods
of homophobia' were satisfied. The temporary insanity of 1990 had been
replaced by a 1994 amnesia related to the 1990 article about the very serious
gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth suicide problem. All had returned to normal,
with the Calgary Herald now working in harmony with the collective
so that the maximum casualty status would be maintained in the gay, lesbian,
and bisexual segment of the youth population.
6. It is commonly said that youth are "sexually confused" when they engage into homosexual activity, but the same is never said, even about gay kids, when they are engaging in hetero-sex. "Confusion" does not stem from having homo-sex, but from having grown up in a society which indoctrinates youth to believe and anticipate they will be heterosexual. In great part, the "confusion" stems from recognizing that their attractions and emotional sexual desires are totally at odds with what they were taught to expect, and at odds with what others expect them to be. Self-hatred and self-loathing is the result of having been taught to hate homosexuals, and to even consider homosexual activity disgusting. Fear (often terror) results because so many people, including parents, make it clear that their offspring will be rejected and hated if known to be gay or lesbian.
7. Many gay males have reported the anger they felt when, after they came out to one or both parents, they were then told something like: "We always knew you were different, and probably gay, but we were waiting for you to tell us." To this time, however, they had carefully avoided saying anything gay-positive, for fear of having to blame themselves as being "causal" by having "influenced" their son in any way; the underlying homophobic wish being that their son is not really gay. The anger - even betrayal - these gay males felt stems from the fact that the torture, the anxiety, and the terror they experienced before coming out to their parents could have been prevented. They could have been spared this agony if their parents had been sensitive and made it very clear that they would continue to accept and love them, even if they were gay. It is commonly encountered that parents - especially mothers - know, or knew about their son's gay nature from a very early age. This was the case with my mother. After reading Bobby Steele's story, a 20-year-old gay male from Grande Prairie, Alberta, reported that his relationship with his mother had been very similar to the one Bobby was experiencing. In Grade 10, she would often ask him why he was crying, once uncontrollably after having a fight with her, but he could not tell her his problem because he was "so scared" and "didn't know what she would think." His dominant thoughts for about six months of being extremely angry and depressed were related to how he could kill himself in "a fast and neat way," to make it final, and to not leave a mess for people to clean up. He believes his mother knows - always knew - he is gay, but he will not tell her, unless she asks. He has only begun to come out to others since January, 1994, and is now in a relationship with another male.
8. The gay male who became manic depressive instead of committing suicide, as noted in The Preface to Second Edition, behaved in exactly the same way before this major event in his life happened. It is only recently, however, that he told me about having eventually done drag.
9. The "or something," when following the sensitive concept "gay," will permit the speaker to manoeuvre out of a potentially threatening situation. For example, Sharon could have replied: "Why would he kill himself because he's gay? What would make you think he was gay? How do you know so much about being gay, and their problems? " The exit from the danger presented by such possible replies is made possible by softening the "gay" proposition with "or something?" Only speculation, with ignorance, is then implied, which then permits the speaker to avoid threatening results by saying something like: "Well, I don't know. It could be anything. He could have been gay, or something. Whatever. I don't know." Other reasons, however, do not exist in the mind of the speaker, except for the stated "being gay." As a rule, for survival reasons rooted in fear (often terror), closeted gay and lesbian people become experts at maintaining their closeted status through the use of language. They constantly monitor what they say and they experience great anxiety when they say something which could lead others to suspect their homosexuality.]
10. One 19-year-old gay male I interviewed on September 21, 1994, had spent 1.5 months in hospital in Grade-8 because he had attempted suicide, and reported that he cried at his high school graduation because he was so happy to never again have to be in such a hateful long-term abusive environment: public schools. His mother told him she knew he was gay since the age of 3.
11. Stating the question in this way deflects from seeking the real cause of Bobby's suicide. He just happened to end his life as Kurt Cobain did, not because of it.
12. In 1991, when I interviewed Janet Arnold, Coordinator of the suicide prevention services at the Canadian Mental Association, this was the only item she reported to have in a file on gay and lesbian youth suicide. Since then, I have supplied her with numerous papers on the subject, and other papers needed to understand these youth.
13. This has been commonly done at the Herald, and in the "mainstream" media, almost as if there has been a conspiracy in place to make sure gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth will not have desperately needed positive role models. When Leonard Bernstein died, however, his homosexual nature was noted, but in a negative way.