James Clementi Remembers Tyler: On Younger Brother's Suicide, Coming Out As Gay And Media Barrage
The older gay brother of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University freshman who took his own life in 2010 after his roommate allegedly used a webcam to try to secretly tape him having sex with another man, says the grief of his brother's death is still at times "overwhelming." Having written a series of letters to his brother in the March issue of Out magazine, James Clementi explained in an interview on my radio program on SiriusXM OutQ that he feels guilt as well, having finally come out to his parents, but only in the aftermath of his brother's suicide. And he wants the world to know what his brother was truly like, believing that Tyler's "humanity was lost" in the media barrage.
"It's been very bittersweet, I guess," 26-year-old Clementi said. "And I have really conflicted feelings about it. You know, I've always -- all my life I've dreamt of being open with my parents. And this is not the way in which I would have wanted that to come about. I feel a lot of guilt about the sacrifice that was made just so that I could be accepted by them. I don't think that that's the right way that it should have ever happened."
James says he always had a sense that Tyler was gay, but hadn't spoken to him about it until just months before Tyler jumped from the George Washington Bridge, taking his life.
"I feel like, just being his brother and being close with him, I always sort of intuitively felt that he was gay and it wasn't something we really spoke about for most of our lives together," he recalled. "I mean, we grew up in a very conservative, very religious family, and I just dealt with my own shame and my own baggage, and I wasn't really able to be there for him as I wanted to be, as a brother."
The brothers came out to each other just a few months before Tyler, then 18, went away to school, though neither had come out to their parents.
"I knew it was time to confront him about it," he said. "I had ended up inadvertently stumbling into his room to ask him a question and saw him looking at gay porn on the computer and that was the point at which I said, I can't be in denial about this any longer. I wanted him to know that I was gay and wanted him to know that he could come to me and talk to me about if he wanted to. He seemed very relieved and smiled and was happy. We talked about it at length, but we didn't have that much time. It was just a few months before he went to school. And once he left I actually didn’t speak with him again."
Tyler didn't want to discuss it much anyway.
"He came across as kind of cocky about it, kind of like, 'I know what I'm doing. I don't need your advice. I've got this all figured out,'" James recalled. "I definitely felt like there was a lot of bravado that was covering up maybe more fear and more anxiety. But I guess as a brother I didn't want to parent him or try to lecture him. I wanted to give him space and some freedom. But I did tell him there's always going to be situations that come up where you're going to need a friend and need a brother to talk to and let him know I would be that person. But I don't know how much that message sunk in."
James also responded to some of the reactions to his parents’ interview last year on "The Today Show" where they explained that Tyler had come out to them three weeks before his suicide and how it was difficult for them. Tyler had written to a friend at the time, "Mom has basically completely rejected me."
"I definitely came across that attitude from people that I spoke to in my life about it," he said about the interview and reactions from those who felt his parents still had trouble accepting Tyler was gay. "Maybe not even that they weren't fully comfortable but that there was still a barrier, a line that they didn't want to cross, and a lot of people that I know remarked that maybe it came out of feelings of guilt and maybe it was too painful of a place to go to. I couldn't say exactly what they feel but I think that no one really has suffered more than my mom and my dad out of this. Maybe they didn't handle things perfectly. But I think they made great strides and I know that they would do anything, not that it means much after the fact, but they would do anything to have him back."
One of the reasons James wrote the letters in Out is to let the world know what his brother really was like.
"I greatly admire him," he said. "He was really the smartest person that I know. And I don't think the world has perceived all that he was and all that he had to offer and all that's been lost. I think a lot of his humanity has been lost. He was entertaining. He was definitely someone that would laugh and make you smile. He loved to be the center of attention. He would do anything to have the attention on him. He could be a brat sometimes. He could be annoying. He could be adorable. He was just like the quintessential little brother."
Listen to the full interview with James Clementi below:
CLARIFICATION: We have revised the post to clarify the circumstances around the alleged video recording of Clementi.