It Gets Better
I began writing this post over a week ago, and it proves to be a difficult subject for me to express my thoughts about. This is an issue very near to my heart, and I must have rewritten this post 20 times. In the end I am glad I did. So many really great initiatives get off to a quick start and slowly die off after the initial buzz wears off. I hope that posting this a week or more late will help to remind people who may have missed it the first time or thought “yeah, that’s a really good idea” but left it at that how important this issue really is.
I wish that everyone I knew would blog about this.
I wish every person would take the time to care about this.
We stand to lose an awful lot by sweeping the issue of teenage suicide under the rug. The teenage years are hard, fraught with hormones, urges, self-awareness, and personal growth. It is our chrysalis moment, our emergence from the cocoon of childhood safety into the harsh reality of self-dependence. Oh, and did I mention you have to try and manage all this while maintaining a calm and cool persona, or face being a social orphan to your peers.
Now imagine that same difficult time, that same awkward stumble between childhood and adulthood, from the point of view of a homosexual or transgendered youth. How difficult is it for us to keep up appearances and walk that tightrope of peer acceptance when you are what your peers call “normal”? How much worse does that same struggle rear its ugly head for someone who has feelings that do not mesh with what society deems “acceptable”.
The kids I went to school with mocked and bullied people for having the wrong kind of shoes, the wrong clothes, the wrong friends, the wrong parents, the wrong house, and just about anything else that made you less than them. It is a horrible experience, it is the last childish throes of the adolescent mind before we learn that the world cannot be easily separated into false sub-categories like nerds, geeks, stoners, losers, fags, dykes, queers, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, there are those out there today, at 33, who want to separate the world into simplistically unfair labels, but they are the minority; for the most part we don’t have to suffer their abuses, life is very different outside the fishbowl of high school. You go to college, you meet people who are just like you, you make closer friends; you realize that the labels that assholes give you don’t really count for shit, you learn to redefine your worth outside of the narrow lens of a few nasty words and actions.
It gets better, really it does. Take it from someone who has been through most anything you can imagine.
I saw it all, and I came out the other side a better person for it. My story could be your story. It could have been ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ or ‘loser’ or ‘fag’. I count as close friends at least one of each of those people. I don’t know your specifics, but I know your story…..
When I was in high school I was a notorious fag. Not because I was gay, because I am not. No, I was a fag because I was the president of the drama club, because I hung out with the “wrong people” and because I stood up to the “right people”. I was a fag because I didn’t much care for the politics of high school, I knew who I was and who I was not. I was a fag because I was a little too charismatic to be a “nerd”, a little too normal to be a “freak”, but not popular enough to be spared the humiliation of a bunch of insecure bullies with adult bodies and child brains.
I say this because I want you to know that I kind of understand what some gay kids go through in high school, and it’s not pretty. What I am not aware of is how hard it must be to be facing truths and emotions that you have no control over and the added pressures and confusions at a time when life is already so filled with pressure and confusion even for those of us who fit in. In many ways I don’t understand because I embraced my differences; I never desperately wanted to fit in.
- I had “FAG” written on my locker in marker, and teachers didn’t seem too alarmed.
- I was referred to as “The Fag” by several people for the duration of high school, even shouting it at me in the hallway between classes
- I was threatened physically on numerous occasions
- I got regularly scheduled ass-kickings from some of the jocks
I can’t say that my feelings were never hurt, but I was always able to take it in stride. I also had the benefit of having lots of friends who made me feel accepted, and my outgoing nature spared me from suffering in silence.
Life after high school is a completely different world. I still live in the city I attended high school in, and I still run into some of the people who ostracized me in high school. Some have apologized, some just avoid talking to me at all. I have never faced what I went through in high school since I left there; the few times I have seen some ignorant washed up jock try to make a homophobic comment and everyone around him looked at him like he was retarded. People in the real world generally value differences, and the ones who don’t know better than to make themselves look stupid. The geeks, the nerds, the freaks, and fags rule the world out here. Believe me, it gets better.
I can understand why someone might feel all alone in high school. It’s part of the emotional arsenal of the popular kids. The people who fly under the radar are too afraid to say anything for fear of being lumped in with the ‘unpopulars’, even the ‘unpopulars’ turn on each other from time to time for fear of going down another rung. Trust me that if you really stop to look around, you are not alone. There are people out there who honestly care about you. It’s just hard to see past that huge pile of bullshit that people have lumped down in front of you.
I am at 33, a moderately successful father of four kids, I married the captain of another schools cheerleading team, and I have a tight knit group of friends. Each of these things: father, husband, friend, mean infinitely more than ‘fag’. I still would happily wear that badge though, because the people who I met and the person that I am because of that adversity make me a better person. I love being that ‘fag’ from high school. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Dan Savage is a crusader for LGBT issues. He has started a campaign via YouTube to help spread the word to gay teens who are bullied in school: It Gets Better. I implore everyone to support this initiative. We have lost too many people to bullying related suicides. The LGBT community is at a greater risk than anyone else. Help in any way you can- spread the word: It Gets Better.
Also, October 20th, Project Queer is asking everyone to wear purple to help raise awareness of the issue of teen suicide among the LGBT community. On the LGBT rainbow flag, purple is the colour associated with spirit. I will be wearing purple on Oct. 20th, will you?
If you don’t know where to start, look for LGBT organisations, or straight-queer alliances (I will plug HSSE here, also found in my sidebar), and ask what you can do.
This is something we all need to care about.