The genesis of Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project was apparently him reading another article about another gay kid committing suicide and somebody saying, “I wish I had the chance to tell this kid that it gets better.” From there, he launched a YouTube channel where people logged on, shared their stories of being bullied or oppressed lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender kids and how they lead awesome lives now, so you can too. Then Lady Gaga made a bunch of public statements in support of her young LGBT fans. Then Anderson Cooper forgot about current events worldwide and became fixated on the issues surrounding youth bullying. Then no gay kid committed suicide ever again. Or, wait...
Look, the last thing I want to do is be insensitive or offensive on this subject. On the whole, I'd love for my silly blog to be widely read, but in cases like these, I'm happy it's not. I know, dear few readers, that you realize I'm not trying to minimize the tragic circumstances that lead some young people to take their lives, but I wonder if we're not sending kids the absolute wrong message on subjects like these. There are few sacred cows around here, but I take this subject seriously enough to know a lot of the rhetoric being bandied about in support of bullied teens, gay or otherwise, is fucking dangerous. Time to get a new message out.
Dream: Send a message to the gay teens.
Goal: Achievable. I'm nothing if not hip and easy to relate to, so it's time give these dudes and dudettes the 411.
Plan: Be blunt and concise with what I know as a former gay teen and current gay “success story” (I bought new sheets so yeah, livin' pretty well these days).
First of all, if the It Gets Better videos speak to you, that's great, don't let me stop you, just be aware of the premise you are accepting here. If you believe that it gets better, you believe that your current situation is somehow worse. Yes, gay teenagers have it hard, but you know who else has it hard? Teenagers. Fat ones, skinny ones, ones with bad skin, ones with weird hair, cracked voices, flat chests, clothes from Walmart, divorced parents, diverse cultural backgrounds, different skin colours, busty chests and braces. Everyone wants to be like everyone else when they're sixteen, but unfortunately for sixteen year-olds, everyone is in some way unique. What will get better is your tolerance for an acceptance of that which makes us diverse, and naturally we should celebrate such diversity but, like pimples, braces, and tits, we shouldn't let a trait as benign and ultimately unimportant as sexuality define who we are.
I get what you're doing, Lady Gaga. Even for someone as cynical as me, I can appreciate your obvious love for your LGBT teenage fans. But the whole thing smacks of catering to a demographic to me. Of course we should strive to make gay kids feel as loved and accepted as anyone else, but do we have to just see them as Gay Kids? Yes, you were Born This Way, but left-handed people were Born That Way also, as were tall people and people who can roll their tongue in a loop, but that's not something they hang onto as an identity, how boring. Being gay is a part of who you are, but it does not a person make. We all know those people, gay and straight, who use their sexuality to define their personality, and while it's fun to go to a dance bar with these folks, they come across vain and shallow after awhile. If you're a teen, try cultivating an image for yourself based on your abilities, not your attributes. Be the poet, or the girl who makes her own soap and candles, or the basketballer, who happens to be gay, but what of it? I suppose it's easy for me to say all this now, especially since I spent my high school years comfortably in the closet, but I certainly never had a boyfriend or even any prospects that would make my sexuality any kind of issue. I know a lot of gay high schoolers are probably upset that they don't have a boyfriend or girlfriend and can't get laid, but you know who else is upset they don't have a boyfriend or girlfriend and can't get laid? Every other teenager. Suck it up.
I hate to tell you, teens of all stripes, but bullying is here to say. Like prostitution or Ashton Kutcher, just because we don't like certain things doesn't mean we can ever really get rid of them. But it takes two to tango, or cheat on your long time partner, Demi Moore, and likewise it takes a Victim to be Bullied. Part of what disturbs me about the media frenzy surrounding the bullying “epidemic” is that it suggests it is the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. Yes, it sucks being called a name or shoved into a locker, but whatever happened to “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me?” What happened to “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent?” I'm not saying we ought to teach kids to passively accept bullying, just the opposite. Stand up to the asshole kid who picks on you, ignore taunts and insults or, better yet, see them for what they are: pathetic attempts by an individual to assert power over another person to make up for their own perceived weakness. Don't put that victim hat on, if you are teased or picked on, for God's sake, don't sit at home stewing about it! And please, refuse to accept the link force-fed to us by countless well-intentioned but completely misguided news stories that suggest bullying leads to desperation which leads to suicide.
Suicide is the tragic, irrevocable act of someone suffering with issues of mental and emotional health. I want to be very careful when talking about this, because I really can't imagine ever even contemplating going down this road, but I do know that it is a state of mind which leads people to this decision, not just a set of circumstances. When Lady Gaga dedicates a song to a person that has taken their life, or Anderson Cooper uses a dead teenager's Facebook page to launch into another episode of 360, I wonder if we risk treating suicide like it's a trend. As if it's a thing some people do because of x, y, and z, when it has to be far more complicated than that. I'm not sure we're honouring these kids by lumping them together in newspaper articles and suggesting their death is part of some cause, like it's not senseless, like it's not completely unacceptable. I don't think I'm being clear. All I know for sure is that we should treat events like this not as headline news gossip where people go, “Ohh geez, bullying...” Instead we should be confused and horrified every single time, and wonder what the fuck is happening, not just to gay teenagers, not just to victims of bullying, but to every kid who sees this is a viable option, some kind of “way out.”
There's a lot more information out there, by people smarter than me, but there's lots of hysterical reportage out there too, by people dumber than me. And I worry that, like shark attacks and the golden-voiced homeless man, teenage bullying will become just another news topic that will grow stale and be tossed aside. If that's the case, I hope teenagers will be as smart as nobody gives them credit for and realize they're pretty strong and pretty exceptional, just like everybody else. That things won't just “get better” because enough time has passed, things can “get better” tomorrow if you start to look at things a little differently. We're all in this together and we should strive to accept and love each other and ourselves because that's in our nature, as humans. That's the way we were born.