Many of you have probably heard of the It Gets Better project which was created last week, in response to the tragic suicides of 6 gay teens. As someone who is queer and has worked for queer youth organizations in the past, this obviously piqued my interest. Unfortunately it didn’t take more than two or three videos for my cynicism to kick in…
The first question that popped into my head upon watching was: Will watching videos of queer adults telling you being a gay/lesbian/queer teenager sucked, but becoming an adult will be awesome! and great! and super! and put an end to your suicidal thoughts? The reality of the situation is: it doesn’t always get better. From Dan Savage’s column:
Today we have the power to give these kids hope. We have the tools to reach out to them and tell our stories and let them know that it does get better… But many LGBT youth can’t picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can’t imagine a future for themselves. So let’s show them what our lives are like, let’s show them what the future may hold in store for them.
It sounds really nice and hopeful and all, but personally? Growing up has not magically made my queer teenage anxiety and depression issues go away. In fact, the responsibility of adulthood, the complication of my own identity has often made matters worse. In all honesty, I’d probably feel a lot more fucked up if i had completely bought into the idea that everything would automatically “get better” without me having to work at it, just by virtue of graduating high school. To this day, I still struggle with a lot of self-hate, and a lot of internalized oppressive attitudes to do with my gender identity/presentation, sexuality, class, and many other facets of my identity (and for the record, i’m privileged by a lot of these systems of oppression). I constantly have to work at not spiraling down into serious depression. But (thank goodness) I’m not alone. A lot of my adult queer friends, of various genders, races, abilities, and classes have a lot of the same issues. Finding a community (in the flesh and online), going to gay events, and starting to write all helped in different ways. But even all of these great things combined do not negate the fact that homophobia, which triggered these young people to take their own lives, will not disappear without a fight.
And fighting is hard. Just because it didn’t “get better” does not, by any means, mean you should kill yourself, but what it does mean is that you have to be prepared for reality and resist the oppression you see happening around you, in whatever way you can. We have to recognize that there is a fight to be had in the first place. The reality of the situation is that we have to at the very least acknowledge that we live in a world where homophobia, transphobia, sexism, classism, ableism, and white surpremacy are all alive and well at work in many different ways before we can begin to dismantle those systems. We have to recognize that even privileged folk like middle-class white gay adults are still fired from their jobs for being gay. We have to acknowledge police brutality (trigger warning for link) against queers. We have to acknowledge the acts of violence perpetrated by both institutions and individuals against (disproportionately) poor queer and trans people of colour. We have to acknowledge the role that allies and the bullies play in this system, and reach out to them, too.
And we have to find more concrete ways of fighting back against these systems. In my opinion, the It Gets Better project does none of these things.
My biggest problem with this project is the fact that some people struggle with many different kinds of mental health issues and need access to different resources than a simple YouTube video can offer. Making these universal blanket statements that “it got better for me, it will get better for you” denies the multiplicity of experiences and identities that make up our queer communities. Dan Savage claims the genesis for this project is his simple desire to have been able to have had a conversation with Billy Lucas before he committed suicide to tell him it gets better. To me, and to friends of mine who work in suicide outreach, this is just a bit too simplistic. Maybe the videos would help, but maybe finding a queer therapist would help too. Maybe finding a zine, a book, a website that talks about your experiences. And for some kids, maybe starting an anti-homophobia group in high school. Maybe trying to rattle the cage rather than just sit and wait for it to pass, with the hope that things “will get better.” To simply tolerate high school as a shitty time isn’t enough for me, and it isn’t enough for queer teens either.
Let me finish by stating that the It Gets Better isn’t a terrible project. People like myself who are raising these concerns are not to create diviseness within the queer community, but rather attempting to call attention to the fact that this doesn’t address the complicated aspects of homophobia. Having these stories online is great, but we can’t lead ourselves to believe that it is enough, just like wearing a red ribbon during the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s was not enough. It can be part of the solution, but only if we remember that there is a fight to be had. I’d like to think that that fight could be won with webcams and stories, but realistically I know it’s going to be a bit more complicated than that.
It Gets Better project on YouTube
Defending Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project
does it really get better? by Not That Kinda Gay
We Got Your Back project
October 20th: Spirit Day
an unedited, angrier version of this rant is available here.