Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"It Gets Better," Part Three -- Have We Missed the Point?

I just read on Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" channel is full. Altogether, the channel's received over 1,000 videos as of October 7; it can accommodate only about 650.  Savage is working "with a social media site to host the videos" still pouring in.  I believe it's safe to say the half dozen or so recent suicides of LGBTQ youth in the United States will not be in vain.  Like nothing else, they've created an awareness around the issue of bullying in our school systems we can no longer ignore.

I've viewed a number of the videos, and, while hopeful and inspirational, they are heartbreaking, too.  The long-term legacy of bullying and the resulting pain are so apparent.  When I was growing up, I thought I was the only one who was teased about being gay (even though, as I've written before, I didn't know I was gay, I only knew I was different from other boys).  I see now I wasn't alone, but no social network existed then (in fact, personal computers didn't exist then).  I wish I could have turned on my laptop and watched the "It Gets Better" videos.  What a support, a lifeline, they would have been.

I fear we're missing the point, though.  Sure, the immediate danger is youth at risk.  Absolutely, we must stop the bleeding, figuratively speaking, by creating the videos and by reaching out to young people in a time of desperate need.  In other words, we must do what's within our span of control to stop young people from killing themselves, just because they're confused about their sexuality, or because they've come to the realization they're lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered.

But this is only a band-aid, and we have to acknowledge that.  Unfortunately, watching one after another of the "It Gets Better" videos not only shows how widespread and severe the problem has been for generations, but also how little has been done over the years to address the root cause.  I think the videos send the message to at-risk youth that bullying is going to happen, we know that, and little can be done about it, so live with it the best you can, and, once you graduate from high school, it will get better.  Does anyone else think something's wrong with that?

I think as LGBTQ people, we collectively see ourselves as victims.  So many of us were victimized by bullies as we grew up that we've taken it for granted bullying is, has always been, and will always be, a part of our collective grade school experience, and we have no choice but to deal with it on an individual level potentially from as early as kindergarten through to grade 12.  In other words, we've passively accepted bullying as a part of our lives, and all the hope we can offer our youth today through our videos is "it gets better."

That feels lame to me.  It isn't enough.  I believe as long as we see ourselves as victims, we'll continue to be victims.  I believe, even if we say we're "out" of the closet, as many of us do, we're not completely out, or we're selectively out, primarily to those who are closest to us, and who we're mostly confident will accept us and love us just the same, despite our truth.  But just how many of us are courageous enough to get involved in LGBTQ issues in our own towns and cities, to put ourselves and our sexuality out there, in an effort to tackle the problems we face at their source?

I'm not political in any way, and I fear what I'm coming across as saying is, we need to become politically involved where we live to bring about some of the systemic changes we must see before circumstances get better not only for ourselves but for our youth.  Sure, things are far better now than they were thirty, twenty, even ten years ago, but how much of that was due to our own efforts, and how much by the considerable efforts of straight people sympathetic to our cause?  In other words, how many of us can stand up and say something we did improved circumstances for gay people in general?  Probably not many.  I believe we're still too scared and too passive that way.

Anyway, all I really hope to get across here is this:  The hundreds and hundreds of "It Gets Better" videos prove to me, once and for all, that not only was I not alone in my misery when I was growing up, but that bullying is a common denominator in the LGBTQ experience.  And if how I felt about myself after all that bullying--dealing with low self-esteem issues decades later--is representative of how most LGBTQ felt about themselves, then I know we all relate to feeling like victims.  Unfortunately, I think that even if we now feel circumstances are better for us, we still have some of that victim mentality that allows us to go only so far in trying to make things better, both for us and for those young people who will follow in our footsteps but desperately need our help now.

With an increasing number of LGBTQ people in positions of power and authority now making themselves publicly known--from celebrities with platforms, to government figures (at all levels)--is now the time to release the victim personae once and for all?  Is now the time to unite and show just how impressive our numbers are to the population at large?  Is now the time to be more personally accountable for affecting positive changes, for LGBTQ people in general, and for our distressed youth in particular?  

I don't have all the answers.  I'm just here to pose the questions.


  1. Good post. I think the "it gets better' video movement is fantastic, and is only a first step - it covers the "you are not alone" sentiment, which I too wish I had as a lonely scared gay kid. Then we have to take the next steps and actually start remedying the situation and making things better.

  2. Brahm, I certainly don't want to take away from the intent of the "It Gets Better" project, and I have no doubt it will do a lot of good, which is the whole idea. That said, you and I both know nothing magically improves just by graduating from high school.
    There was an article about this in today's "The Vancouver Sun," quoting critics who've said the project is misleading in terms of what gay youth will have to go through and failing to tackle the root cause of the problem. I plan to use some of this material in another post.
    Thanks so much for your interest in my blog and for your comment. You know I appreciate it.