Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"It Gets Better," Part Two -- How It Gets Better

If you've taken a look at any of the "It Gets Better" videos, you know everyone says it gets better, but few provide details on how.  I've taken a moment to put together how it got better for me after I graduated from high school.  This list is not exhaustive, but it is indicative of just how much better going from being bullied in school to making my way in the adult world got for me.  And that's how it can be for you, too.

1.  It got better the second my high school graduation ceremony was over (the ceremony itself wasn't so good because someone called out the word faggot as I returned to my seat with my diploma).  In many ways, I'd looked forward to graduation day for a very long time.  I knew I would never again be in the vicinity of my tormenters at the same time.  What a relief that was.  It'll be the same for you too, you just watch.

2.  It got better when I attended college the following September.  Believe it or not, some of the people who bullied me in school attended the same college I did.  I encountered them in the hallways and classrooms, but, curiously, they left me alone.  I don't recall anyone hurling an epithet at me in college.  Remarkably, they'd somehow grown up during the two months between graduation and college, or they no longer got the same kick out of making me feel badly about myself as they had before.  And, on the subject of college, the other great thing was I met a lot of different people, some of whom I suspect were gay.  We may not have come out to each other (this was the late-1970s, after all), but we felt kinship and supported nonetheless.

3.  It got better when I finally accepted myself as a gay man.  Okay, this part wasn't easy, I admit, because, culturally, at the time, homosexuality was deplored and not spoken about.  So I suppressed who I was and denied it.  Not until eight years after I graduated from high school did I accept I was gay.  But I did, that's the point to keep in mind, and you will too, if you haven't already.  The little world of the school you attend now may not seem accepting of gay people, but parts of the big world, especially many areas of North America, are accepting in ways you can't imagine.  I suspect accepting yourself will be easier for you than it was for me, but it's key to making your life better.  Otherwise, you'll forever live a lie, which can only lead to misery. You don't want to do that.      

4.  It got better when I finally came out to family and friends.  Okay, this part wasn't easy either, not at the time I came out, but there's no substitute for it.  I don't believe life will get better for you until you come out.  The relief you'll feel will set you free, despite the initial reactions you might get.  My experience has been most people who learn you're gay will accept you, perhaps in their own time, but they will.  You'll be surprised.  I never ever thought my father would accept me as a gay man, but he did.  (And here's a little secret between you and me:  Some family members may not accept you, ever, and that's okay.  Other people will appear in your life who will take their place.  With your circle of friends, you'll create your own family, and they may be much more supportive than your birth family.  That's how it is sometimes.  Too bad, but you can't take responsibility for the choices other people make, even if that choice is to withdraw love from, and reject, you).  

5.  It got better when I met other gay people.  Man, did it get better then.  Because I learned I wasn't alone.  I learned other people just like me were all over the place.  I learned, for perhaps the first time in my life, I could be myself in the company of others, and they wouldn't judge me, they wouldn't laugh at me, they wouldn't make me feel badly about myself.  Of all the pain I suffered growing up, the worst was the isolation and the resulting loneliness--believing I was the only one, no one else in this whole world was like me, would understand me, would befriend and support me.  When I realized this wasn't the case, that other men had some of the same characteristics and mannerisms and experiences I had, the relief I felt was incredible.  I knew I would never be alone again, not in the way I was when I was younger and still in school.      

6.  It got better when I wasn't so focused on being gay anymore, when being gay was just a part of me, like anything else, but not all of me.  I assure you, when you're in school, and you keep being reminded on a daily basis you're gay and unacceptable, you focus on it.  How can you not?  But without that continuous reminder, you will move on to become a multi-dimensional human being.  You'll never be able to forget you're gay, but it won't consume your life anymore.  You'll be able to put it into perspective, to give it the regard it needs when you have to, and to move on.  After all, other things are just as important in your life, right, like education, work, relationships, fulfilling your purpose, etc.?  

7.  It got better when I became aware of my value as a human being--not for what I did, as I believed for many years, but for who I am.  This is difficult and potentially painful work--hey, the name of the project is "it gets better," not "it gets easy"--because, when you leave school, your ego will be battered.  How can it not be after you've taken so much bullying, after you've been told time and again, in so many ways, being gay is (insert a negative word here.)  My guess is your self-esteem will be low.  My guess is you'll probably be filled with self-loathing. But, you know what?  In time, you'll come to realize your self-worth.  You really will, especially if you do some of the hard work to understand yourself and your life better (see #9 below).  Few people, gay or straight, get through the world of school feeling good about themselves, remember that. You're not alone. Everyone is on a journey to loving himself, arguably the most important journey of your life.  You wouldn't want to pass on that, would you?

8.  It got better when I found the right person to spend the rest of my life with. Okay, I won't pretend this wasn't a challenge, but it's a challenge for plenty of straight folks, too.  To find that magic with another human being is not an easy thing, but, let me tell you, is it worth it.  As the saying goes, "you'll kiss a lot of frogs along the way," but each frog you encounter will teach you things about yourself.  Every person you meet does.  They may not work out, either as friends or as partners, but, make no mistake, each is a gift, a blessing, and you'll be a better person for each of them.  And, when you find your betrothed, well, you'll be ready in a way you wouldn't be otherwise.

9.  And, lastly, it got better when I began the hard work of unraveling everything I'd been through in my life that today makes me who I am.  Some people never do this work.  Some people get through life without any apparent introspection.  I don't know how they do it.  I consider it critical to understanding myself better, to putting the events of my life into some perspective.  Why did that happen?  What were the life lessons?  What can I take from that to improve my present and my future?  You'll also be able to decide what's riffraff--that is, what you can let go of because it doesn't matter--and what's really important.  And, believe me, the bullying you're going through right now isn't important, not in the least.  In the grand scheme of things, it's meaningless (unless you're one of those people who come out of bullying feeling it made him stronger and more resilient.  I didn't).  At the right time, you'll let it go, because you should let it go.  It's no longer a part of you.  You've moved beyond it.  Life is much too short to hang on to this stuff. Years later, your bullies won't remember you.  So why should you continue to give them power over your life by flagellating yourself with what they used to say and do to you?  It's over now.  Move on.  

It really, really does get better.  Believe me.


  1. I love this post. I think the specifics make all the difference: things don't automatically get better at a set time, they happen at their own pace and it's also up to the individual to realize the opportunities they have to help things along.

  2. Wow, am I impressed with your comment and insightfulness. I'm fortunate to have been around long enough to know, approximately, what the next steps are likely to be for young people coming to terms with their sexual orientation. What few say in the "It Gets Better" videos is it only gets better after time and a lot of hard work, particularly on yourself, all of it so worthwhile.
    But I hesitate saying that because the immediate intent of the project is to prevent people from committing suicide. That has to be the priority. That said, if I can say anything that's realistic yet hopeful to someone like yourself, then I've done my part to help.
    Thanks again for reading what I had to say. I hope I've made a difference, even a small one, in your life.