Having just finished It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living, edited by Dan Savage and his partner of sixteen years, Terry Miller, I can make a few comments about what I read, a few observations that became apparent over the scope of the book.
A lot of people endured a lot of pain and suffering as a result of being bullied in school. This is apparent on every page of It Gets Better. Incredibly, it doesn't seem to matter where you attended school--whether in any of the fifty United States, or in countries around the world, from Canada to Spain to Australia--bullying is a common denominator among virtually all gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning youth. In one case, a contributor admitted she wasn't bullied by anyone at all...except herself, having learned early on that, because of how she was different, she was unacceptable.
Next door to Chris and me lives the sweetest, most innocent, most friendly and open little four-year-old boy you could ever meet. As I've watched him play on his bicycle on the sidewalk in front of our house, one of his watchful parents always close at hand, I've wondered more than once what happens to children like him from the time they're born, when they have no prejudices against other people, to the time they attend school. How do some children get along with most other children, no matter their differences, while others become monsters, not only ruining the academic experience, but also seriously damaging the self-esteem, of so many?
Equally curious is what happens between high school graduation and the first year of college, for many a period of no longer than two months? As I wrote before, at my graduation ceremony, the final event of my twelve years in school, one of my male peers yelled out the word "faggot" at me as I walked by on the elevated platform, wearing suit and tie, diploma firmly in hand, feeling so proud of my accomplishment, so exhilarated by the occasion. To the last minute, the bullies were unrelenting. Yet, during the entire two years I spent in college--same town, some of the same bullies who tormented me--not once was a gay epithet directed at me. Not one time.
How do we end bullying? How do we harness all of the negative energy bullies put into bringing other people down and use it constructively. If you have answers, I'd sure like to hear them.
Religion messes up a lot of people. A LOT of people. (Did I just say religion messes up a lot of people? That's because it does.) From the Westboro Baptists, who give new meaning to the term lunacy, to the decades-long conflict in the Middle East, to the many prejudices levelled against untold millions over time immemorial--many, many things have been done throughout history, all in the name of God. I take comfort in believing God Himself is looking down on us, shaking His head at our intolerance and hatred, and wondering if we'll ever figure out the real message of His word.
In story after story after story in It Gets Better, contributors write they were raised Catholic (although other religions are mentioned, too), and, through the teachings of the church, they learned their "deviant" sexual orientation was wrong, unacceptable, an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. As a result, countless thousands of young people--most of whom had yet to experience love and sex, either with someone of the opposite or same gender--were led to believe they were little better than dirt, evil incarnate, doomed to burn in hell for all eternity if they followed through on becoming what they were.
Religion plays an enormous role in abusing gay and lesbian people, forcing them to hate themselves as a result. Can it not be said, then, that religion is no better than the common school bully, contributing to the breaking of people's spirits, in effect dehumanizing them and potentially depriving them of a relationship with God? In my opinion, formal religion, which is very much a human construct, doesn't have the right to do that.
Fortunately, gays and lesbians catch on to the religious conspiracy against them sooner or later. And, in most cases, they reject churches of whatever denomination, adopting instead a form of personal spiritually, which is more loving, inclusive, and consistent with their understanding of God's word and what He really expects from us as human beings.
It's no surprise most contributors to Savage and Miller's book write life got better after they left high school. In fact, a lot better. Better than they could have ever imagined. And for that reason, they consistently encourage LGBTQ youth not to commit suicide (the whole point of the book)--so they will be around to see all the great things life holds for them, so they'll find the vast number of people on this earth exactly like them, and so they'll have the opportunity to share their wonderful gifts with all of us.
A lot of emphasis is placed on all those things in the external environment that contribute to making life better for gay and lesbian people--from post secondary institutions, where a wider variety of people gather, not only to receive an education but also to meet other people like themselves; to large cities, where people from around the world, with wider diversity, more life experience, and a greater degree of tolerance for the differences in others, readily accept them, or, at the very least, ignore them, as they go about creating the lives they want for themselves.
But, in testimony after testimony, contributors admit one of the biggest reasons why life got better is because they learned to embrace what was different about themselves, and (no surprise!) turned their self-loathing into self-love. It Gets Better is filled with dozens of references (some of which appear in this blog under the heading "Thought for the Day"), where gay and lesbian people write about the role self-acceptance played in restoring their self-esteem. If I took one thing away from my experience with this book it's how responsible we are for making our own lives better, through learning how to love ourselves.
I end with this quote from Tuan N'Gai in "How I Got Over" from It Gets Better: "What's going to keep you strong, and what's going to help you get through it, is learning how to love yourself. Seeing yourself as good enough. And sharing what makes you, you. Falling in love with what makes you unique is going to help you get through this difficult time. Trust me. I've been there. Thousands of other people have been there. There are more people out there than you can imagine, and they share your story [p. 207]."