You’re all by now familiar with Dan Savage’s fabulous It Gets Better project, where LGBT people from all walks of life make videos telling gay kids, in their own words and in their own experiences, that it does indeed get better. If you’re a bullied kid who’s feeling pretty hopeless, that’s an important message, because it can feel very lonely, so to have older, adult gay men and women saying “Hey, I remember being where you are, and I’m glad I pushed through,” is extremely powerful. In case you somehow have not seen Dan’s original video with his husband Terry, here it is:
So, some writer going by the handle “Femmephane” has written an essay that’s making the rounds on the internutz today, about why she thinks Dan’s message is, um, wrong. So allow me to correct her, point by point. Matthew at Boy Culture has already done the same, and I haven’t read his yet [I decided I wanted to write mine before reading his], but once you’re done here, hop on over there and see what he has to say on the same subject.
Here, in order, are Femmephane’s grievances:
1. The video promotes metro-centric and anti-religious sentiment. By aligning their bullying with the religiosity and “small-town mentality,” Dan and Terry tacitly reinforce the belief (especially rampant in queer communities) that the religious and the rural are more bigoted.
“Metro-centric.” Heehee, I love hipsters who make up words. Small towns ARE, for the most part, more bigoted; oh, I hear you, Ithaca and Oberlin, I’m not talking about you. Also, anti-gay bigotry is intimately entwined with religiosity.
2. The message is wrong. Sometimes it gets better– but a lot of times it doesn’t get any better. Emphasizing that things will improve upon graduation is misleading both to young folks struggling and also to people with privilege who are looking on (or looking away).
Actually, if a person is suicidal, it does tend to get better if they stick it out. One of the reasons it gets better is that, after high school, a person has more freedom of choice and association in how they live their lives.
3. Telling people that they have to wait for their life to get amazing–to tough it out so that they can be around when life gets amazing– is a violent reassignment of guilt. Dan Savage telling kids that if they don’t survive their teenage years they’re depriving themselves? What kind of ageist garbage is that? This quietly but forcefully suggests that if you don’t survive, if you don’t make it, it’s your own fault. It blames the queer for not being strong enough to get to the rosy, privileged, fantasy.
Uh, yeah, well, if people miss out on their 20’s and 30’s [and 60’s and 70’s] because they kill themselves, they’re sort of, missing out on those years, which probably will be better than middle school hell. One could even say they’re being “deprived” of those years. Oh, dear, I am being age-ist again.
Point: Me. And that’s the last time I’m typing that, because I plan to win every time.
4. Stories of how your mom finally came around, over-write the present realities of youth. Arguing that in the future, the parts that hurt will be fixed, not only suggests that folks shouldn’t actually inhabit their own suffering but it also suggests that the future is more important. For a lot of folks, it doesn’t matter if your mother might come to love you and your spouse. It matters that right now she does not love you at all.
Uh, no, it just gives them hope that, no matter how shitty things might feel right now, many people have lived the reality that these things can and do change. It gives the kids an excuse to maybe keep their chins up safe in the knowledge that tomorrow is a new day and things can and do get better.
5. The rhetoric about being accepted by family, encourages folks to come out– even when coming out isn’t a safe idea. There is no infrastructure to catch you when your family reacts poorly. There is no truly benevolent queer family, waiting to catch you, ready to sacrifice so you can thrive. For a lot of folks, coming out doesn’t only mean that your parents will promise to hate your lovers– it means violence, homelessness, abuse.
I must have missed the part when Dan and Terry ordered all gay children to come out right now.
6. Bar story: vomit. It’s no coincidence that this is the first place where Dan and Terry mention queer space. Codified queer-space, restricted to 21+, w alcohol? Try again.
Oh, so you don’t like Dan and Terry’s reality. I guess they could go back and reinvent a story, to make it less GAYYYYYY. Wait, my straight parents met at a bar, and they’re still married today. Why are my parents so restricted to codified queer-spaces, restricted to 21+, w alcohol? Somebody should tell them how gay they are, and how their story is just not good enough.
7. We shouldn’t be talking, we should be listening. Telling our own stories from our incredibly privileged positions, overwrites youth experience.
For this reason, parents and other adults should NEVER tell teens about what they’ve been through, even if they’re just trying to help, because this “overwrites youth experience,” and one thing parents and other adults have never been is “youths.”
If you’re keeping score, I’m still winning.
8. Stories of over-coming adversity: no thank you. Narratives of how life was hard and but now is good, belittle lived pain, imply that a good ending is inevitable, and also undermine the joy and happiness in even bullied kids’ lives.
Because overcoming adversity does not exist! And moreover, we should never give a bullied gay kid the idea that they might be able to persevere through their pain, because after all, these are all just STORIES.
9. There is actually no path to change in this vision. Promoting the illusion that things just “get better,” enables privileged folks to do nothing and just rely on the imaginary mechanics of the American Dream to fix the world. Fuck that. How can you tell kids it gets better without having the guts to say how.
Actually, the path to change is giving kids hope in a new way, and giving them, in a visual, internetty way, the knowledge that there are others out there who understand, who’ve been where they are, and who care about them. That said, “The Imaginary Mechanics of the American Dream” is a great name for a band.
10. Then we get a baby and go to Paris? WTF? This is a video for rich kids for whom the only violent part of their life is high school. It’s a video for classist, privileged gay folks who think that telling their stories is the best way to help others. Telling folks that their suffering is normal doesn’t reassure them– it homogenizes their experience. It doesn’t make them feel like part of a bigger community, it makes them feel irrelevant.
Somebody resents the successful gay couple in the video above, apparently. Actually, Dan and Terry were just telling their story. I’m sorry that they didn’t change “Paris” to, like, Hoboken or something, in order to not be so “classist,” and besides, “Paris” is totally not even a real place. And I’m sorry that Dan and Terry aren’t apologizing for being successful. What terrible people they obviously are.
She has three more, but they’re not good either.
Anyway, if you weren’t keeping score, I won, and so did Matthew.