It’s Not Where You Start: Better

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

[Edited 10/7: Turns out that Make It Better and It Gets Better aren’t the same project. Both are worth checking out.]

Chances are, if you read my blog, then you’re probably aware of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project. In response to the recent uptick in visibility of gay teen suicides — which I suspect is just that, an increase in visibility and not an increase in suicide incidence, since every study I’ve ever read has warned of the high suicide rate of gay teens in the USA — Savage and his husband made a YouTube video talking about their own difficult teen years and reassuring viewers that life got better for them, and it can get better for teens today.

The video has spawned an online movement of others making It Gets Better videos. And since many of my friends know I like to make online videos every now and then, I started getting messages asking if I was going to make one. 

Many, although certainly not all, of the videos come from upper-middle class white gay men. Of course it got better for them, excuse me, us. I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s real childhood pain — and certainly white kids from well-off families can kill and do themselves too — but I have a hard time sitting in front of my netbook inside my condo telling kids it will get better. It’s not that I don’t believe it will get better for them — I do. It’s just that it was never particularly bad for me, and I’m not sure how to acknowledge the privilege I benefit from while still offering helpful words to anyone.

I was glad that my friend Ariel posted a link to the following video on Facebook:

There’s a lot of truth there. Sometimes, what gets better isn’t the world around us, but our abilities to cope with the world. We get stronger. For some of us, that’s because we have access to education, employment, money, and mobility so we can just distance ourselves from the kind of discrimination those without power experience. The more marginalized one might be, the more power one needs to acquire to create that distance. It was relatively easier for me, a white, Jewish, gay man from a middle-class background, to level up to the lifestyle I have now than it would have been had I been black, Muslim, female, and poor, for example.

Distance from discrimination isn’t the only answer. We can get tougher, both emotionally and physically, so that tormentors are less likely to attempt to bother us, and if they do, less likely to get under our skin. We can develop coping mechanisms — my personal favorite is scathing wit. And we can build up our families; for those who aren’t lucky enough to have been born into supportive families, that means creating families for ourselves. One of the best things I’ve learned from gay culture is the idea of the families we choose, the close networks of friends who really look out for each other and support each other the way a functioning family should. For kids growing up with access to the internet — and again, here we run up against the privilege barrier again — there are great places to begin to connect with other queer people to start to find that support.

Afraid someone will find out? Don’t worry, we’re everywhere. If you are afraid that participating in a queer chat board will out you to your family or your school, find a forum about something you’re interested in. Believe me, I’ve seen the same kind of support offered to queer kids in message boards for musical theater, comic books, computer programmers, and every other kind of interest that you’d expect to find only at a site specifically for queer kids.

So perhaps the message that I can offer to kids out there struggling with being different, fearing rejection, considering taking their own lives is that you’re not alone. I can’t guarantee that the specific circumstances of your life will get better. But I can tell you that it’s all easier to deal with when you’ve got people on your side. And you have them, even if you don’t know them yet.

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