Some thoughts on It Gets Better

I appreciate the sentiments behind the It Gets Better project, but feel that in general it falls so short of what queer kids actually need as to be essentially irrelevant to their experience. As a queer teen, I did not need to hear that things would improve eventually if I stuck it out. I was thinking about whether tomorrow was going to be the day I got my ass kicked in school. I was thinking about how bad the verbal harassment was going to get. I was thinking about what was going to happen to my friends who were still in the closet in that technical way where everyone knew they were a couple but they couldn’t come out because of their parents so they got harassed worse than I did, because being out at least gave me the space to say “fuck you” instead of “no I’m not.” I was thinking about my friend who had to drop out of school because other kids wouldn’t tolerate how femme he was. I was thinking about whether my parents were going to scream at me again and whether they’d change their minds about not kicking me out. I was thinking about what my homeless friends were doing to get by or sometimes I was trying not to think about that or I was thinking about whether there was something I could do that I wasn’t doing. I was thinking about my friends who were getting hit on by men twice their age and how messed up it was that community stuff was still organized out of the bars but we couldn’t go in. I was thinking about how bored I was sitting through sex ed for the sixth time and learning yet again about straight people and pregnancy. I was thinking about AIDS and how fucking judgmental people get over other people getting sick and dying. I was thinking about the next town over passing legislation against queer rights.

I wasn’t thinking about my future career or my future life as a yuppie or whether my future girlfriend would be upset that she couldn’t have a church wedding or whether things would magically improve at some vague point that wasn’t even on my horizon.

I was thinking about how my teachers never did anything about the harassment they knew I was taking. I was thinking about how my parents didn’t want me to tell anyone because they didn’t want to be embarrassed by me and maybe this was just some terrible phase because the attention I was getting was so enjoyable or something. I was thinking it would be nice to know more queer people than I could name in 30 seconds. I was thinking how great it would be if my girlfriend would hold my hand in public instead of pulling away from me for fear that we’d get killed.

If some adult had told me it would get better if I just stuck it out for another few years, I would have written them off as yet another patronizing dumbass who didn’t have any idea of what I was going through. I would have wanted to ask exactly when it got better, and how to speed that up. All these videos full of bland panacea about how it will get better if I’m a good little girl who waits patiently sound like the demand that we fulfill our roles as punching bags, silent and obedient, until the magic day when things change.

I wanted an adult to actually say that the shit I was taking over who I was was bullshit and had to stop right now. I wanted a teacher to tell off one of the kids who harassed me, just one time. I would have wanted to have an adult in my life I could actually talk to, but imagining this was beyond me at that point. I just wanted some space to breathe.

I was lucky enough to live in a place where coming out young didn’t get me killed or make me homeless, and I took it as an opportunity to fight back. It doesn’t get better unless you stand up and make it better, and most of the It Gets Better videos are great for visibility but the content is sad and creepy in that way where it feels like they’re made by people who felt powerless in high school and think that can’t change, and they aren’t really involved in any kind of activism to change things now, just waiting quietly for the law to catch up to them, passively upset about not having the same privileges as their coworkers. Even for me now, 20 years later with a professional job, this makes me tune out in an instant.

Here are the two videos I like, the two I’ve found that I think succeed.

First, Kate Bornstein, who understands about how bad it can get.

Second, Hal Duncan, who understands the need to fight back.

Overall, I think for me the amazing thing about the It Gets Better project is not the message but the call to visibility. I would have loved this part of it as a queer teen and I love it now as a queer adult. However, without a more substantial message like Hal and Kate have, it’s hard for me to see the larger project as more than that.


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