Why I didn’t make an “It Gets Better” video
Because I’m not gay. At the beginning of the project, I thought that the input of straight people was not necessary, as the project was about GLBT adults telling teenagers that the message that they’re getting—from peers, from adults, from right wing media, from churches—that they aren’t good enough and will die lonely and afraid is a straight lie. It’s a common lie, of course. In the Christian right, it’s an article of faith that gay men die when they’re 40, just from the gayness, and no one ever loves them. Kids who are brought up on a steady stream of this shit often understandably despair. The point of the project was to say that even if you’re being horribly bullied now, hang on, because the lies that people tell you are lies. And that the truth is there is a world outside of your immediate one where you can actually live a normal life.
Straight people, I figured, don’t have a place in that message. I never had any doubts when I was being bullied for being bookish, nerdy and unathletic* in high school that I would have a normal life, with all the attendant privileges of being straight. I never thought I would never find love or acceptance. I never believed my family would turn me out. On the contrary—nerds find a lot of larger social support in the world. There are countless books, TV shows, and movies that promote the myth that the nerds in high school bloom into the adults who own the world, and then they get to go back to their high school reunions and enjoy being hot, smart, and accomplished while their former bullies sulk in the corner, their glory days behind them. You can focus on life after high school easily when you’re a nerd. College is right around the corner, where nerdiness, you’re routinely assured, is rewarded. Being nerdy =/ being gay. A lot of gay kids have no one telling them there’s a corner to turn, and that it gets better. The role of allies is to be vocal supporters, cheerleaders, analysts, and fighters. But it is not to claim to share the same experiences.
This, by the way, is why examining your privilege is not the great evil wingnuts make it out to be. It’s true that some liberals turn it into a self-flagellation spectacle that helps no one, but leaving that nonsense aside, it’s good to know where you stand. Makes you think about things like, “I’m not going to clutter this up with my pointless retroactive self-pity that I’ve encountered people who don’t like me.”
But I will say that when straight people started to get involved, I relented a little on this, though not enough to think my contribution was necessary. It’s nice to watch the videos where straight people do good ally work, which is to say they lay into homophobes for promoting the message that gay people aren’t good enough. Sarah Silverman did this, for instance. That message—that this is not just the fault of bullies, but also of churches, pundits, authority figures, whoever promotes homophobia—is necessary. It’s probably not bad for gay kids to see that the world they’re growing up into is one that has straight people who have no problem with homosexuality. So, I was okay with that.
What I’m not okay with is sharing your own, irrelevant stories of bullying. Gabriel Arana describes this problem perfectly:
Indeed, the wave of B-list celebrities and straight liberals making “It Gets Better” videos just keeps growing. But there’s a problem: As the discussion about gay-teen suicide has radiated outward, it’s stopped being about gay teens. Kim Kardashian has a video relaying how hurt she was at online comments calling her fat. Ezra Klein’s video discusses how he was called a nerd in high school. Even Obama’s video steers clear of too much talk about gay people, safely focusing on the hurt that comes with “being different or … not fitting in with everybody else.” The public conversation and the policy response have shifted from stopping anti-gay harassment to preventing bullying in general.
In turn, this has allowed homophobic adults off the hook. All they have to say is that they object to the narrow behavior of shoving kids into lockers, and then feel free to go back to saying, “Gay people will never be loved, will die at 40, are evil perverts, and don’t deserve rights.” To their children. Some of whom are gay and hear that they are defective and should just give up.
So, no. It’s not about bullying in schools. It’s about homophobia, and bullying is just one expression of that.
I do think there’s an important public dialogue to be had about bullying, don’t get me wrong. But this isn’t really the hook to hang that on.
*I want to update this to make it clear I’m not trying to pick on anyone who was trying to do their best to empathize by relating homophobic abuse to other kinds kids face. People who pick on you for reading too much aren’t unaware that they’re full of shit, and that being anti-reading will end up hurting them more in the end.