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"It Gets Better" Takes Too Damn Long

When I was a young kid, I started a diary. The reason I began the diary was that I'd been told I was moving - again - and I was furious. The first entry, I think, was the incredibly frustrated promise: "I will never make my kid move all the time!"

It turns out that's probably not going to be a problem.

For the first few years, I was terrible at updating my diary. It'd happen every week or every other week, or for long stretches of months maybe only once or twice. Sometimes, though, I'd get back into the swing of it, only to drop it a while later. But when I was thirteen and a bit, I started writing in it every day. That lasted until I was about eighteen, and had to suddenly make a break for it with whatever stuff I could carry. My diary - now multiple thick binders full of loose-leaf papers, drawings, and all sorts of detritus from a young teen's life - wasn't going to come with me. I was worried someone might find them and read them. So I burned them.

Looking back with an adult eye, I don't actually regret that. The main motive of my diary was always to give myself perspective, later. I'd always thought that if I kept a diary I'd remember better how important everything felt at the time, and that this awareness would somehow help me be a better parent. Except, of course, during the many years I wrote in my diary, I realized there was a pretty small chance of me ever being a parent, what with the whole gay thing.

My diary was the first place I ever allowed myself the words. And when others were throwing those words at me, I wrote them down, suffered through them, and - yes - wrote those "they'd all be sorry if I killed myself" fantasies. I think I can count on one hand the number of LGBTQ people I know who told me they didn't consider ending their lives at some point based on their sexual or gender outsider state.

An author I truly admire posted as his status on Facebook "It's cool that Zachary Quinto came out as gay. It'll be even cooler to someday live in a world in which it won't be a news story that someone happens to be gay. :)"

Someday. That's the crux of the wonderful - don't get me wrong, I think it's wonderful - It Gets Better Project. When I watch those videos, I imagine my younger self going home from another day of high school where someone drenched me with a can of coke or shoved me into a locker or spat at me and called me 'fag' and I wonder what it would have meant to me to see those videos then.

I wrote a small piece for 5x5 Literary Magazine about how I sometimes dance around pronouns at work, to avoid awkwardness with customers. "My better half" replaces "my husband" when the person is giving me a particular vibe. It's not something I'm proud of, and it always makes me feel a little sick. Is this the better?

It can't be. The fight to be married - truly be married - shouldn't have been fought just so I could step aside for a little social awkwardness. Avoiding something dangerous - that's different. I hold my husband's hand in public when I can - when it's safe - when he feels comfortable - when...

When it's better.

This morning, I saw a story about Jamie Hubley, a gay Ottawa teen who committed suicide, and I wonder if that's my answer.

A different version of myself might have had that same thought. "How do you know it even gets better? It's not." When I read about another bashing, or another suicide, sometimes I even feel the same way. I know - logically, intellectually - it is a better world for gay people today than it was even ten years ago. I know it. But there's a long way to go.

That's the problem. It's not better right now. "It Gets Better" is an acidic sort of help - it burns the entire time. And, quite frankly, it takes too damn long. I love that there are so many people - hell, myself included - who raise a chorus of voices for the young suffering queers to hear. I love that people like Zachary Quinto are strong enough to open themselves to potential hatred and intolerance so that there's one more public figure that's a living and breathing example that there are kids just like Jamie Hubley who grow up and become adults in the world.

When I was a kid, I didn't see that anywhere. There were no people like me. This is the thing I often have the hardest time explaining to my friends and family who aren't queer. When I was a gay kid - and all joking about being thirty five for the second time aside, we're not talking about that long ago - I had zero people out there I could look at and say "So maybe that's where I can end up. There's places for people like me in the world."

Add to that outsider feeling the daily heaping portions of humiliation served to me by my peers - and ignored by the adults around those peers - and it absolutely does not surprise me that the Jamie Hubleys of the world decide to go. To completely, irrevocably, leave.

Things change. The world wide web makes it more likely - but not certain - that young gay kids can find out they're not alone. "It Gets Better" exists entirely because of the way a story can now zip around countries in moments. There is a world out there that will indeed welcome the gay kids into adulthood. And it's not enough. And it breaks my heart.

We have Catholic School Boards fighting creating Gay-Straight Alliances in public-funded schools - which are required to allow these groups to exist - and there are board members comparing them to Nazi Sympathizer groups (she wouldn't allow those, either, she said). There are teens trying to create these GSAs, and they're being blocked.

And the only thing that seems to come to mind is "I promise that later on you won't hurt like this every day."

Really? It reminds me of the useless advice "Just ignore them, and they'll go away." They didn't go away. They got louder when they saw I wasn't responding. They shoved more. They made my life a living hell. You know who went away? Me. I curled myself inside myself and became the palest, quietest, and wan version of myself I could be, and hoped to just make it one more day. Every day. Until I left it behind and got to University.

Where, yes, it got better.

Before now, I'd only brushed up against the Make it Better project. It seems to me that this project's approach is the one I'd rather see. This isn't to say I see no value in "It Gets Better." What I think "It Gets Better" does that's so incredibly valuable goes back to that sense of being an "outsider" or the impact of someone like Zachary Quinto coming out - it shows kids that there's a future to which they can belong. That's important.

But it's hard to think of the future when the present is kicking you in the stomach. Daily.

I wish I could have met Jamie Hubley. Ideally, I wish I could have met Jamie Hubley as a guest speaker at his school's GSA club - I have no idea if they have one - where maybe I could have talked about that message on Facebook from one of my former bullies. Or maybe I could have just done my usual thing and tried to make some queer kids laugh a little bit. I remember the days I laughed as some of the best. Or maybe it's the teachers I could have spoken with. Or dropped a book into the school library like 'Speaking Out'. Or anything else. Or just something. I used to do some work as an Education/Outreach Co-Ordinator at my university GLBT Centre. I loved doing it. But after graduation, and a full time job it fell off the radar.

It's many things to be gay (or queer in any way). So often - again, here I think about that author's Facebook status update - I see people offhandedly say that things like "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" don't really matter, and that it shouldn't be newsworthy. People are people, it doesn't matter who they sleep with at all. Well here's the thing - I'd like to agree, but that's completely wrong.

People still get beaten for those things that "don't really matter." Kids grow up wondering if there's any future for them because of those things that "don't really matter." It's great that there are those out there who truly have reached the point where someone's sexual or gender identity isn't even a blip on the radar, but until there's a cultural shift and everyone grows up knowing those things "don't really matter" then they do.

I don't know what I'm going to do - not really. I know that at some point between the last time I read an article about another gay bashing and this young man's suicide, I reached some sort of tipping point. Maybe it's the reality that this week, my goddaughter will be entering the world, and I can already feel myself getting defensive about her family - which includes a bisexual mother and a transgendered mother - and what kind of fallout that might bring to this child. Maybe it's as small as deleting "my better half" from my language at work, and saying "my husband" even when I know there may be hell to pay from someone who hears it.

But I do know what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to forget that what I went through in school still happens. I'm not going to forget that - to kids like Jamie Hubley - it can be too damn much and too long a wait for it to get better.

It's a place to start.


The views expressed on this livejournal are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 18th, 2011 12:22 am (UTC)
Hear, hear!

I've been trying to think of a way to post about all this for about a week now--since the previous suicide--and I am very proud of you for this.
Oct. 18th, 2011 12:33 am (UTC)
Two of my friends decided to have a wedding, even though it still isn't legal in their state. It's in November. I'm very excited for them.

I will say that, while the kids at school say things that make me cringe and make me tell them that certain language isn't appropriate or I don't want to hear it, I actually witness very little bullying. We have several out gay students -- in my tiny, conservative, rural school -- who are accepted and comfortable and are doing OK. It's a start, at least.
Oct. 18th, 2011 02:03 am (UTC)
It's sad that such crap still happens in Canada. I do think the "It Gets Better project is just about the only thing that CAN be done for some kids in, for instance, "red" states where ignorance and stupidity make people proud to be haters. Canada is better than that, but schools in general -- all over North America -- need to stop treating bullying as "just how kids are" and start dealing with thuggish behavior where it starts. High school kids don't want or like supervision, but they NEED it. The trouble is that too many school administrators are homophobic bullies themselves.

I didn't have anybody in high school, but I wasn't even out to myself then. (Coming out, later, I was in a weirdly supportive community. Star Trek and sci-fi fandom, in the era of 'slash' stories, meant that many of my friend and my wife-to-be were not only okay with same-sex relationships, but valued them.

I have a suggestion: Would you like to collaborate with me on editing an anthology along the lines of I DO, with Make It Better as the beneficiary? I don't have any (known) glbt family members, but 'family' is an elastic term...

Oct. 18th, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
I'm flattered you think I have the skill set required to edit an anthology - but if I'm honest with myself, I'm still wearing the training wheels of short fiction. My technical knowledge is pretty poor.

The book itself a fantastic idea though, with real merit that I'd love to see happen - "Better" maybe.

I'd definitely be willing to write another charity story, that's for sure.
Oct. 18th, 2011 04:22 pm (UTC)
It does take too long...but I'll try to make it better now.
Oct. 28th, 2011 07:18 am (UTC)
Rick Mercer Rant on teen suicide
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


'Nathan Burgoine
Nathan Burgoine
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