Basically any queer or straight ally has been seeing the issue everywhere -facebook, blogs, youtube, newspapers. What I have thought about most in these past two weeks is the amount of press this issue is getting. Let’s be clear, this isn’t something new nor (speculatively) that unusual. In 2007, 4,140 youth ages 14-24 succeeded in committing suicide. That is a little over 11 suicides per day. My guess is that at least one out of the eleven is either queer, trans or gender-nonconforming to some degree. The media/blogs have been talking about the recent ‘rash’ of suicides. Six gay* suicides in less than a month. Sounds a little low to me actually. So what gives?
Now, I want to make it clear that I am pleased as punch that this is getting nationwide coverage, that queers are mobilizing around it. Harassment, depression, self-harm is an extremely important issue that affects a good majority of queer youth. Mostly I am just asking- why now? what conditions made this possible?
Perhaps most kids that are having issues with their sexuality or gender aren’t open about either their orientation or the fact that they are being bullied? (be it because they haven’t figured out what their sexuality or gender is, they are unhappy about their sexuality/gender, they face pressure from parents and family to fit into our cis/heterocentric culture, they face harassment at school because of their real or perceived gayness, etc) Is the issue of bullying more in the public eye in general? What? I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this one.
Even if we eliminate bullying in schools it isn’t going eradicate suicides & attempted suicides or the depression, general low self-esteem & self-hatred that queer youth experience. I wasn’t out to myself, let alone anyone else in high school but I had closeted gay friends and I was a fatty. I don’t remember any instances of getting teased to my face about being fat but it was pretty hard to ignore the overwhelming message that fat was bad and I was less of a person for being fat. I would be happier if I was thin, boys would want to date me, and people would like me more. Not to mention I would have an easier time finding clothes and interacting with my mother. No one needed to talk about it. I knew my place.
I feel like it was the same for my gay male friends. They weren’t out and they new better than to come out. There was probably a better chance of someone else hurting them before they even got the chance to hurt themselves. There wasn’t much outright bullying, just a lot of silencing. I would be happier if I was straight, I would be able to date, and more people would like me. A lot of self-hate and erosion of self-esteem. People used “gay” in a derogatory manner all the time, usually not towards a classmate. People talked about how gross gay people were. Mix in some of the religious anti-gay stuff. Etc, etc. You knew your place. Period.
And honestly? A lot of that hasn’t changed for me. Except now I get the fat shame AND the gay silencing. Hooray! I’m not out at work, and considering I work with kids it would probably be frowned upon. I spend every workday among kids who are continually using derogatory language towards gay folks and anyone else that is an “other”. My 10 year old client told a classmate (that he had been calling gay since the beginning of school) that he had AIDS because he was gay. Yet when I mentioned to his mom that she might want to discuss the ‘gay issue’ with him because he kept calling peers names she told me that he wasn’t old enough. Right. I no longer want to be thin and I sure as hell don’t want to be straight. But that doesn’t mean I don’t hold some resentment about the shit I get for the way I move through the world.
Not Getting Better
The other part of this issue that has been getting a lot of web time is Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project. I have mixed feelings, even more so after doing some online reading of critiques of the project. When I first heard of the project my mind went- oh yes, how inspiring for youth. What a great project. I feel a weird uneasiness about it. Then I went to a talk by Against Equality and I realized why I felt uneasy. For me? It hasn’t really gotten better. For the most, part my life has gotten significantly worse in numerous ways**. I read a critique of the project and came to FUCK THAT STUPID PROJECT. I kept reading and came across this post which gave me some more food for thought as well as solidified my thoughts about my first asterisk point*. My jets started to cool a bit. Finally I read this post and my feelings became all jumbled again.
So where have I landed? I will assume Dan Savage is coming from a good place with this one. However, his message doesn’t apply to my (adult) life or many other adult queers (although I’m only 23, I’m still a youth, does that mean it’s going to get better?) and I’m assuming that it doesn’t relate to a lot of queer youth. If it really “gets better” then why do suicide rates increase as folks get older (until about age 50, then they start declining again)? I’m not comfortable lying to teens just because they are younger than me. That said, the project does relate to some youth -I can think of at least one friend from high school that might have benefited from Dan Savage’s message. And the contributions and adaptations that other folks have submitted have made the project worthwhile to me. Granted, I doubt any of them will get as much coverage as Dan and Terry’s video.
I’m also willing to give credit where credit is due- Savage has brought a lot of attention to the issue. As a critical response to It Gets Better, the GSA Network has introduced Make It Better which asserts that youth don’t need to wait til they are out of high school for things to get better…they can make it better NOW (honestly I don’t know much about the project so I’m not giving it my stamp of approval or anything).
Mostly, I am just THRILLED that for once we aren’t talking about gay marriage or DADT. Although folks still manage to lump it in somehow***. Gay kids won’t kill themselves if they have the ability to get married someday! Or get to kill OTHER people as long as they can do it as openly gay. Even if what they really need, what may reduce suicides and improves things right now, is to reduce the shit that gets thrown at these kids, not the promise of wedded bliss in the future. Even in the future, things aren’t going to “get better” just because they can get married. Job security, healthcare, housing, access to resources, the ability to live openly as a queer person. I find those slightly more important than marriage. But maybe thats just because I am a member of the Order of Fat Curmudgeonly Feminist Hermits.
BTW, sorry for the excess of links!
*most of the youth who killed themselves did so after experiencing significant homophobic bullying and harassment…but just because their tormentors said they were gay doesn’t mean that they were. some? yes. all? maybe, but we don’t know that for sure and the only people we can ask are unavailable for questioning. Hell, THEY might not even have known because I know I didn’t when I was 13 or 15. Perceived gayness can cause just as many problems for youth in schools.
**And better in a lot of ways as well, blah blah blah
***aka Sarah Silverman’s message “Dear America, when you tell gay Americans that they can’t serve their country openly, or marry the person that they love, you’re telling that to kids, too. So don’t be fucking shocked, and wonder where all these bullies are coming from that are torturing young kids, and driving them to kill themselves because they’re different. They learned it from watching you.” As problematic as the first sentence is, I wholeheartedly agree with the last two sentences. Kids don’t just come up with this anti-gay shit on their own.