I know this is only my second post, but I’m already about to get all after school special on you. Bear with me, ok?
Tonight I finished the It Gets Better book, 352-pages of awesome inspired by Dan Savage’s groundbreaking viral video project. This project launched last September, in the midst of some seriously dark months for the LGBT community and really, for anyone who cares about the well-being of our youth. The news was dominated by a sickening string of suicides by gay or perceived-as-gay teens. There was so much grief, so much loss, so much helplessness. When I heard about Dan’s mission to show the world, via YouTube, that queer people can and do lead happy, successful adult lives, I was stoked. While bullied kids may hear “hang in there,” “you’ll get over it,” and “things will get better” from the grownups in their lives, these videos showed just how much better it can get. Like Dan, I wished that something like this had existed when I was a confused and depressed babydyke.
In that spirit, I want to offer my own It Gets Better story for any young (or not-so-young) queer (in all senses of the word) soul who stumbles upon this blog.
I knew I was profoundly different from most kids my age long before I understood the why behind it. I hated wearing skirts and dresses and felt awkward in most feminine clothing. I was a short, pudgy kid with glasses, a Jewfro, and a tendency to stutter when I got nervous. Oh, and I played Pokémon. Basically, I was a bully’s wet dream.
My first crush was a girl in my tiny Catholic school seventh grade class. At the time, I don’t think I even knew what lesbians were, and I certainly didn’t think that I was one. Nope, I just really wanted this girl to like me and be my best friend and be around me all the time and think I’m funny and smile at me and let me hold the door for her and maybe-just-maybe I had daydreams about saving her from nefarious villains. Nope, nothing gay there.
Middle school wasn’t just a time of budding sexual awareness, but self-awareness as well. What I was becoming aware of was this: I was a freak and almost nobody liked me. I had a couple of friends outside of school, elementary school buddies who went to the public middle school during my failed experiment in parochial education. There were a few kids in my new school who took pity on me and gave me someone to talk to at lunch, but for the most part, I was an outsider, a half-Jew dyke in a hetero-Catholic world, who got teased for being fat and closely resembling the SNL character Pat.
As bad as middle school was, it was a spring picnic in a field of daisies compared to high school. High school was the worst four years of my life, plain and simple. I returned to the public school system and, thankfully, my friends, but even they couldn’t save me from the bullies who were delighted to find such fresh new meat to tear apart.
I’ll spare you the gross details, since if you’ve ever been the target of bullying, you already know them. Name-calling, spitting, sick rumors, cruel graffiti in the bathroom, trashed lockers, garbage shoved down hooded sweatshirts, bus rides from Hell, etc.
In the midst of this, I was coming to a new, terrifying realization: I liked girls. I think my mother came to this realization long before I did, years before I would finally come out to her. One day in 10th grade, she cornered me in the kitchen and demanded I tell her if I were gay. I said no, which wasn’t quite a lie, since I wasn’t sure of my sexuality yet. She said, “You better not be” and walked away. Needless to say, it wasn’t an encouraging moment.
Last fall, when I was reading about Billy Lucas and Seth Walsh and Asher Brown and all the other, too many, teens who killed themselves because of bullying, one thought kept running through my mind: That could have been me.
Of all the years, 16 was the worst. I was at my lowest, my angriest, and my most self-loathing. I had no patience for anybody – parents, teachers, friends, myself. I wore spiked bracelets. I listened to a lot of Linkin Park and Staind. I wanted to die.
I realize that “I wish I were dead” is probably a phrase that most teenagers utter at some point, usually whilst being grounded or playing dodgeball in gym class. But some (too many) teens, gay or straight, really mean it. For them, the burden is too heavy and the road is too long. I get it. I’ve been there. When I realized I was attracted to girls, my first thought was, “Great, something else about me is fucked up. Something else about me is wrong.”
Here’s one of my starkest memories of 16: Me, locked in the bathroom, sitting on the edge of the tub with a razor blade pressed against my wrist. I was ready to give up. I couldn’t visualize a future where someone as fucked up as I was could be happy, so what was the point? But try as I might, as much as I cried and cursed myself and my 16-year-old world, I couldn’t press down. I couldn’t make myself open up my own vein with a cheap razor I bought at the local pharmacy. Whatever final push was needed to finish what I started, it wasn’t in me.
I hated myself for being weak. That’s what I thought it was at the time, weakness. I thought I was such a loser that I couldn’t even do the one thing it would take to make all my hurting go away. It’s incredible how wrong I was. Today I know that what I had mistaken for weakness was actually strength, a strength so great that I didn’t even realize I had it: the strength to live, despite and in spite of all the abuse being thrown at me. Dying would have been easy. Living? Now that took some hardcore work.
You know how everyone says that life gets so much better after high school? Well, that old cliché is so damn true. The second I left those four walls and entered college, the world was a new place. I moved to a city full of weirdos like me and weirdos who were different from me and everyone was welcoming. I came out slowly, first to myself, then to my friends (who were 100% awesome about it) and, after college, to my parents, who are getting better about it every day. I joined my school’s GSA and shared my experiences with fellow queers. I went to drag shows and sex toy workshops and dyke nightclubs. I graduated and got a big person job and a big person apartment. I flirted and dated and felt joy and had my heart broken and then did it all again and again. I found a wonderful lady and wonderful friends and a wonderful cat and a wonderful, diverse community. I became comfortable in my skin as a lesbian and a butch and a human being. I lived (and continue to do so).
Don’t worry, kids, the after school special is almost over; I just want to leave you with a few self-evident truths to hold. The first is this: Those bullies, douchebags, asswipes, etc. that are making your lives suck? In a few years, they won’t matter in the slightest. Seriously. You’re going to be off being the best version of yourself possible and having these great adventures, and those losers are going to be doing the same lame stuff with the same lame people in the same lame places. You might even feel sorry for them someday. Maybe.
The second truth is this: Throwing away the future is no solution to the present. There was a time when the idea of ending everything sounded pretty good to me. That was before I realized that it meant ending everything – not just what was, but what could be. To give up at such a young age, before life has a chance to really become something substantial, is like closing a book before you get to the really good chapters. What a waste of material!
The third truth is this: No matter how alone you feel, you are surrounded by people who want you to be happy. Maybe you know them already, or maybe they’re still waiting to meet you, but trust me, they’re out there. There’s always someone to talk to about whatever you’re feeling. There are amazing organizations dedicated to helping queer youth, including the Trevor Project, GLSEN and the Give A Damn Campaign. There are adults in your school, community, church, internet forum, Warcraft guild, or wherever that will listen. I’ll listen. Seriously. If you’re feeling alone and need someone to talk to, you can post here or, if you prefer, email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you write, I promise to respond. Butch’s honor.
The fourth truth is this: You are perfect. You are exactly who and what you are supposed to be. Don’t go changing for anyone, deal? Good.
It gets better? Hell yeah it does.