I’m not going to kill myself, I just need to get this out here.
Let’s play a game. You with me?
I’m going to describe a place, and let’s see if you can guess what it is.
People judge you by what you’re wearing. Who you’re wearing. Your hair. Your complexion. Your weight. Your body. Your race. Your religion. How much money you have. Who your friends are. What music you listen to. How “popular” you are.
Or, hey — how about the planet Earth?
I’ve held my tongue on this whole “It Gets Better” thing for awhile, because, hey. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, the harbinger of reality. Nobody wants to send a message to suicidal kids that it’s not going to be okay.
But if it’s got to be someone, it might as well be me.
You might be minding your own business, then be called a pejorative name as a stranger passes. You might be teased or rejected for not being feminine or masculine enough, or being too much of same. You might be beaten for the way you dress or act or talk. These things happen to kids in junior high and high school. They have also happened to me — not when I was in high school, but within the last year.
It gets better? That’s a blanket statement. When I look at the stuff these bullied kids are dealing with day after day, I don’t think, “Wow, I’m so glad all that is behind me.” I think: Wow. That sounds a lot like everyday life.
The above caused a stir on the internet yesterday — Jonah Mowry’s touching, heartfelt “Whats goin on.” Another bullied gay kid in jeopardy. Why did this have such an impact? Well, we’ve heard so many awful stories about suicidal gay youths in recent months, I suppose it was nice to see one that didn’t end in tragedy. Someone for whom it wasn’t too late. Also: that Sia song is really sad. (Nicely done, Jonah!) Even his spelling errors seemed like a cry for help.
Here was a troubled youth who reached out in time, so we and Lady Gaga all flocked to him in support, with open hearts and open arms.
And then another video was released, and that all went to shit.
But more on that later.
(Before I go on, please note that none of what I’ll say here is at odds with the Trevor Project, whose work I admire. I take no issue with the intentions of the “It Gets Better” Project; far from it. I believe their efforts are important and valuable. My issue, as you’ll see below, lies primarily with hypocrisy surrounding these events. Caveat ends here.)They say high school is hell for everyone. Yeah, maybe. It’s worse for some than others, that’s for sure. We enter it at a time when we’re all uncertain and insecure; we are never more naked in our vulnerabilities than those awkward teenage years. If there’s anything about you that can be mercilessly mocked, it will be. That’s guaranteed.
I wasn’t bullied as a teenager. I was mostly ignored. So I won’t pretend to know what’s going on in American high schools today, because I’m not in one. I only know what was going on ten years ago, and even then, that’s only one in thousands. Kids can be cruel, sure. And some of them were. But all things considered, I got off fairly easy.
Either I was a late bloomer, or kids are growing up faster than they used to. Maybe both. And that’s not good. See, the problem with kids growing up quickly is that, when they reach the Tough Shit, they have even less to fall back on — less wisdom, less life experience. I was eighteen, nineteen, when it hit, and I didn’t handle it particularly well. I barely made it through. If I was fourteen? I don’t know. There was a time when I didn’t think I’d still be here.But this isn’t about me. It’s about them. The kids in America — gay and straight, dead and alive. The ones who decide to stay with us will grow up in a couple of years, maybe thanks to the promises of thousands of celebrities and strangers: “It gets better.”
Man, are they in for a rude awakening.
I have a deep well of sympathy bullied teens, and I support measures that will crack down on all kinds of bullying in schools, whether it has anything to do with sexual orientation or not. I don’t know if teen suicides are all that new, or if it has only been labeled an “epidemic” because they found a common thread between them. It doesn’t matter. Teenagers are always going act like little shits to each other; that’s just biology. Hormones and heterogeneity. We can do our best to stop them from hurting each other and themselves, but that’s all we can do. We can tell them it gets better, but who are we to say?
Right now, it may primarily be heterosexual bullies in school that make kids feel like killing themselves, but it won’t always. Love and hate can be found everywhere else in equal doses. Especially within the gay community. Some will find support; others, scorn. Most, a mixture of each, but both will be there. It’s tricky, navigating out of one and into the other.Oh, if only they could all be as sweet and naive as young Jonah Mowry. If only we could stay so pure of heart and forthright about our emotions. If only we all wore our hearts on our sleeves, alongside our scars, forever.
But we don’t, do we?
No. We let our pain take us to new places. Places we never thought we’d go. We become people we never imagined we’d be, living lives we could never have dreamed of. Giving in to our demons is a choice, and once we make it, we try to forget that it ever was that: a choice.
In a perfect world, gay men might all bare their souls, hearts, tears, and scars as nakedly as Jonah Mowry does in that YouTube video, but it is an unfortunate fact of life that most of them turn out like this instead:
Kinda ironic, since this is the same person.
(But to everyone who has seen this video — please don’t bully someone we all cried about being bullied just a few hours ago. That makes no sense whatsoever.)
No, Jonah Mowry doesn’t make a terribly great second impression in his follow-up clip. But he’s a kid. Cut him some slack. He didn’t lie, he “got better.” Shouldn’t we be glad? Is tearing him down really the proper response when we’re told that people actually like him now? At worst, the kid had a dramatic overreaction to a bad day while listening to some Sia, and anyone who watched the finale of Six Feet Under can surely sympathize.I hope Jonah really does feel better. Much better. I hope he stays in school, learns to spell a little better, and then grows up to be a music coordinator for sad gay movies, or a show like Six Feet Under.
See, when I began this post, most of us hadn’t yet seen that second video, but it only makes my purpose for writing this that much easier to highlight. All the sympathy we feel for these kids? There’s some hypocrisy to it. ‘Cause it’s easy to feel pity for a dead kid. And to shed tears for a thirteen-year-old boy we’ve never met, except via YouTube. But how much sympathy do you have for the people who are still alive, and right in front of your face? What if Jamey Rodemeyer didn’t kill himself? Imagine him walking into a gay bar some night, say, five or fifty years from now, maybe wearing the wrong shoes, or with a bad haircut, or maybe he’s put on a few pounds. Maybe none of that. Maybe we just don’t like the way he talks. Maybe he’s a bit too “femme” for us. Maybe we just think he’s ugly.It sounds harsh when I’m talking about a dead kid, right? Well, he didn’t used to be. Five years from now, some gay guy might say something just as hurtful and snarky to Jamey Rodemeyer as whatever those kids in school were saying. I’ve heard some truly vicious things said to gay men, by gay men. I’ve said them, and had them said to me. I’m sure there are some people associated with the Trevor Project who have made some vile, cunty remarks. So have we all. What’s the difference between then and now? Why are we all so worried about the gay kids? Isn’t anyone concerned that I’ll kill myself*?
(*Author’s Note: I won’t. This is not a cry for help.)
So, yes, it does “get better” when it comes to harassment from heterosexual bullies toward homosexual youths. As an adult, it can and probably will still happen in some form or another, at some point in time, but not as often, and hopefully not as severe. But there’s something worse.If it’s bad to be judged and looked down upon by those who consider you “different” from them, how does it feel when the same happens thanks to the people who are supposed to be your peers?
It gets harder. And deeper. And more personal. (And if your mind just went to a dirty place right there, I won’t hold it against you.) But for real now: the worst things that ever happened to me were all done by gay people.
So I don’t think we should pat ourselves on the backs because we’ve told some kids “it gets better” and encouraged them to keep calm and carry on. Not until we take a hard look at ourselves. What good does it do to tell teens it’ll get better when they grow up, then verbally cut them to shreds once they get there? I can speak from experience — stepping into the gay communities of big cities like Los Angeles or New York is like jumping into piranha-infested waters. And like I said, I wasn’t bullied in high school — so it wasn’t until I saw what the gay world had to offer that I ever wanted to kill myself. So, not defend bullying at all, but maybe it exists in junior high and high schools for a reason: so that when we reach the real world, we’re prepared.
And hey, I get it. Bad people are everywhere, and so are the good. Things happen differently to us all. I know, for many, it did “get better.” Lucky them.
It got better for me, too — but not because things magically resolved themselves once I got my high school diploma. Not because people started being nicer, or life got any easier. Quite the opposite. It’s because I made them better. Or I tried to, anyway. Otherwise, it doesn’t get that much better. At least, not on its own.
What gets better is you get older and learn how to cope when people are mean to you. You stop taking it so personally. You see that there’s something more wrong with them than you. It’s trial and error. People will always be mean. Hopefully, they’ll be less homophobic as time goes on. But there will always be something. And they’ll find it, if they’re looking to start a fight.I wish these kids the best. The Jamey Rodemeyers and Tyler Clementis and Jonah Mowrys of this world. Not because life gets any better, but because people get smarter and stronger. That’s how we survive — both individually, and as a species. Always has been, always will be; Darwin, and all that. We can’t rely on nature to do it for us. You want it better? Make it better. The only way out is through.
If I’m still alive, then you can be, too.
You deal, or you don’t. And that’s all.