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Oct 13 2010

It gets better.

National Coming Out Day was celebrated this past Monday in the States. It was only by a matter of serendipity that I happened to blog about the Mormon asshattery on sale at Wal-Mart, so I can’t claim that was explicitly in honor of the day in all honesty. In point of fact, I’d completely missed it. I don’t feel too bad though — my gay sister didn’t know about it either.

When Jen came out to me as a lesbian, she asked, “what’s the worst possible thing I could tell you about myself?” I answered without hesitation, “That you voted conservative.” For just about anything else — from theism to sexuality to being a member of a pseudoscientific multi-level pyramid scheme — I could live and let live, and have debates on the topic in a reasoned manner. If she’d turned out to be a conservative, I’d have demanded a level of intellectual integrity to account for all the myriad ways the conservative parties directly harm anyone below upper-middle-class, and by extension harm everyone in the entire field of economics as a whole. (Never elect a politician to office whose chief political belief is that government is wrong and must be destroyed. They’ll only do whatever they can to make government wrong and worthy of destruction.) Her sexuality, I could not honestly care any less about.

So when she came out, I thought back (as I am wont to do when I receive new information that colors past events) to all the hints that she might be gay, and I wished I could have been there for her sooner, knowing that other family members have not taken her coming out nearly as well. If there’s one thing I could go back in time somehow and tell her, it’s that it gets better.

Stephanie Zvan didn’t miss the day-of, so I’ll lean on her:

It also makes me quite happy that most of the people I know who fall under the broad heading of GLBTQ (where Q = queer of some sort) are already generally out. A friend of a friend referred to today as “Happy ‘Yeah we know dude’ day.” Today was a day for affirmation for most of them, rather than a day of added risk or longing for what it would be unwise to actually do. One person I’m proud to call a friend used the day to come out as bisexual to her Catholic family.

I’d also like to point out a very touching piece by George W. about the damage done to him as a child in being called “fag”, and how he wears the name like a badge today, despite being a married heterosexual father of four.

When I was in high school I was a notorious fag. Not because I was gay, because I am not. No, I was a fag because I was the president of the drama club, because I hung out with the “wrong people” and because I stood up to the “right people”. I was a fag because I didn’t much care for the politics of high school, I knew who I was and who I was not. I was a fag because I was a little too charismatic to be a “nerd”, a little too normal to be a “freak”, but not popular enough to be spared the humiliation of a bunch of insecure bullies with adult bodies and child brains.

I was subjected to the same kind of teasing. I was a nerd, and called so often, but it was also often rumored that I was gay (the way just about every unpopular kid that can’t get a date ends up having rumors circulated about them). I was punched in the head once for telling a particular name-calling bully to keep his eyes to himself in the locker room, and yet I was the one called gay. That’s how socialization in most grade schools work today. It’s horrid, looking back on it today. And it’s all the more so for people in that age group. Especially if you actually fit the queer description.

When a town council meeting resulted in half the town’s population arguing against a proclamation of October as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History Month in Norman, Oklahoma, a 19-year-old boy ended up taking his life over the “toxic comments”. This kind of tragedy could be prevented via less homophobia, less prejudging of people’s character based on a single outlier trait like their sexuality.

What’s worse is, almost every one of the homophobes in attendance argued against the Gay History Month purely out of deference to their religion’s foundational text. Assuming the text is the Bible, most interpretations prohibit suicide (to keep people from offing themselves unnaturally just to get to the “reward” part of their little cult). If this young teen internalized the message not to off himself, he might have lived long enough to realize that once you’re out in the real world, outside of backwater small-town Oklahoma, you won’t be as shunned and won’t be subject to nearly the same amount of toxicity every day.

It gets better. It really does. If you’re a teen, and you’re considering suicide because everyone around you seems to hate you for an aspect of your biology that you can’t change, you should visit the Trevor Project to access resources including live-chat with other teens that have been where you are now. I know it seems like it won’t, and I know it seems like there are too many people in political power right now that despise you because you’re different. But committing suicide is giving in to their desires. Offing yourself just shuffles your life under the rug so you can no longer serve as a counterexample to their hate speech.

Besides, this is the only life you’ve got. Fill it with love. It doesn’t matter what gender you love, ultimately; only that you love.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    Mike Hanson-Haubrich

    For a lot of people who were bullied, and I was also one, it gets better. The emotions evoked by these videos for gays, lesbians, bi’s and transgenders also apply to those of us who grew up straight but not accepted for whatever reason. I think that this is one of the best ways to keep people going when it gets really tough.

    Kids, it gets better. Hang on!

  2. 2
    Rich Wilson

    Be sure and catch this one PZ posted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ax96cghOnY4

  3. 3
    Mike Hanson-Haubrich

    I really had a hard time watching that all the way through, Rich. That guy sure has a great deal of courage. Someday those who refuse to allow anti-bullying legislation will finally feel some shame.

    I also hope that kids who bully learn that their actions have consequences.

  4. 4
    Mitchell

    I think the first step we need in terms of changing a lot of this is to destroy the word “bullying” when we talk about reform. It is an emotionally charged word that invokes an ideal that courage alone can be a solution, and it is obvious, especially when dealing with such deep seated issues as culturally encouraged homophobia, that there is often more to it than that.

    It’s not “bullying”, it’s abuse. If you want a term to localize the problem of high school abuse, I prefer the term “peer abuse.”

    “Kids can be cruel” can no longer be an excuse, especially in high school where people are preparing to join the adult world. There is NO reason that a teen should be able to get away with something at school that would get them fired if they performed the same act while working at McDonalds. We not only don’t do the kids who are being abused any favors by putting the owness on them to seek their own justice, but we don’t do these indoctrinated and ignorant kids any favors by letting them believe this is how the world works. The cries of “faggot” stopped when I hit university, and I don’t believe kids just “grow out of it”, but rather they have to start facing consequences. Consequences they need to learn sooner, for their own good as well as those they abuse.

    Sorry to rant, had to get this out somewhere. :D But yeah. Stop calling it bullying. I think it holds everyone back to use the words that the people calling the problem would use for it.

  5. 5
    Jason Thibeault

    Rant away, Mitchell. This is a public forum, and if people want to take issue with what you say, they will, but nobody’s going to stop you from posting whatever the hell you please on this blog.

    And anyway, the only word I take issue with is “owness”. You mean “onus”. :)

  6. 6
    Rich Wilson

    Keeping in mind this is Texas, I ventured into the comments section of an article covering that video http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/10/12/2542148/fort-worth-councilman-offers-hope.html All things considered it was actually not as bad as I expected.

    And since I’m mostly link sharing…. if you haven’t already, try to see “Out in the Silence” http://wpsu.org/outinthesilence It’s available on hulu, but I’m not sure if that works for Canukistanians. It really shows what we CAN do.

  7. 7
    Mitchell

    I tend to look at this blog as an center of discourse rather than Jason’s Privately Funded Wall For Me To Scribble on. Consider it an apology for perhaps taking things off topic. :)

  8. 8
    Jason Thibeault

    The trailer on the website for Out in the Silence is very interesting. Sadly, Hulu is region-locked to the States. Otherwise I’d definitely watch it. I’ll see if it’s on the Canadian Netflix tonight once I’m home, but no big hope for that, as their selection is rather limited. Piracy might be the way to go for us Canucks.

    Wow, what a cesspool those comments are. No big surprise though. Everyone complaining is either a Bible-thumper or a leftist-conspiracy-theorist.

  9. 9
    Stephanie Z

    Mitchell, I’m sympathetic to your dislike of “bullying,” but I think it also carries some baggage that’s helpful. While victims are given too much responsibility for stopping the problem, there is an expectation that others can help too. Kids do know that they can stand up for others being bullied, even if they don’t do it nearly often enough. Teachers and administrators know that there is an expectation that they can intervene in bullying, even if they don’t do it often enough.

    “Abuse,” on the other hand, is a problem of reporting, at least in popular consciousness. It’s considered a problem of emotionally intimate relationships or those with differential power, with the expectations that no one but an authority of some power can help. While using the word would give us some understanding of the greater power dynamics, I’m concerned about the possibility that it would encourage people to step back instead of forward.

  10. 10
    Mitchell

    Steph,

    Abuse may be a bit touchy, but anything to get people to take this matter more seriously. But even if abuse isn’t the term used, I don’t think bullying can stay. It has a crippling association with harmlessness. The kids that will help with “bullying” and not with “abuse” are the ones that are afraid to get authority involved, and I think there are an equal number of kids that might stand up when they see something that they know is genuinely wrong and not harmless. I know growing up, not a lot of kids would stand up to bullies if they picked on a kid they didn’t know. But I know a lot of kids who would tell their parents/police if they thought the kid was being abused at home, because they had been taught that was a Big Deal. There’s no reason something should be “bullying” on someones 17th birthday and “assault”, “sexual harassment” and “a hate crime” on their 18th.

  11. 11
    Stephanie Z

    Mitch, your impression of kids’ reactions doesn’t match my experience. However, there’s a fair chance that there is a great deal of variability in how the words are used and the reaction they invoke from location to location. For example, Minnesota is currently in the process of electing a new governor, and a recent debate involved question about proposed anti-bullying legislation that would require school officials to treat the problem seriously. That’s nothing like universal, and the way we look at the problem as a state has, I’m sure, a big impact on how the kids here view the problem.

    So I’m not sure that we can say anything universal about the language that should be used, aside from terms like “unacceptable.”

  12. 12
    Mitchell

    What are the chances looking like that legislation is going to get passed? Not trying to refute, genuinely interested. Considering this is the state where the suicides that started to grab the media attention occurred, I am not surprised, though it looks like there’s plenty of sickening opposition. I worry that you’re right, and kids will take what their government states as their ideal. Which is good if the candidate supporting the bill gets in, but bad if the one opposing it does. Perhaps some private contributions might be in order. :) You’d know more than I though.

  13. 13
    Stephanie Z

    I think a lot will depend on who the governor ends up being. The lunatic right candidate is virulently anti-gay, which means this is a “dog-whistle” issue for him, and he’ll veto based on not wanting to provide “special rights” or something. Unfortunately, the race is stupidly close. An awful lot is going to depend on getting out the liberal vote.

    I’m nervous about this one, frankly.

  14. 14
    George W.

    . But committing suicide is giving in to their desires. Offing yourself just shuffles your life under the rug so you can no longer serve as a counterexample to their hate speech.

    I know that this won’t be seen as politically correct, but I disagree with Jason that suicide is the end goal of the anti-gay lobby. If anything, the increase in suicides among gay teens has forced many of them to deal with issues they don’t really feel comfortable dealing with. What I see as the end goal for these people is subjugation, humiliation, and fear. They want nothing more than to keep the status-quo where gays stay in the closet, hide their sexuality from everyone, and live in constant fear of what would happen otherwise.
    The problem for them right now is that they are seeing the shift. More LGBTQ people are coming out, and more people, gay and straight, are talking about LGBTQ issues and advocacy. What they want is silence, what they want is a return to taboo.

    I’m not saying that suicide is martyrdom, what I am saying is that we are as much responsible as the abusers when we fail to give these kids the support and networks to feel comfortable in their own skin. What these abusers want is to avoid a fight, and if we are all fighting together, then these kids don’t feel that they are fighting alone. We have an opportunity to turn the tables.

    I agree somewhat with Mitchell that “bullying” is the wrong word. Bullying implies the “kids will be kids” mentality, where teachers and parents feel it’s O.K. to let kids work it out alone. Abuse, as Stephanie mentions, presents its own challenges. I still think abuse is more appropriate in the absence of a better word.

    Oh, and Jason, not to sound like I’m overcompensating, but I have four kids, not two.:)

  15. 15
    Jason Thibeault

    George, I didn’t really mean the anti-gay lobby wants people to commit suicide. Rather, I meant that offing one’s self helps shuffle the “problem” of homosexuality under the rug by removing one more counterexample of the anti-gay smears. I’ll correct the record on your loin-spawn in a moment.

    I dunno that I have a stake in the fight about what word to use. “Bullying” does carry some baggage that makes it weaker than “abuse”, but that can be countered with proper awareness-raising. There’s a campaign here in NS involving wearing pink shirts in support of a kid who was bullied for wearing pink a few years back. It says in large block letters, “STOP BULLYING”. The message associated with it isn’t “stop being a big meanie poopyhead”, but rather “stop abusing your fellow human beings”.

  16. 16
    George W.

    I wasn’t implying you thought that. I was disagreeing that suicide has the effect of sweeping the issue under the rug. There are, to my mind, two ways to force these people to take responsibility for their actions. One is if enough gay kids off themselves because they can’t handle the pain, the other is if reasonable people stand up and make it known that it has to stop, and it will stop.
    I am in effect saying that we must accept our responsibility in letting it persist and allowing gay teens to feel alone and helpless. It shouldn’t take body bags to break the cycle of abuse. But it might if we don’t do something….

  17. 17
    Jason Thibeault

    Gotcha. In which case, yes, letting the situation reach a crisis point is indeed a good way of forcing a change on an inertia-addled society, but it’s a path of inaction and needless death. It’s not, obviously, the optimal way. I’d choose, given the choice, telling the bigots and the assholes to stop. Which is what I’m trying to do here, in my own limited fashion.

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