Friday, October 15, 2010

Heterosexism, Homophobia and "It Gets Better"

I have been watching the news (and various TV programs, as well as reading blogs and news articles) covering the recent deaths of several gay teens and young men. Like so many others, I am saddened and outraged that the suicide rate is so high for this group. I also would like to mention that it is not any higher than usual this month, there has just been media coverage stemming from the circumstances surrounding Tyler Clementi's death. I would also be curious to investigate whether this is also the case with other queer groups... I know the suicide rate is astronomical for transgendered people, but I haven't seen any reports of lesbian suicides over the past month and am not as aware of what these statistics might look like.

Many celebrities, in an attempt to prevent more suicides, have began a campaign entitled the "It gets better" project. I am happy that they are trying to help, and I am glad that so much attention is being brought to the issue, but I have some problems with the concept of it gets better. I feel like I need to add a disclaimer of some sort, because I don't want this to come across as being overly cynical... I think this campaign is important to continue, despite what I am about to write. I think that it is a good start to opening up debate on bullying, especially in relation to people who identify as LGBTQ (I never know how many more letters to add here). And I think that it could conceivably help to save some lives. That being said, I think that it is quite limited and limiting, and should be opened up into a broader campaign to make things better now, instead of getting people to hope that it will get better for them someday.

To me, it is almost like they are condoning the bullying (which is far from their intention). They are saying that it won't last forever, but it can come across as "yes, kids will be cruel, but when they are all grown up, you will be able to find a niche within society where you can fit in most of the time." Note that it is not saying that broader society becomes more accepting, only that these celebrities have found a place where they fit without the bullying.

Another teen committed suicide right after a city council meeting, when after having been told that it would get better, he realized that some things never change when he heard adults giving homophobic arguments opposing LGBT awareness month.

My uncle has told me (and anyone else who will listen) that non-hetero lifestyles are wrong because his God said that a man should be with a woman. Yet, his god is fine with him emotionally abusing his wife, and his god is fine with him being financially abusive to his family, and his god is fine with him screaming at my sister (who, due to a mental illness and past trauma cannot handle loud noises or angry people). I am all for people believing in whatever they want to believe, but I don't want a god who is ok with being cruel to people, but not ok with allowing two consenting adults to have a relationship because they have the wrong genitals for each other. (after reading this part back, I want to note that I am not saying that he is representative of religious people or any religion specifically, merely an example of how things, in my life, have not always gotten better).

As I was walking to the bus stop this morning with my 5 and 8 year old children, I am pretty sure a neighbor yelled a homophobic slur at me. It wasn't loud enough to be clear, and I am a bit on edge due to a really upsetting bullying incident that I faced at the co-op earlier this week, but even if I try to give her the benefit of the doubt, I can't think of what else she might have said. And when I told my best friend about this, his response was that I should be more careful who I tell that I am queer. I understand that he means well, he is concerned about me and trying to protect me, but why should I have to live closeted or in fear? I have not had girlfriends over to my house or done anything for people to label me as gay (not that it would matter if I did), but I have told a few people in private conversation when it came up because I don't feel like it is something that I should need to hide. My sexuality is such a huge topic of discussion for community gossip that people who I don't even recognize know that I am The Gay person in the co-op.

Do people get better? I am not so sure... It is not something that I have to face everyday, so maybe it does get better... but does it ever end?

Overall, the people in my life are generally more accepting than they were highschool, not because it gets better, but because I spend most of my time at university. I study in the social sciences and work in an academic union, where people are generally open to all kinds of things that are not accepted throughout some areas of broader society.

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, which said that instead of "it gets better" maybe we should change slogans to "make it better." I would suggest reading the post, especially if you are interested in this from the point of view of someone who Taught While Gay (brilliant... I only hope my kids get a teacher like this).

Why should we ask children to tolerate the bullying at all, even if it does get better? How do we accept that any child anywhere is being bullied for sexual orientation, nevermind when it is this widespread. What is the most insulting word that you can call a teenage boy? I'm guessing most would say it is a gay slur or feminine term (you probably know which ones I am talking about, I'm not going to repeat them here, that is not what my blog is about).

So, how do we fix this, if not by telling children that it gets better and hoping that someday it actually will? It seems so simple... end institutional forms of heterosexism. Sarah Silverman made an excellent point when she said
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.

What we learn from instutionalized heterosexism is that to be queer is to be different. And if we are different, than we can be treated differently. And because the assumption that we are somehow different is taken as common sense, then it becomes ok to say that it will get better eventually, instead of making it better for everyone NOW.


  1. *warning: you will be offended!*

    Straight talk on gay marriage.

    fck Hate!


  3. I'm not sure how you went from acknowledging the value of the campaign to saying that it condones bullying. I realize that you have hedged this a bit, but if you don't believe that the campaign condones bullying, then the rest of your post is coming from nowhere.

    The belief that things get better is what sustains people through otherwise intolerable circumstances. It is an acknowledgment, not a denial, of present suffering. It doesn't preclude taking other action. Nor does it mean that everything will be fine. Just that it won't always be this hard.

    Is it a Marxist thing to prefer all-encompassing solutions to social problems? Why complain about your hammer because it doesn't cut the grass? That's why you have a sickle too. Or, preferably, a ride-on lawnmower...

  4. The intention of the post was that it does not always get better, and that instead of telling people that it will get better for them, we should work harder to make the our actual everyday experiences better now, rather than hoping for some time in the future when we won't be in a situation to be bullied.

    And the hammer analogy would make sense in other circumstances, but the It Gets Better Project was developed to help people who are being bullied, and I believe there are better ways to help them than telling them to wait for things to improve... this is coming from someone who has experienced severe bullying in gradeschool, and was often told that it would get better, but it seemed too far away to matter.