Saturday, November 20, 2010

A note on "It Gets Better"...

Awhile back, I posted a link to Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign, which was created in response to the rise in queer youth suicides (in the U.S. in particular) due to bullying and homophobia.  I posted the link because I thought, and still think, that the effort is pretty inspirational.  But even as I posted it, even as I cried watching the accounts of people overcoming terrible hatred and intolerance, something about it rubbed me the wrong way. 

Others have recently, rightly I think, critiqued the racial, gender, and class privilege involved in the idea that life magically gets better for queers in their post-school years.   So let's be clear - it does not get better for everyone.  It can certainly get a whole lot easier for white, middle-class, queer folk (and some critics feel, particularly male queer folk) who identify and live in the gender they were born into.  For say, an Aboriginal, two-spirited person born as a woman but living as a man, perhaps not so much with the better. 

Please click here for Jasbir Puar's critique of the IGB campaign - it is certainly well-worth the read.

Though I'd like to say the above is why I had that niggling "I-love-this-but-something-doesn't-feel-quite-right- feeling', I'd be lying if I did (though I certainly am glad that people far smarter than I thought to bring it up).  My feelings about the campaign can be summed up as this:

1.  Most of me loves it.  I think it is a heart-felt response to a heart-breaking issue.  I think it is bloody hard to know what to do, in the immediate sense, about the recent spate of queer suicides and about the continuing problem of bullying (to queers and to all others perceived as 'different').  So bravo to Dan and Terry (and others) for being able to create a medium that has the capability to reach a large mass of folks with an uplifting message.  We have a desparate shortage of uplifting messages in the world and they are a certain salve for the soul.

2.  What the above smarter-than-me people wrote.

3.  And then, my niggling feeling:  The campaign, though uplifting, is a whitewash.  What I mean by this is, even with all of my gender identity, racial and class privilege, even I know that it doesn't get that much better, or that much easier.  At least not in my experience.  Even being a queer white woman with a lawyer wifey and two same-race kiddos (so basically being the queer Cleavers or Seevers or Keatons or whatever your favourite perfect lookin' TV family is), I still find it hard to be queer.  To be singled out.  To have to come out all the fucking time.  To be afraid each time I do it.  To deal with people's awkward silences or "ohhhhhs" or confusion or ignorance.  To have to explain to the check-out clerk or bank teller or electrician that my kid's didn't get those beautiful blue eyes from their father.  To watch the news about the queer woman out with friends, who could have just as easily been me or my wife, who was brutally queer-bashed by a teenager.  To watch the news about the police who did nothing about it.  To have well-meaning but still ignorant questions about queer life, how I made my babies, sex, my relationship lobbed at me.  To worry non-stop (and I mean non-stop) about what this difference-hating world will do to my kids.  To listen to media debates about whether my marriage is a devaluation of straight marriage or whether or not I or people 'like me' should be allowed to adopt or foster children.  To watch the media coverage about fun stuff like the United Nations allowed queer-hating countries to vote on whether or not we should be killed.  To be stressed out every time we want to travel or cross a border with our kids about whether and how we will be hassled.  And on and on and on it goes.  It doesn't ever really stop and we don't ever really get used it. 

So - in my experience - it does get easier, as we develop ways to cope with the stressors of living in a homophobic world, especially if we have access to some form of queer community and as we are able to surround ourselves with loving, caring folks.   

But it also doesn't really ever stop being hard.  Homophobia and heterosexism makes life feel shitty sometimes.  It makes me fearful and anxious and wary and put stress in my life that the real Clevers and Seavers and Keatons don't have.  It just plain ain't fun.  I know this makes for a shitty soundbyte. 

But that's the truth from where I'm sitting.


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  2. Hi, I hear what you're saying, but the target is the suicidal kid....and speaking as the adult who was that kid - it does get better. For most of us, regardless of who we are, when we become adults, we have some control over where we live and who we associate with, so it does get better. Having a wife and kids, and worrying about homophobia, is not even close to "not that much better" than being attacked, spat on, humiliated and laughed at daily. Your adult worries don't leave you thinking that suicide is preferable to waking up tomorrow and facing more wife/kids/worries about homophobia. Saying it doesn't really get any better, is as good as saying, "go ahead, kid, kill yourself".

  3. Hi Anonymous - I didn't say that it doesn't get any better - only that I think it's far more complicated than the IGB campaign (which I still think is a really good message, as I wrote) presents. I also think the critiques about precisely whom it gets better for, generally, are relevant ones. (I tend to think that kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and can handle some ambiguity now and again, and I really don't agree that giving kids a less equivocal schpiel is tantamount to telling them to go ahead and kill themselves.) I also think that we need to be focussing less on the idea that it gets better in some distant future and start focussing on really making an effort to make things better for kids in the here and now. All the same - thanks for your perspective and feedback...