It doesn’t necessarily get better.
Most people are aware of the “It Gets Better Project,” an effort led by columnist Dan Savage to stem the recent horrific wave of suicides of bullied and otherwise hopeless LGBT youth. Through a simple YouTube video, Savage attempts to inform these oft-tormented people that, well, it gets better. Savage’s message of hope spread like wildfire and was soon accompanied by similar messages from notable figures, both gay and straight alike, ranging from Ke$ha to President Obama. (God willing, that’s the only time you’ll ever see those two names in the same sentence.)
No one could argue that it isn’t a valiant, well-intentioned effort indeed. If strongly enunciated polysyllabic words of encouragement from Tim Gunn can prevent some poor kid in Podunk, Arkansas from killing himself, then I am all for it. But, dare I ask, might hopeful messages from successful, pleasant-looking homosexuals seem a bit, I don’t know, misleading? I mean, sure – life will become exponentially less stressful once you complete high school and don’t have to deal with the dumb fucks that that call you “faggot” all day. But I bet life is way better when you’re a handsome syndicated columnist, or a wealthy pop star, or an adored talk show host. It would seem that, to those of us who don’t have fame and fortune to buffer our existence, a very important point is not being shared:
Even as an adult, being gay is really fucking hard! Not “wanna kill yourself” hard, but it’s no fuckin’ picnic. All of the things that a troubled gay youth has to contend with – fitting in, dating, making friends, oppression, being judged – it all awaits you in adulthood. Had a hard time finding someone to sit with at lunch in school? Well, just wait until you walk into a gay bar by yourself. Did gym class give you anxiety? Then try stepping foot into the local gym in any gay neighborhood where abs are currency. All of the fucked up shit that the It Gets Better Project attempts to combat has some sort of adult life equivalent. Social awkwardness, rejection, isolation, even bullying; they all carry on because of one unfortunate fact:
Gay men can be really shitty human beings. Granted, most human beings can be really shitty human beings. But the expectations for humanity as a whole have been greatly lowered over the course of time, so the majority of people get a pass. Unfortunately, though, when some 19-year-old from the Middle America decided to branch out to the Big City™ and expects a welcoming cadre of sympathetic, like-minded homos, he’s in for one helluva letdown.
Gay men often are shallow, judgmental, overly guarded, selfish… the list goes on. Again, no different from a lot of people, but it’s all the more disappointing when this is the group you’re supposed to fit in with after being an outcast for so long. And maybe this behavior ties back to their own tumultuous youths; now that they’ve established themselves, it’s their turn ostracize others, and the cycle continues.
The strictly enforced fragmentation of gay culture doesn’t make this any easier. Like in some nature video, gay men tend to travel in packs; jocks hang with jocks, daddies hang with daddies, bears with bears, twinks with twinks, and so on. The rules of these cliques, while unwritten, are understood. This is what you wear, this is what you listen to, this is the bar you go to, this is how you behave. And as boring and homogenized as these subcultures have become, if you don’t naturally belong to or assimilate yourself to one, you’re left wandering in the periphery wondering where it is exactly that you belong and questioning the value of your individuality.
I know I sound like some bitter old man. I’m really not. Disheartened and frustrated? Oh sure. And my assessments of gay culture and people is not to be seen as a blanket statement. I know many wonderful gay men and women that are by no means subject to this critique. And my intention definitely isn’t to trivialize the worthiness of the It Gets Better Project. The current crop of LGBT youth should absolutely understand the importance of valuing themselves for who they are. Yes, fitting in makes life easier. But being accepted by some queen who can spout off a list of his favorite porn stars but doesn’t know who his senator is really isn’t gonna do all that much to improve your quality of life.
I wasn’t openly gay in high school, but was certainly suspected and accused. But I never really fit in in high school. I’ve been an official card-carrying homo for almost 12 years now and gay life has never gotten any easier. Life experience has allowed me to grow more comfortable in my own skin, but I still live on the periphery of the gay scene, despite living in the heart of the gay neighborhood. And as much as I’ve accomplished personally over the years, gay life will flare up the ol’ insecurities like that! But my sense of self-worth lets me hold my head high, even when I’m standing up against a wall at a bar alone. And when Facebook allows me to see that all the douchebags that gave me a hard time back in school are now fat and bald and still stuck in Albany, while I’m in shape and desperately holding onto my hair and living in my 3rd city and have traveled halfway around the world, I can hold my head even higher.
I guess maybe it does get a little better. But “better” just doesn’t always equate to “easier.”