It Gets Better

I’m still not sure I agree with the It Gets Better. The message comes across quite bleak as a statement about our community; it feels like it shifts the burden of homophobia/transphobia/queerphobia onto the backs of young people: “it’s gonna be shit for a while but it’ll be ok later on… probably”. Somehow I don’t get how much solace from the message.

That, and it someone told me they were suicidal, the last response I’d want to give would be “Well, my life is great now. So you should just wait it out until things get better for you.” Surely we should be asking “What support do you need?”

I’ve talked with other people about it and they say it works best in conjunction with other causes… like this one, or this, or this, oh and also this.

And I think I agree. It’s great to give hope, and it’s great to visibilise communities, but it’s ALSO important to ask what support people need, to create said support, to advocate for change, to get angry, to get loud, and to create allegiances across communities (’cause homophobia/transphobia/queerphobia is all our problems – just like racism, sexism, ableism, religious bigotry, and all the rest).

But still, as one more voice amongst a myriad of others, and as one person who has a lot more to say than simply “It Gets Better”, here’s mine:

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34 responses to “It Gets Better

  1. I’d never even noticed that sorta’ gaping hole of logic in ‘It Gets Better’. Very very good of you to address.

    • Cheers, it’s been something that’s been bugging me for a while so it was nice to write it down. I’m sure lots more can be said about it, and there’s heaps of different opinions too.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention It Gets Better | Rooster Tails -- Topsy.com

  3. I don’t know, I kind of agree with it Gets Better. It was the only real support my parents could give me in highschool, despite their best efforts to help. Going by anecdotal evidence, as far as I can see unless you go to a magical hippie town/performing arts/wealthy and enlightened public school, you’re going to get crap in highschool for anything and everything. Highschool is meant to be crap, more or less. Then you can sit back and laugh at all the cool kids as they realise they highschool social skills have no bearing on the real world and they end up at McDonalds.

    • I think that there are some people who’ve had really affirming experiences in high school – I can honestly say I had some really excellent experiences, as well as some really difficult ones. I am just not sure that for me that the message of IGB resonates, but I am so pleased that there’s been a lot of people who’ve posted here who can say otherwise! I guess it just confirms the idea that we need to be working away at this stuff from multiple angles.

  4. I was so incredibly thrilled when It Gets Better surfaced that I hadn’t really thought about this, until Bear Bergman pointed out that in and of itself, it’s really not enough.

    I was all for It Gets Better and I still am, because I think it has its place–a really important place. If my teenage self could’ve seen me-as-I-am-today, I would hardly have believed it possible. I would have bawled with relief for someone (or thousands of someones) to say to me, “No, no, look: I made it. You can do it too. You’re going to be okay.”

    But you’re right: it’s not enough alone. I think it’s on the backs of those of us saying that it gets better to find some way to make it better NOW.

    Anyway. Thumbs up. Also, long-time-reader-first-time-commenter, and you are one of the people who makes me-as-I-am-today bawl with relief that I’m going to be all right. (Maybe it’s just that I never grew up and I’m actually still a little kid walking around in this oversized body, but I think everyone needs that reminder once in awhile.) Hearts for you.

    • Yeh, I really like the idea of having it be a step towards something that we have an obligation follow through on – and I had no idea that there was a “Make it Better” project, so thanks so much for the link to that too. And I totally agree that everyone could use a bit of reminding about it – I think that’s where the strength lies, the cathartic and empowering videos that adults can make, and the relief and solidarity of peers. I guess I am curious as to what the receivers, or intended receivers, of the message are getting from it. And, aww, thanks for the love, seriously, this comic and the wonderful responses like the one you gave feels like it’s my very own IGB project 🙂

  5. I’m queer, and I didn’t realize it AT ALL, not even the SLIGHTEST INKLING, until I was in college and I got out from under my homophobic parent’s beliefs a bit and realized that it didn’t have to be a bad thing. I finally expanded my beliefs enough that I could deal with the fact that I liked girls too because I didn’t have to be afraid of it anymore. It was so weird, especially when I came out to people and had a handful of people I’d known in my (religious, private) high school say, “Uh, yeah, I’ve known that for years. What do you mean, YOU didn’t know?!”

    Really I’ve been dealing with being manic-depressive, it feels like, for a lot longer than it feels like I’ve been dealing with being queer. And the advice one gets for getting through a suicidal depression feels a lot like the advice people are now giving gay kids in high school, especially, for getting through the hard bits.

    I guess that’s why I can see the It Gets Better logic hole and just kind of not be bothered by it…because sometimes that’s all you can tell people. You can have therapy, you can have meds, and there are some days a depressed person just cannot muster the will to get out of bed. You can have the best support groups possible available for kids and until our society changes a bit more, that still won’t change the fact that some of them have to go home to people like my parents who think that being a pedophile and being gay are like the same thing. It’ll get better, though. Swears. It did for me.

    • Cheers, I like your reasoning – it becomes another option of things that we can say, if, as you say, the therapy doesn’t do it, or the meds, or anything else, then this might – so we should try it. I really had no idea that I was trans until I met other transguys, and I kinda think that it was ’cause I wasn’t ready to know ’cause I couldn’t have dealt with it earlier, and I needed to know there were other guys out there before I could come out myself.

  6. I agree with your comic but disagree with your blog post. I do agree that the “It Gets Better” project could be slightly better focused, but overall think it’s a good thing. I will admit that I have a bit of bias in favor of it because a) Dan Savage is a local writer where I live and b) in the video he wears a shirt for the youth organization where I work (and he also heavily supports them in other ways).

    Anyway, I totally agree that the project wasn’t meant to stand alone, that it should be combined with support groups and other resources. However, I think that Dan’s original intent for the project got overshadowed by its explosive popularity. Yes, it’s totally awesome that there has been support of the project from so many people and that everyone from Obama to the Glee cast have made “It Gets Better” videos, but the intent of the project wasn’t to provide a public forum for vague, positive messages to youth from political figures and assorted famous people. The purpose, as Dan explained in his column “Give ‘Em Hope,” was to allow for dialogue between older and younger queers, to provide stories for the “many LGBT youth (who) can’t picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults”.

    From a personal perspective, I think the “It Gets Better” project fills an important niche in the US. I grew up in Mississippi, a state where the social and political climate is decidedly opposed to all aspects of the LGBTQ community (in 2004, a ban against gay marriage passed with 86% in favor). There’s only one branch of PFLAG in the entire state at only 1 school (for 3 million residents and 80+ school districts). I consider myself reasonably well-read, well-educated and well-traveled, but it was not until my 20s that I a) ever met anyone over 30 who identified as queer, b) ever met anyone who was trans (Kate Bornstein, hellz yeah), and c) learned that organizations like PFLAG, GLSEN, etc even existed. Even once I learned of these resources, they were simply not available to me. I spent hundreds of hours on the internet looking for any glimpse of people who were like me, illegally downloading and watching any LGBTQ movie I could find. As a youth, I would have watched every single “It Gets Better” video. It’s one of the few online resources I’ve ever seen that addresses the issue of the vast shortage of role models for LGBTQ youth and attempts to connect the older generation to the younger.

    Anyway, sorry for going on a bit of a rant in your comment box. I’m totally impressed by how the art in your comics gets better and better each time and always look forward to seeing more. 😀

    • Thanks Zavi, I really like your perspecitve – I guess I’ve lost sight of the original intention, so it’s nice to be reminded of that. I think definitely meeting other trans and queer older people has really helped me and felt like such a beautiful experience, so I like the idea that IGB is the youtube version of that.
      Oh, and rants and long comments are ALWAYS appreciated in my comment box 🙂

      • And I’m ALWAYs excited to hear good comments about my art 🙂 It’s been a pretty remarkable shift in the last year in terms of the comics, and I’m excited to hear other people have noticed that my stuff has changed 🙂

  7. Wow, other people posted really long comments also! Oh, the PFLAG South link on your links page is broken. 😛

  8. As others have said, I think It Gets Better is an important project to instill hope in youth who may be feeling hopeless, but it needs to be saddled with a Let’s Make It Better NOW project so that that hope has a reason to keep burning. I think lots of LGBTQ-related organisations and projects share the goal of their own ultimate obliteration: someday, we will not need the It Gets Better project or PFLAG or GLSEN etc., because when being gay or trans or queer or bi or asexual or anything else non-normative is just as okay as being straight and cis, we won’t need those projects and organisations anymore. We have a lot of work to do to get to that place, but as you say, it’s getting better. Slowly, it’s getting better, and there’s a lot of people working very hard to make it better, webcomicstrippers included.

    • Yeh, I definitely think that a key message about IGB should be to look at how we can ensure that as a society things Get Better – as opposed to the idea that we should tell young people to ‘wait it out’ ’til they are outside of institutionally oppressive environments like schools (even that’s assuming that once out of school they won’t be subjected to other forms of institutional oppression). For me, that message of societal change hasn’t come across in a lot of the videos I’ve watched, but was perhaps an original intention of the project. But, yes, I agree that we are moving forward and making changes, and that even little webcomicstrippers can make things better in their own small political way. (Also, I’m totally gonna make a business card that says “Sam Orchard: Webcomicstripper”)

  9. I think it’s a flaw to think that ‘It Gets Better’ precludes any other way to reach out to kids. Anyone who has other, better ideas…. DO IT. Make it happen. I don’t like to give Dan Savage much credit, but the one thing he did that I haven’t seen anyone else do is to have an idea of how to respond and to execute it. Is ‘It Gets Better’ everything we need? Nope. But for those having other, better ideas, why not take a leaf from his book and do something with those ideas? Make a positive contribution. All it takes is an idea and a will to make it happen. And people skills, and a whole bunch of other stuff, but you get my meaning.

    As for me? I needed to know I could face the scary thing deep inside me as a teenage and, having faced it, could live a live of dignity, could be happy, and wouldn’t be alone and despised for the rest of my life. I, of course, needed so much more, but did I need to see adult transgender people telling me, assuring me, that it gets better? I ABSOLUTELY DID. I didn’t know it would get better. I didn’t *believe* it would get better. And that placed me on a long road of self destruction and suicide attempts, because, you know…. there was nobody back then doing that. There was absolutely no hope being shone that there was something to live for. Nobody I could look to who could testify that my life could actually be okay and not suck forever. Someone to give me something to hope for. My hat goes off to all the people who are being that voice, giving that testimony for the generations coming up.

    I am SO GRATEFUL that some kids are coming up in a time where knowing that ‘it gets better’ isn’t as big a deal for them as it was for me way back when. I think that shows a lot of progress as a culture. But the progress is there because people along the way shone their light. So why not shine yours? If you have a better idea than this one, share it with the world! Let’s do everything we can to light a beacon to help our kids find their way home.

    • Thanks Christine, I loved your response, you have an awesome way of expressing yourself – it got me all fired up and ready to do something!

      Plus you reminded me of my own experiences of meeting older trans people who have been such a source of reassurance and pride for me, and how much I have valued, and continue to value, that. Meeting and talking with older trans people has made me realise how much the world has changed, and how much it’s got better, but also how much I owe to my older trans whanau for paving (indeed, sometimes SMASHING) the way for my generation to be. And I’m so excited and strengthened and challenged by the next wave coming through as well. It is something that feels like an awesome theme that Gender Outlaws: TNG expressed really clearly.

      So, now I am left pondering my own ideas to smash forward 🙂

  10. I just wanted to thank you for the link to Put It On The Map. I’ve been looking for a way to help make it better since the It Get’s Better project came out. (I’ve got a few biffs with Dan Savage, especially his notions of how sex should work in a relationship, but the idea of showing love to queer youth is a good start.) I’m still a graduate student, so money isn’t something I’ve got(neither is too much time, for that matter), but I need to /do/ something.

    As a complete side note, I just started following your comic recently and it makes me feel less worried.

    • Are you one of the awesome people behind that project? ‘Cause I LOVE it! I keep watching that video of it and it makes me want to dance. I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on Dan Savage, I don’t know much about his stuff, I’ve listened to a few of his podcasts here and there, and read some interviews, and I know his way of communicating is quite controversial, but I haven’t involved myself too much in what he does.

      • I wish! Or, alternatively, I hope so soon! I had meant that your link to them got me off my butt and got me emailing them to see if they need any computer science kids on their team doin’ programmy stuff. ❤

        Some of his sex advice is terribad-he seems to think that participants in a couple owe each other sex, and has absolutely no understanding of polyamory as a functional concept. -_- I'm part of a couple with the sort of sex life where if we followed his advice, we'd be having more sex, sure, expect about 75% of the time at least one participant would have to be coerced into it. Super Squicky.

      • Dan Savage definitely has his drawbacks, and actually when a friend first encouraged me to start reading/listening, I thought he was offensive and occasionally full of shit. And I still think that, but I also have a great appreciation now for the things he does well, and I think his heart’s in the right place–so like with everything else I take it with a grain of salt, and I’ve kept reading. He’s certainly been thought-provoking.

  11. I don’t have a lot to say, because most of what I think about this is represented in the short film that my friends and I made (Reteaching Gender and Sexuality/ Put THIS On The Map). However, as a trans/queer youth I would not have met all the amazing queer adults I know, if they hadn’t have been working for youth empowerment now, rather than living their lives and never attempting to make things happen for young people. So I believe that all-ages organizing and adult allies are totally awesome.

    That said, I have gotten very little in my life from waiting for things to get better. It’s certainly a nice message, simple, doesn’t take a lot of work . And if everything just got better on it’s own, I think we would all be a lot happier. But it doesn’t. If our queer ancestors had waited for things to get better, there would have been no Stonewall, homosexuality would still be listed as a mental illness, all the amazing queer artists in our communities would be silent, and the names of anyone who refused to be silent, would be published in the media, so everyone could ridicule them, among many other things. If the young queer activists I know had waited for things to get better, I would never have heard them telling their stories, and found a community I could relate to. If I had not made things better for myself, and been supported by my community, I would have been another of those kids of those kids who committed suicide. I would not have graduated high school. So while we should give thanks to our queer ancestors for paving the way, we need to work and continue the struggle, because just because things are a certain way, doesn’t mean they should be.

    And we need to recognize the interconnectedness of identities and oppressions. Not everyone has the privilege of being a white cysgendered guy with money, like Dan Savage. We need to fight for an end to racism, classism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia…as well as homo/trans/queerphobia. We need to go beyond our large, liberal cities, to every school, small town, institution, and share our experiences with people there, to empower other young queer people (and non-queer people of all-ages), and yes, ask them what kind of support they need, how we can be allies to their movements, how we can continue the struggle.

    I am so excited to see that cool kids like you are watching our video and that it’s gone as far as New Zealand. Right now we’re trying to go on tour in the U.S. and take it to all those places that I mentioned (and the ones I didn’t). And if you want to be totally inspired, you should also watch the Rude Mechical Orchestra’s video, ‘It Gets Better Because we Make It Better.’ Thanks for being rad.

    • Ah! As I said above, I really love that video! It is happiness videofied! I am very much on the same page as you with all-ages organisations – I think that’s a huge strength of PFLAG South, who I’ve been working for, the whanau/family/community approach can provide really strong modeling/mentoring/dialogue back and forth between generations and perspectives.

      I feel fed and nurtured by creating change, and I am pleased that other people do to. I really enjoyed Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Warriors – which really highlighted the huge, rebellious work that our elders have done for us. And really put me in touch with allowing myself to continue to be active in the communities I belong. I think it really does highlight the idea that different methods and approaches work for different people – for some, the IGB project works for them, for others actively creating change is a driving motivation for staying alive and being empowered.

      And amen to your comment that “we need to recognize the interconnectedness of identities and oppressions.” I definitely agree! It is something I am wanting to engage with more, and want to think about further. Joe really enjoys Dan Spade’s writing and work, which also addresses this notion. As, I’m sure many other people have also.

      And I will definitely check out that video! Thanks so much for your response, it was amazing! Thanks for being rad yourself!

  12. *DEAN Spade, I mean! Poop.

  13. I kind of agree in that the message I would like to give my teenage self is ‘I know you don’t believe that you could be happy and healthy, or that you deserve that. But you do, and there is a life that is possible where you have friends and family who love you for who you are.’ But it’s missing the message that ‘you are ok right now’.

    Also, how can we promise kids that it gts better while at the same time condoning bullying and shaming behaviour from their peers – and ours. We should only promise that as an aside to working to make the world a more accepting place.

    • Yeh I would really like to hear a message that affirms their identities and says “you’re great, just as you are, and you deserve to be happy” alongside a message to bullies (and those who condone bullies via silence) that says “It’s not ok to do this”

  14. I think this is my favourite comic out of all of them so far. It rings so true and is, well, incredibly poetic and cute. I’m proud to be your friend! I’m proud that I surround myself with such incredible people!

  15. Personally, I really agree with you. I think instead of telling people that “it gets better” we should be asking, “How can we make it better” Don’t say it’ll get better, actually MAKE it better. While the It Gets Better program is probably helpful in a lot of ways, it’s almost like… well, just like telling people to suck it up. Too bad. Life’s bad, and we’re not gonna do anything about it.

    Some of the videos are really sweet though, hehe.

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