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Does it ever really get better?

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Image: man watching the sun rise

Are we lying by saying there's light on the horizon?

It’s not often I admit I’m wrong, so hear me out.

You see, I’m an impulsive sort of guy; I always have been, so when a friend sent me a link to a video for a new campaign aimed at gay teenagers called, “It Gets Better”, it stirred something up in me, and I jumped head first into forming an opinion.

American author, Dan Savage and Terry, his partner of 16 years, speak about their difficult, religiously influenced childhoods, leaving behind their traumatic school years, before meeting each other and settling down into happy, gay, wedded bliss. The message being that if you’re growing up gay and facing the daily ignorance, abuse, and sometimes even violence — it does get better.

A fantastic sentiment — and I mean that sincerely — but part of me couldn’t help feeling like it was all a bit too saccharine for my tastes. I mean, are these two really representative of the wider gay community? And are they telling the truth? Does it ever really get better, or does the focus just shift?

For me, the homophobia subsided at school by the time I was 14 or 15 — I developed a smart mouth and I had a fiery temper, so I soon put my detractors in their place. But it’s actually been since I left school and entered the gay scene that I’ve encountered the most hostility.

You see, we call ourselves the gay ‘community’ — but I think we forget what that word truly means. We actively practice segregation — the dykes don’t talk to the gays, the muscle boys don’t talk to the chickens, the bears all stick together and the skins all go to Compton’s.

Most of us frantically pump iron at the gym in a bid to be accepted by a community that doesn’t even register you if you’re under 70kg and not popping out of an Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt.

Yep, we’re all about making people feel like they don’t belong.

And why? Maybe we get a kick out of it. After so long feeling different, it’s nice to feel like we’re part of something, and fun to turn our noses up at the people who don’t fit in. And all the while hoping nobody notices that once upon a time, we too were the outsider.

Of course, there’s a difference between not being hot enough and getting the shit kicked out of you. But what’s worse? Being shunned by the idiot kids at school, or by the very community who should be welcoming you, arms open? And all because you simply don’t fit the bill.

If, like Dan and Terry, you manage to avoid all this and find the man of your dreams at a relatively young age, then you’re lucky. But does this rosy picture of a happily married gay couple, complete with adopted son, give kids something to aspire to, or is it setting them up for disappointment when they get out there and find it’s all about instant gratification, transient friendships, fast sex and very little commitment?

You may (possibly rightly) call me bitter, and given my recent experiences, who could blame me? But the truth is, I know (and admire) plenty of happily married gay couples.

My friends Noel and Steve have been in a loving, monogamous relationship for fifteen years and have an adopted son and daughter. My other pals Uwe and Quentin just celebrated eighteen years, and I’m very excited to be going in February to the wedding of Rob and Jamie, who are finally tying the knot after fourteen years together.

But the reality is that most of us are destined to still be on our own well into our 30s, 40s and even 50s and beyond. So do we tell our gay teenagers the cold, hard truth — or should we give them something positive to strive for?

The cynic who couldn’t identify with Dan and Terry’s cuddly, present-day lives was erring on the side of the former.

That was, until yesterday, when I read the story of Seth Walsh, the thirteen year old boy who died on life-support this week, nine days after hanging himself.

The reason? He was being bullied at school for being gay.

As I reflected on my initial reaction of ‘these men do not represent my community’, I realised that what every kid needs is a role model, whether it’s Spider-man, a parent, or the granddad who fought in two wars. Gay teens need something to hold onto during those awful years when others are discovering they’re different as quickly as they themselves are.

If dreaming of getting married and settling down with a white picket fence is what’s going to save the lives of kids like Seth Walsh, then who the fuck am I to pass judgement on a video that may or may not give them unrealistic expectations?

What would I have done if I’d had the chance to speak with Seth before he tried to take his own life? Would I have told him about the liars and the cheats? Would I have told him about the rampant body fascism that dictates we should spend half our waking lives in the gym to feel accepted? Would I have warned him about the dangers of men who just want to get laid and don’t care about passing on HIV?

Of course I wouldn’t. I’d have put my arm around his shoulder and simply said:

“It gets better.”

So rest in peace, buddy. There’s no hatred in heaven. I’m just sorry you didn’t get to see a better life.

Written by guy_interrupted

September 29, 2010 at 8:26 pm

33 Responses

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  1. I really couldn’t have said that any better.

    Andrew

    September 29, 2010 at 8:36 pm

  2. Beautifully said…and so very true

    Reid

    September 29, 2010 at 8:57 pm

  3. Well said!

    passthenomad

    September 29, 2010 at 8:57 pm

  4. It does, in many ways “get better”. Great post!

    In like Flynn

    September 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm

  5. Great post! Very good writing and very well said

    Jorge

    September 29, 2010 at 9:38 pm

  6. Sadly, the gay ‘community’ is one of the most self-hating and self-destructive I’ve ever seen. We complain about stereotypes in the so-called ‘straight media’, yet we perpetuate them time and again.

    We’re derisory about people who may be gay and who aren’t ‘out there’ and publicly out, yet we fail to understand that they live their lives as they see fit and are not necessarily in the closet as we perceive them to be.

    No wonder kids struggle to find role models they can identify with, draw strength from and are able to live through the terrible bullying they have to endure. I’ve been very fortunate… I was picked on more because of my physical flaws than my sexuality, but I hope that us ‘common folk’ can do more by just continuing to be who we are, being a good role model, and speaking up when we hear about bullying anywhere.

    Stefan P.

    September 29, 2010 at 10:14 pm

  7. Your eloquent description of the gay community’s “body fascism” took several words right out of my mouth (but written much better than I would have done). In my 20s and 30s I got *SO* fed up with the shallow capital-A Attitude in the clubs etc. of gay guys who would look down at anybody who didn’t live up to their standards that I literally gave up on dating or meeting “the right guy” for quite a long time. So I the bitterness you’re describing from the core of my soul.

    Yet even then, and even with my own poor showing of a love life, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to tell a young gay kid that it gets better, and I would mean it sincerely. Even at the worst of my feeling rejected and judged by the gay community I still had it better than I had had it in school, and I knew it.

    Being able to accept yourself as a gay person isn’t really *about* whether or not your get that white picket fence or not. Finding “true love” is tough for everybody, straight OR gay. Yeah, most straight people get married, but half of those marriages fail. An awful lot of people get married because they don’t want to be alone, not necessarily because they really found “the one”. That doesn’t make their lives as straight people somehow living hells. None of us, straight or gay, have a monopoly on suffering. And whether or not you have a “happily ever after” romance doesn’t determine whether you are a happy and fulfilled human being. There is a lot that goes into a life: friends, work, fun. It doesn’t all boil down to a single question.

    So yes, it DOES get better, for all of us — from the nerdy straight kid who didn’t fit in, to the kid who gets bullied for being gay. And nobody should feel they have to give up in their teen years.

    I have also seen, in my lifetime, things change 180 degrees for gay people. It is sooooooooo much better than it used to be. I take an *ENOURMOUS* amount of joy in that. And a great amount of pride in knowing that more and more people in society in general accept gay marriage every year.

    Anyway. I’ve rambled. But this is a great post. And any single teenager who attempts suicide for being ay is one too many.

    Justin

    September 29, 2010 at 10:58 pm

  8. Well I always read your blog, and although we often have the same view I have to admit that I’m part of the “it will get better” view of gay life. Because if I’m being honest that’s what gets me through… Maybe its the teenager inside me that doesn’t want to grow up.

    I certainly think that we need role models for the younger generation and the steroid-pump deluded drugged up ones are certainly not the type I hope these youngsters will look up to.

    Brogan

    September 29, 2010 at 10:58 pm

  9. Every day I hope “it will get better”. It’s what gets me through. If not then what’s the point?

    Somhairle

    September 30, 2010 at 8:37 am

  10. Really enjoyed reading this!!

    Adrian

    September 30, 2010 at 8:43 am

  11. Why do I always get emotional when I read your blog?

    I agree with Somhairle… Without hope for an end to tragedies like this, there is nothing

    Steve

    September 30, 2010 at 10:45 am

  12. Cool ; )

    Filipe

    September 30, 2010 at 1:02 pm

  13. These tragedies, to me, are not about gay people but about people in general. It’s about respecting ALL people for their differences and that’s the real lesson to be learned here. Well written post.

    To me

    September 30, 2010 at 1:23 pm

  14. I also tend to be a bit cynical about sentimental crap. But when I watched those videos I likewise changed my perspective. The one’s by our straight allies are the ones that impacted me greatly. I think it’s powerful for a young kid to hear from a straight wrestling coach, “Hey, I’d accept you and there’s more people like me out there”

    Being a former Mormon, I also liked a similar project called Mormenlikeme: http://www.youtube.com/user/MorMenLikeMe

    dadsprimalscream

    September 30, 2010 at 4:31 pm

  15. I’m certainly no muscle mary and I’ve been to G-A-Y [Bar|Late], Comptons, Ku Bar, Admiral Duncan, Retro, Village, Escape, Yard Bar, Heaven, Trash Palace, Ghetto, Popstarz, Revenge, Barcode, XXL, Shadow Lounge, the King’s Arms, RVT, Profile, Fire, Kudos, the Black Cap, even The Box or Rupert Street and I’ve never felt ostracised in any of them. I’m a bit confused by what you’re expecting to happen when you walk into a bar full of people you don’t know.

    Jon

    September 30, 2010 at 4:46 pm

  16. I’ve been aware of this campaign for a few weeks now & in reply to the post, it’s nice to get both sides of the story… Therefore, As a teenager, I do understand how things can get bad, and that you can feel trapped in a downward spiral. Gossip gets spread. Rumours fly around. Bullying HAPPENS. But truth be told. Things do change & in the end It’s all about individual discretion on whether to be told the truth or something beautiful.No matter what their situation or sexuality. Gay or Straight. Thanks Though Great Post :’)

    Coe_Jay_Bee

    September 30, 2010 at 5:17 pm

  17. Once again a great post; as a guy coming out at the grand old age of 38 I thought (naively) that I’d be met with acceptance and support by those I’d so long viewed as my true peers. I’m finding that far from the case; instead I’m being met by those desiring, as you said, fast sex, instant gratification & transitory friendships. It is comforting to know that I’m not alone in my desire to find something less superficial and even to hope that things will get better.

    Novo

    September 30, 2010 at 9:57 pm

  18. I think that acceptance comes from within as well as from the community, family, friends etc. We all feel and want acceptance, whether we are not accepted for being gay, too fat, black, for wearing glasses or not being as attractive as society dictates that we should be. Our inner acceptance of ourselves hopefully develops with time, which of course young Seth did not find as he destroyed his young life before the adult side gave him the strength to deal with this. Yes, things do get better, but, I believe that our own inner strength, together with the love and support of friends, family etc., helps us deal with life’s knocks and allows us all to move forward in life, in love, life and friendship. Your blog moved me to tear’s. I am truly grateful that you my Son have arrived at adulthood knowing exactly who and what you are! love mum xx

    Mum

    October 1, 2010 at 9:23 am

  19. Your lovely Mam has hit the nail on the head – they key to happiness is self acceptance and embracing who you are. As kids, living in a homophobic society, we can’t really do this and the consequences are often tragic, as per the example of Seth above.

    RE: The gay scene. Offering oneself, or at least putting your faith in a gay scene (and therefore other people) can be a recipe for disaster. When I finally came to terms with my sexuality, the gay scene was like a drug and it sucked me in. I suppose I depended on it for a positive self concept. Years of shame surrounding myself was stripped away once I was surrounded by others who I thought were just like me. Then I started to notice the flaws, namely the superficial aspects, the cattiness, the spite and the cliques that came as a crushing disappointment. All I wanted to do was get on with everyone and have a laugh. And belong.

    It got to the point where going out was like getting on the scales – I came away feeling shit about myself. In retrospect, that was do with my perception of other peoples’ perceptions (if that makes sense – forgive me, have been awake since 5am). If you offer your self esteem to others who are seemingly struggling with their own, it’s only ever going to get broken. Nowdays I rarely go out on the scene. Not because I don’t like or worry about how my plus sized (tee hee) figure will be carped about, but because I’ve found my true mates away from the gay scene. Some are gay, some are straight. Real friends, family, surrounding oneself with positive people is much more fortifying than spending a night breathing in and trying to avoid harsh lighting. That’s my twopenteth on the gay scene anywhooo!

    In terms of the wider society, things are definitely getting better. As much as people criticise the last government, they did a lot for us in terms of equality. I think it will just take a few more generations for the social psyche to catch up.

    Coffee. I need coffee…

    Johnny Red Pants

    October 2, 2010 at 6:23 am

  20. Not a bad sentiment, but still highly scene-oriented.

    I found that the London gay scene bored me senseless, and yet I was still drawn to fit in. The idea that “it gets better” only started to make sense once I realised that an ectomorph like myself will not even reach 70kg without some sort of permanent carbohydrate IV drip, and that spending vast amounts of money in order to “be seen” had only one result: debt.

    No; it got better once I realised that spending all my free time around gay men was toxic. I restricted myself to a very small number of good friends (3), let all the other so-called friends drop away, and started being human instead of being gay.

    And shalakazam! I met someone lovely and 5 years later we’re still going.

    It does get better, but only if you escape metropolitan gayness.

    George

    October 4, 2010 at 12:39 pm

  21. I’m equally as bitter so don’t dispair. Your sentiments and observation are correct. I feel no sense of “community” and that’s part of the reason why I’ll never integrate myself into gay areas.

    oskyldig

    October 5, 2010 at 10:56 pm

  22. Being in a gay “community,” even if it is bitchy and semi-segregated, is still a community. One in which you can find others like you and who’ve been what you’ve been through. I don’t necessarily agree that A&F guys never hang out with bears (from my own experience in California), but even if that is true at least you can be a chubby, hairy man and still be part of a community within a community (and get some action).

    So even if it’s segregated, I think the gay community is better than the lack of community and outright hostility many LGBT teens face everyday.

    jasonsabio

    October 6, 2010 at 8:42 pm

  23. I have been extremely moved by this campaign & your very eloquent words.

    What I don’t understand is that we’re still socialising kids to be heterosexual. If the expectation wasn’t there surely the need to “come out” (eventually) would be a thing of the past. Is this even possible? At the very least if kids realised there were other options could they more readily recognise their difference & would this help them in having a more positive experience?

    I’m studying Counselling & want to work with young people. I feel so strongly about this that I’m going to write a research report over the coming weeks.

    Thanks for adding more inspiration!

    Kanga_Rue

    October 19, 2010 at 5:00 pm

  24. I have been extremely moved by this campaign & your eloquent words.

    What I don’t understand is that we’re still socialising kids to be heterosexual. If the expectation wasn’t there, surely the need to “come out” in the first place (eventually) would be a thing of the past? Is this even possible? At the very least, if kids realised there were other options, could they more readily recognised their difference from the “norm” and would this help them in having a more positive experience?

    I’m studying Counselling and want to work with young people. I feel so strongly about this that I’m going to write a research report over the coming weeks.

    Thanks for adding more inspiration!

    KangaRue

    October 19, 2010 at 6:37 pm

  25. This is quite inspirational for people like me/us. I’ve watched a couple of those videos where people say “Blah blah blah, life was hell, came out, ignored, life got better” but I just think that life sometimes doesn’t.
    I wouldn’t go as far as killing myself but I am rather miserable wearing my mask all the time and not being able to be me.
    Thanks

    Josh

    October 24, 2010 at 9:55 pm

  26. Great post. I think there’s got to be some awareness of that need for blunt honesty but you’re right there has to be a balance struck up.

    David

    November 12, 2010 at 10:23 pm

  27. I have a couple of black friends who hate the words “Black community”. They always say that just because they are black, suddenly every other person who is black thinks and acts like them? Ditto for community “spokespersons” and “leaders”. It echoed with what I’ve always thought about the “Gay community”. Just because we have the same sexual orientation, suddenly we are a community who thinks and acts alike? Well, obviously not. Is there such a thing as a straight community? No. There is society, straight society if you like. But not a community.

    I agree that the scene is a place where body fascism is in full swing. By almost everyone. However, I also discovered years ago that a lot of gay men (I would venture that most, in fact) never step into in and avoid it like the plague. I also know that some gay men, when faced with the kind of hostility that is found on “mainstream” gay culture, usually find their own niche market. Bears have their club, where chasers go. Muscle men have their own mutual admiration societies. Older gay men have their own places too. Is this a good thing? I would say yes.

    Although it would be great if we all could walk into the same bar/pub/disco and make friends, the sad reality is that this is impossible in a big city. However, I’ve seen it happen. I have been to small provincial cities where there is only one bar. Where chickens, bears and lesbians hang out, if only out of necessity. And they make friends. And have parties. And, for the most part, don’t hate each other.

    I wish this provincialism could be found in the big city gay scene. But it can’t. And I really don’t know who to blame. Magazines? Our lack of education? Our basic disregard for another human being’s condition, whatever it may be? Our own social shortcomings?

    I wish as a teenager, or indeed as a child, someone had told me that things got better. Not a bad message when you think you are the only gay child/youth/teenager on the planet.

    It gets better, but only because you get better too.

    Don’t you think?

    Polo

    November 23, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    • Really interesting food for thought — I fled “the scene” “like the plague” as you say, and since I hate working out “like the plague” I have never acquiesced to “body fascism”.

      I think it is — in THEORY — a good thing that non-conformist gay men can form their own sub-sub-cultures as it were, but in my own (personal) experience, that hasn’t helped. You mention that “bears have their own club, where chasers go” — that is and isn’t true. In reality, the vast majority of bears are attracted to other bears (or cubs), and chasers are extremely thin on the ground relative to bears — those of us (like me) who (by physical description anyway) count as bears but who aren’t attracted to other bears really get no better luck in the “bear scene” than we did in the “city gay scene”. For every chaser there’s about 1,000 bears who prefer chasers, so it works out to being pretty much the same.

      Plus, there is every bit as much of a “bear scene” that I’m not into any more than I’m into the “conventional” city gay scene. I’m not into sports and deep-woods camping and motorcycles and leather, for instance. So in fact by most “bears’” standards I’m really not a bear: just an overweight hairy guy with a beard :)

      And actually, London is a hell of a lot more mixed than where I live (Boston) — the clubs in soho were dominated by “twinks”, sure, but I saw drag queens and lesbians and bears and “daddies” in some of the same clubs that I saw the twinks in. That simply doesn’t happen in Boston for the most part.

      It is true, though, that small “provicincial” towns do tend to have a more mixed and friendly crowd, with less attitude, than the big cities.

      There have been times I have semi-seriously considered moving to a small town for that very reason — except that I hate living in small provincial towns (like where I grew up). I even have made jokes about moving somewhere small to find a husband and then talking him into moving to Boston (or some other big city we can agree on). I’ve never done that, though, so I remain perpetually and permanently single (and pretty much entirely celibate).

      Anyway. This does continue to be a fascinating topic :)

      Justin

      November 29, 2010 at 7:06 pm

      • I am a bear. I don’t particularly like the bear scene. Why? Because other bears are attracted to me. I am one of those bears who like thin/slender men. You are right, a lot of bears like bears, but, in my experience (16 years in London), it isn’t so much a case of chaser to bear ratio, it is about a space where you can meet someone who is not going to say to you “you would be so cute if you lost some weight”, and you don’t find yourself in the necessity of telling them to fuck off. I think the creation of that space is the important thing. Who populates it comes second.

        Nowhere is perfect. London is not really all that mixed, but it does have a lot of different places you can go and meet people.

        Nonetheless, I am glad that subcultures exist. Except that I would prefer it if there were no subcultures and things were just open and accepted -not ‘tolerated’, I hate that word. It always comes with a sell-by date on it.

        I don’t much fit the bear mold either. I am big and hairy, but I don’t care for outdoor deepwoods anything and I can only wear so much plaid before I reach out for a Ralph Lauren polo pony anything.

        Nature is just not for me.

        So what have I done? Just be myself, and know that the guy who likes me is just going to have to like me as I am. Just as I will do with him.

        It worked out, I have to say. I even moved countries!

        Have you tried the bear websites?

        tony4sure

        December 2, 2010 at 1:12 am

  28. Hey Tony yeah I’ve been on bear411 for some time; haven’t created profiles on any of the others yet. There is a bear club in Boston, and sometimes chasers go there, but on the whole it’s very much mostly bears/cubs.

    Justin

    December 6, 2010 at 4:15 am

    • HI Justin,

      Try http://www.bearwww.com. Way better than bear411. Also…believe it or not, sometimes joining a class (could be ceramics, creative writing, whatever) will help you meet people, and men.
      I’m telling you, the right guy is out there for you. But he won’t come knocking on your front door.
      Men are people too. Right?

      tony4sure

      December 6, 2010 at 11:01 am

  29. I have also thought about the “It gets better” theme a lot. It struck home as I have contemplated suicide since I was about 8. I was severely bullied by my brother in a time when “boys were boys”. However he was 3 years older and always bigger. I wasn’t bullied because I was gay, I was simply bullied for someone’s entertainment. The only reason I am here to write these word is that I was afraid that a bullet would hurt too much.

    In my humble opinion, the “it gets better” theme does not hit a chord at all. If you are predisposed to suicide, the message of “it gets better” wont be heard, especially in a child’s mind. This message is so emblematic of the “gay community”: those who show up at the parades, yet never bother to say hello, unless you are young and/or beautiful. I don’t even like to label myself as “gay”, because of this hypocrisy. I regard myself as a man who prefers sex with men, or M2M.

    All children should be made aware, through school or at home, that there is ONE person to talk to, ONE person to go to. Someone who believe every word out of your mouth is the truth. Someone to whom a child can sob uncontrollably.

    The message of “it going to get better” is a fairy tale, no pun intended.

    sierrarancher

    December 6, 2010 at 4:34 am

  30. Beautifully written – well done.

    Scott De Buitléir

    October 21, 2011 at 10:36 pm


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