It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Livingby Dan Savage, Terry Miller Published 22 Mar 2011
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Growing up isn't easy. Many young people endure bullying that makes them feel they have nowhere to turn--especially LGBT kids and teens who often hide their sexuality for fear of being bullied. Without openly gay mentors, they don't know what the future may hold. After a number of suicides by LGBT students who were bullied in school, syndicated columnist Dan Savage uploaded a video to YouTube with his partner, Terry Miller, to inspire hope for LGBT youth. The video launched the 'It Gets Better Project', initiating a worldwide phenomenon. This is a collection of expanded essays and new material from celebrities and everyday people who have posted videos of encouragement, as well as new contributors. We can show LGBT youth the happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will have if they can get through their teen years. "It Gets Better" reminds teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone--and it WILL get better.
"It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living" Reviews
Great idea in theory, but it's mostly just people saying that they love you and that they're here for you when they're really not. In the entire book, there's one person who gives contact information whereas the rest simply say they're there with no follow-up. I understand that it's not ideal for stars to put their contact information, but it just seems like it's all about the publicity when they say there's something better and that you have a friend in them and can always call on them when you can't.
For roughly three years of my teenaged life, I was the target of anti-gay bullying. The fact that I am quite heterosexual did nothing to alleviate it; in fact, the bullies harassed my girlfriend, too, just for good measure.
Granted, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. The main instigator was as cowardly as he was stupid, and he lost much of his power to intimidate when he backed out of a surprise opportunity to settle things one-on-one, outside of school (one that I was more than happy to take advantage of). But he always had a flock of his mouth-breathing buddies with him, some of whom were twice my size and seemed intent on really hurting me. Furthermore, he was consistent. If ten days had gone by without them sauntering up to me at lunch, I could reliably expect an encounter at any moment. Even though things rarely went beyond words, the constant, absolute mindlessness of the regular harassment wore on me.
Worst of all, the adults in my life seemed powerless to stop it, in some cases willfully so. After an altercation that almost got physical (I had a soda can thrown at my face, and pushed the little shit who did it away from me), I was herded into a vice-principal's office. I was solemnly warned by my school’s administration that because I threw my tormentors’ words back at them, demanding to know what it was about “faggots” that seemed to get them so hot and bothered, I could be suspended for “sexual harassment” if I did it again. My parents gave me moral support, but it was clear they weren’t going to get any help from the school, at least in an official capacity. Because I felt confident enough to handle it on my own, I didn’t want to risk making things worse by kicking it up to them until the moment I felt that I had no other choice, which thankfully never came. And even then, things almost went very bad one night, when a van full of drunk chuckleheads (one of whom I thought was a friendly acquaintance of mine) tried to trap me, my girlfriend, and her little sister in a deserted parking lot after a school dance, forcing me to almost wreck my car getting away.
It was a serendipitous combination of my own moxie and the support of friends that got me through that time, but I didn’t escape unscathed. I still carry the marks of that old rage, at peers who could be so arbitrarily cruel, and at grown men and women who were supposed to help me and instead stood by and let it happen. Even though I was more angry than despondent over it, I can easily imagine a victim of such treatment feeling like they have no escape and no hope, especially a young victim who deals with it over the course of years. Even with more publicity of bullied teens committing suicide, many people still seem to think that this isn’t a problem, or even more reprehensible, that it isn’t a problem worth caring about. It’s really sad that a book like this even needs to be written, but it does, and the inspiring essays within serve a crucial need.
This book is basically a print extension of the “It Gets Better Project,” an online compendium of short videos recorded by LGBT and straight adults that speak candidly to teens being bullied over their sexuality or perceived sexuality. The project is meant as a lifeline for kids who are considering ending their own lives, by assuring and/or reminding them that while it may not seem so at the time, high school isn’t forever. If they can endure the static that they are getting from their peers, the adults in their communities, or even from their own families, they can still grow up and create a normal, loving, happy life, just like any other person. The assertion of things actually getting better is subjective, considering how ugly people out in the world still are, but many of the contributors acknowledge this. The point isn’t to paint an unrealistic picture of a bully-free life after high school, but to give these kids a glimpse of the power that they will have over their own life, and the great things waiting for them, once they get through this comparably short period of time.
In light of that, I feel like a bad person for not giving this a perfect rating. Honestly, though, this is only a cover-to-cover read for the harried kids who really need a chorus of voices affirming that things get better, and for those who are close to one and want to help them. For everyone else, it’s more of an inspirational read, to be picked up every now and again and read in short bursts. Each essay is a couple pages long, and follows the same formula: a description of bullying, the consideration of suicide, the good things that have happened since, and an affirmation of how loved and important the reader is, and how things will eventually get better for them, too. The essays do have variety, with authors that are gay and straight, old and young, politicians and students, men, women, and transgendered. There are two pretty awesome comics, and one screed aimed at the bullies rather than the bullied. All together, though, they do follow the same formula, making them undeniably repetitive. From the standpoint of a curious reader, the website is a bit more engaging than the book.
But that takes nothing away from the point of the book. In the introduction, Savage writes that the It Gets Better project was born out of a realization that no parent or school was going to invite him to speak directly to LGBT youth, who need to hear this message the most, so he took matters into his own hands. Not every teen has access to the Internet, and many who do can’t afford to have a browsing history that will call the attention of their family on them; this book is for them. Honestly, though, speaking as a parent and as a librarian, it’s a book that every teen should at least flip open, wWhether it’s cover-to-cover or a simple skim through a couple of the essays. The sentiment behind the book is absolutely correct, and many kids and teens desperately need to hear it.
The "It Gets Better" campaign has helped millions of Queer youth across the world, including myself. I picked this up hoping it would be a little pick-me-up read, and I was curious to see how the two editors managed to narrow down thousands of videos into a simple collection.
The greatest thing this collection manages to achieve is to supply the reader with a diverse array of stories and voices. We have people both straight and gay, cis and trans, famous and unknown, young and old. But beyond those dichotomies, we have a solid mix of race, religion, and experience. It's mostly guaranteed that you will find someone who relates to you here. The best part about this read for me was coming across a couple of people who shared thoughts that I had kept in the recesses of my mind, things I thought no one else could empathize with. And it was absolutely heartwarming hearing people express similar hopes and fears.
Of course, there are some stinkers in here. Most of these come from the political figures included, such as President Obama. They are nice in sentiment, but in general are so vague and constructed to offer up much help. The best stories are the personal ones ingrained with detail and brimming with emotion. Those are the ones that will move you, shake you, and comfort you. Luckily, there are dozens of them included here.
Here is the easiest way to save someone's life. Really. I'm not exaggerating.
Thanks to the generation we live in, we have access to interactive media and real-people resources that can provide the essential information and support that can save a person's life. Being a teenage homosexual or having gender identity or perceptions issues has never been, and isn't now, easy. But even a decade ago these kids suffered in total isolation, either ashamed to admit their concerns in an effort to find a listener, or bullied and abused for trying. Here, finally, we have a media package -- book, youtube videos, and website-- where kids can finally safely go to get the support they need. Virtually every conceivable gender concern is represented (except queerspawn, the only flaw) from the testimonies of celebrities to college students to the freaking PRESIDENT. Again and again, every page pounds the reader with "It gets better," and in any other type of book, that would get annoying. But here, the reader needs to hear it on every page, from every perspective. It almost puts one in a transcendental plane, all these totally different stories that are essentially the same story, that everyone suffers in high school, but the good thing is, high school ALWAYS ends. Most high schoolers can't see that far ahead, and is it possible no one's told them this before? Five kids (that we know for sure) committed suicide in late 2010 due to gender issues, so I don't think they heard.
I have to quote David Sedaris, because he's so good at saying everything, "...all the best people are tormented in junior high school. If they're not getting harassed for being gay, they're bound to get it for being too smart, too loud, or too independent. It's always something, and then you get older, and things change for the better...This is not to say that every homosexual automatically gets what he or she dreams of -- that would be too fair...It helps, too, to keep a diary, to record the many injustices you've suffered, and later turn them into stories. You can't do anything with people being nice to you. People being awful, though; that's gold, so mine it while you can."
Sara Sperling's contribution is also especially compelling. A lesbian mother of a young daughter, Sperling makes her plea not just for the good of the reader, but also the needs of the coming generation. She says, "I need you young people...to stay around. I need you to make this world a better place for my daughter. I don't want her to ever, ever think twice about telling people that she has two moms. So if you're out there and you're struggling, I need you to stay around. I need your help. I need you to be your authentic self and make this world better for my little girl."
And finally, transgender Kate Bornstein finishes the book with the argument that anything, ANYTHING is a better choice than suicide, as long as you aren't mean. If it's hopping a flight to China, that's better. If it's engaging in illegal activities, getting high, having illicit sex, it's still better. Not the advice you're likely to get from your school guidance counselor, but I dare you to say she's wrong.
So, here's what you can do. You can read this book and/or visit the website www.itgetsbetter.org You can contact the Trevor Project at (1-866-4-U-TREVOR) or thetrevorproject.org for volunteer/donation options. You can advocate for the formation of a Gay/Straight Alliance in your local junior or high school. Or you can be the kind of adult kids can recognize as a person who will listen, support and love unconditionally; you can provide a safe place and search out other safe places that kids can live their authentic self -- your home, your public library, your local theatre, etc. At the very least, you can spend about $20 to buy this book and give it to your library or your community's local middle, junior or high school. You can insist they keep it in circulation. You can do that.
The fact that this book exists makes me happy. It really does.
I know so many people who wish that there had been a book like It Gets Better when they were a teenager. Not just people who contributed to this book itself, but people I talk to in real life. Better late than never, right?
This book fulfills its purpose perfectly, as I am 100% convinced that it will, and it does, get better. While not superb in its structuring - there is a bit of redundancy and some of the stories are on the weaker side writing-wise - GLBT teenagers will easily relate to the trials and tribulations of growing up faced by the past generation.
I am forever grateful to Dan Savage and Terry Miller for editing this book and creating the inspiring and amazing It Gets Better Project. I hope one day as an adult to make a video myself and also write a book that will help the fight for GLBT rights.
*cross-posted from my blog, the quiet voice.
"Le cose cambiano" é il libro che l'adolescente che son stato avrebbe voluto trovarsi fa le mani anni fa. Sperando che un giorno diventi un libro di storia, è bellissimo vedere come personaggi noti si siano messi a nudo in questo volume che più che un libro è un salvavita. Una risposta straordinaria a quanti ancora oggi dicono di non capire l'utilità di un coming out pubblico e che dimostra come, ancora una volta, siano le nostre vite a essere il primo, più semplice ma forse anche più efficace strumento di militanza.