edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller
The internet, for all its stupidity sometimes, is still magic. The ability to connect with people that one might not otherwise meet has given rise to all sorts of opportunities — bloggers become published authors, musicians grow their fanbases, and people from different locales can relate to each another and perhaps become friends. Still, occurrences such as those are mere serendipity compared to the real magic of the It Gets Better project. Founded by Stranger columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller, It Gets Better started with one video that reached out to bullied gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, particularly young people, and told them exactly that — Life might be hard for you now, but hang in there, and the whole world awaits.
“[It] had been live on YouTube for just a few hours when e-mails and likes and friend requests started coming in so fast that my computer crashed,” Savage says in the book’s introduction. “The second It Gets Better video arrived within twenty-four hours. Three days later we hit one hundred videos. Before the end of the first week, we hit one thousand videos.”
Dismayed by the suicides of young adults who were gay or perceived to be gay, within three months, It Gets Better had more than six thousand videos on its site and over twenty million views all together. Not only did the LGBT community reach out, but also forces as high as President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and British Prime Minister David Cameron (who is the head of the Conservative party, no less). And now, less than a year after its launch, It Gets Better is a book full of transcripts from the videos, as well as personal essays from people around the world.
To fully come out is an act of bravery, an act I’m afraid I have not fully mustered. Perhaps had circumstances been different, and I’d fallen in the marrying-kind of love with a woman, I would have had a more ‘official’ declaration, out of necessity. However, I’m married (and happily so) to a man. It’s not really anyone’s business, the makeup of our marriage, and so it becomes a matter of sitting against the doorframe of the closet, seeing if anyone notices. Ideally, sexuality shouldn’t matter any more than eye color, but the world isn’t there yet. As a result, I take causes like It Gets Better quite personally. Perhaps humanity’s greatest similarity is loneliness, and so those at their most lonely need to have hope.
I’ve danced around the subject for well over ten years, but yes, I’m attracted to both men and women. An equal opportunity ogler, if you will, but tried, true and irreparably mad for my husband. I’m the misunderstood and the often ignored ‘B’ in the LGBT acronym, that word that feels so odd to say — bisexual. Unlike our gay and lesbian friends who don’t have only the word ‘homosexual’ to describe their feelings, ‘bisexual’ doesn’t really have a good synonym. Even when shortening the word to ‘bi,’ the silent ‘sexual’ remains. As if sex is the only component to a relationship, which is, of course, ridiculous. No wonder so many stereotypes persist — that bi people can’t be monogamous, or that it’s “just a phase,” etc. — and what’s worse, is that one often hears it from both gay and straight people.
(Right now, someone who is both bisexual and transgender is thinking, “Girl, you think you’re misunderstood? Please.” But I digress.)
I’ve mulled over this review for a couple of days, I must admit. How could I review a book about so many personal experiences without being honest about my own? I’m nervous about my audience — relatives, in-laws, people with whom I have not had this conversation, etc. — but my willful nature pulls back with the reminder that I represent myself exactly how I am. (Haters gon’ hate.) When asked a direct question, I answer. For the most part, I’ve spent the last ten years improving myself to the degree that I don’t do dishonesty. So here I am, tumbling away from the closet doorframe, wondering if you have a stiff drink. The anxiety does not stem from thinking anything about liking women is wrong, but rather the self-protective desire not to be hassled. To be misunderstood for those ignorant stereotypes gets under my skin in a way I haven’t quite yet overcome. Life is about making progress, after all.
Still, contrary to the nature of blogging itself, this isn’t about me, and oh lord, do I have perspective. There are kids out there hurting, and there are adults who have had to sail through that hurt in order to find their bliss. Some of the essays in It Gets Better make you want to cry from their poignance, and even when the bullying did not come from outside sources, the inner turmoil is heartbreaking.
One of the things I liked best about the book is that, even in the project’s infancy, they’ve made sure to include a variety of voices. Rabbis, bishops and pastors contribute, as well as adults who were raised in strict, unforgiving, and religious households. There is an essay written in Spanish, and one in Arabic, both with English translations. Another comes from a deaf writer and performer, Terry Galloway. College and high school students are included among more well-known names like Tim Gunn, Suze Orman, Chaz Bono, and David Sedaris. One of my favorite writers, Michael Cunningham, also has a contribution.
The writing styles vary depending on the contributor, but most are in a confessional and conversational style that works well. Perhaps the weakest point to the book is Senator Al Franken’s contribution. Now, I’m glad Al Franken is in the Senate and I’m glad he made a video, but his bit didn’t feel as heartfelt when it ended like a campaign speech:
Bullying is a deadly serious and an all-too-frequent part of school life. And, tragically, it’s often ignored by teachers or administrators. This needs to change. It does get better, and we are going to make it better. Visit my webstire at Franken.Senate.Gov to learn how you can help.
Your heart’s in the right place, Senator Franken, but I think your website is probably at a pretty low rank for bullying resources, especially considering It Gets Better spends its final pages offering specific resources and courses of action for students, teachers and parents.
Both Dan Savage and Terry Miller are working to send It Gets Better to school and public libraries, hoping that people who need the messages of hope will be able to find them. On the website, a $25 donation can send a book to the library of your choice, and I think it’s a fantastic way for adults who have “escaped” small-minded towns to give back. Miller grew up in Spokane, WA, and having spent seven recent years of my life there, I can see the strides the city has made since he’s lived there. The social environment still needs work, but every year, there’s a big Pride Week, and Gay-Straight Alliances are cropping up in the high schools. It’s good to see. Now that I’m back in Montana, non-straight people are a bit more prone to sitting in the doorframe, but there are strides towards equality still happening all over the state. This year’s Montana Pride Festival, held in Bozeman, looks like it’s shaping up to be a big event.
I know it’s still easy to feel alone — even when you’re straight — and it’s lovely to see messages of support be the thing that goes viral across the interwubbery. Oh sure, we still need silly cat videos and Epic Mealtime, but it’s all right to get serious too. It’s okay to get personal and reveal more about yourself in the hopes that it can help another human being. Find your groove, find your family, and above all else, be around to kick ass and prosper.
On a related note, I will be in Spokane at the Kolva-Sullivan Gallery, April 1st from 6-9 pm, signing books with my fellow artists, as part of the SEXT exhibit. SEXT is a book and gallery show that provides textual portraits of gender and sexuality, with proceeds from the book going to the YWCA. If you are in the area, come say hello, and I’ll try not to feel too weird about seeing my words in vinyl lettering splayed across the wall.
Full disclosure: Dutton sent me this book. I thank them for dedicating a small marketing write-off to my site, and I will continue to be fair in my reviews.
This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read III, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. In order to make up for last year’s 51 books, I’m aiming for 53. The challenge ends December 31, 2011.
This review also appeared on Pajiba itself on April 6, 2011.