I have a lot of problems with It Gets Better, and since I've been drinking and I'm in soapbox mode, you fine people get to hear them. If you're not familiar with the concept, the gist of it is that LGBT people and straight allies make videos telling gay kids not to kill themselves, because... well, things get better. Which is a fine aim. How effective it is, I don't know. It's not the sort of thing about which it's easy to get hard data. But, as a gay teenager, the whole thing strikes me as... insufficiently combative.
Don't get me wrong. It's better than nothing, and as NanceMuse points out, if it helps one person then it's been worth it. But let's not kid ourselves that 'hold on, things improve with time' is a sentiment without problems. Truth be told, I think it's a bullshit message. For one, it requires a kind of passivity. 'Don't worry, when you're 25 you'll look great and those homophobic kids will be working in Burger King' risks teaching kids to accept homophobia in the short term, safe in the knowledge that once they're old enough, they'll be delivered to the Promised Land of expensive haircuts, dayglo cocktails and bitchiness. If nothing else, it's somewhat narcissistic to have people congratulating themselves on how awesome their lives are, in order to make worse-off people feel better. Moreover, it promulgates a restrictive idea of what it means to be gay. What if you're a 15 year old boy in Altoona who thinks he might be gay, but doesn't see himself ever conforming to the stereotype of being a fabulous, glittering socialite with no apparent source of income and a tasteful collection of objets d'art? What if he doesn't want to?
More than that, it's complacent. Just saying 'it gets better' implies that it happens through some kind of osmosis. Shite. It gets better because people make it better, and bland pronouncements of faith that everything will work out in the end serve only to absolve people from responsibility when it comes to acting decisively against homophobia. Even worse, by destigmatising homophobic abuse, you risk normalising it. and all of a sudden gay teenagers start seeing being a pariah as how you pay your dues for being gay, instead of what it is, which is an injustice which needs to be confronted if anything's going to change.
This all speaks, too, to a larger cultural view of LGBT people. You can trace it back in the American popular consciousness to Matthew Shepard, and that view is that gay people are victims who need to be protected. And yes, sometimes that's true. But not enough to justify patronising soul-searching from straight people that lumps everyone who happens not to be straight into that same category. I don't feel like a hedonistic socialite, and I don't feel like a helpless victim of circumstance. Neither of those accurately represents how I think of LGBT people as a whole. How I envision them is as a 6'8" black drag queen throwing things at riot police. Under the circumstances, it strikes me that people are all too quick to forget that the birth of the gay rights movement in the US was a gigantic riot. People have fought, and still are fighting, for LGBT people's ability to enjoy the rights which they are afforded as human beings. To boil all that down to 'It Gets Better' is to elide that.
And even with all of that said, you have to view it very narrowly for it to be true. In large parts of the world, it doesn't get better. It gets worse, and comparatively few people know or care. Homosexuality is a criminal offence in around 70 countries, a number of which apply the death penalty. With that in mind, the position starts to look a little weak.
But there are people who care, and there are people who risk everything for equality. Whether it's protesting the NYPD raiding the Stonewall Inn or running an LGBT rights group in Uganda, there will always be people invested enough to try and make things better. So if you're a gay teenager, my advice to you is this - don't take any guff from these swine. Do what you need to in order to get by, do what you can to help others, and above all be proud of your heritage. It's yours to share in, after all. So chin up. If you're scared or angry or alone, just remember that there's a veritable army of queers out there who don't take any shit, and if need be, they've got your back. Now go forth and be awesome.