Monday, November 8, 2010
Why I don’t like Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project as a response to bullying
(Ten Points, in order of appearance)
1. The video promotes metro-centric and anti-religious sentiment. By aligning their bullying with the religiosity and “small-town mentality,” Dan and Terry tacitly reinforce the belief (especially rampant in queer communities) that the religious and the rural are more bigoted.
2. The message is wrong. Sometimes it gets better– but a lot of times it doesn’t get any better. Emphasizing that things will improve upon graduation is misleading both to young folks struggling and also to people with privilege who are looking on (or looking away).
3. Telling people that they have to wait for their life to get amazing–to tough it out so that they can be around when life gets amazing– is a violent reassignment of guilt. Dan Savage telling kids that if they don’t survive their teenage years they’re depriving themselves? What kind of ageist garbage is that? This quietly but forcefully suggests that if you don’t survive, if you don’t make it, it’s your own fault. It blames the queer for not being strong enough to get to the rosy, privileged, fantasy.
4. Stories of how your mom finally came around, over-write the present realities of youth. Arguing that in the future, the parts that hurt will be fixed, not only suggests that folks shouldn’t actually inhabit their own suffering but it also suggests that the future is more important. For a lot of folks, it doesn’t matter if your mother might come to love you and your spouse. It matters that right now she does not love you at all.
5. The rhetoric about being accepted by family, encourages folks to come out– even when coming out isn’t a safe idea. There is no infrastructure to catch you when your family reacts poorly. There is no truly benevolent queer family, waiting to catch you, ready to sacrifice so you can thrive. For a lot of folks, coming out doesn’t only mean that your parents will promise to hate your lovers– it means violence, homelessness, abuse.
6. Bar story: vomit. It’s no coincidence that this is the first place where Dan and Terry mention queer space. Codified queer-space, restricted to 21+, w alcohol? Try again.
7. We shouldn’t be talking, we should be listening. Telling our own stories from our incredibly privileged positions, overwrites youth experience.
8. Stories of over-coming adversity: no thank you. Narratives of how life was hard and but now is good, belittle lived pain, imply that a good ending is inevitable, and also undermine the joy and happiness in even bullied kids’ lives.
9. There is actually no path to change in this vision. Promoting the illusion that things just “get better,” enables privileged folks to do nothing and just rely on the imaginary mechanics of the American Dream to fix the world. Fuck that. How can you tell kids it gets better without having the guts to say how.
10. Then we get a baby and go to Paris? WTF? This is a video for rich kids for whom the only violent part of their life is high school. It’s a video for classist, privileged gay folks who think that telling their stories is the best way to help others. Telling folks that their suffering is normal doesn’t reassure them– it homogenizes their experience. It doesn’t make them feel like part of a bigger community, it makes them feel irrelevant.
Plus three (with a little help from my friends)
1. When we treat campaigns like this like they’re revolutionary, they undermine all the really amazing work that the youth already does for itself. Too often in the LGBT world, we are asked to thank our brave queer activist ancestors who made the world safe for us. That does have its place. But queer youth take care of themselves. They nurture and organize and love in order to save themselves and each other. Making famous messages legible as THE messages makes youth-work look minor, haphazard, or unofficial.
2. Campaigns like this lump everyone together. It doesn’t honor or respect the individuals. It turns them into icons. It sends confusing messages that we only attend to folks when their dead– when giving care doesn’t actually take anything out of us.
3. Broadcasting your story into the world, or congratulating others for broadcasting theirs is an anesthetized, misguided approach to connecting. We should help folks feel seen— by trying our hardest to see them.
It has been my experience that people are ashamed to help the folks they see as destitute. They are willing to let someone crash on their sofa for a night if they know that they have a back-up bed, somewhere else. They are happy to provide dinner, so long as they know you would be eating even without their generosity. It seems that if you’ve never been homeless or lost or hungry, if you don’t know what that feels like, is too embarrassing to give things to people who might die without them– it is humiliating to hand someone the only food they’ve had all week.
No one is skittish about giving things up so that others can live comfortably. But they are unspeakably afraid of giving away something so someone can merely live. Campaigns like this exacerbate these realities by dehumanizing the people they address, turning them into a depressing mass, ready to be farmed for beautiful tragedies, and transformed into class-passing, successful adults.
How about instead of hope: change. Even if it’s really small change. Even if it doesn’t inspire anyone and no one is grateful and no one even notices. How about doing the kind of work that makes differences in peoples lives without holding them responsible—without turning them into an icon of suffering or of hope, without using their story for a soundbyte, without using their life as your proof of goodness, or of how the world is so liberal, or how it’s great to be gay. I mean money. I mean listening. I mean time. I mean giving people space that we respect and don’t enter. I mean listening to needs and finding ways to fill them.
How about instead of honoring the bravery of youth and the sadness of our times: respecting queer youth for all the incredible work they do– despite the fact that it is so rarely recognized as work, or as adequate work.
Instead of jettisoning our religion, our upbringing, our origins: a cohesive self.
Instead of narratives of suffering and then, finally, success: a celebration of the pain and pleasure throughout.
And listening– way more listening. Because telling your personal story of adversity from a place of privilege, might have a lot of applications, might be asked of you perpetually, might seem alluring because it’s so often milked from us. But it’s not the way. Saying, “I know how you feel, because I used to feel that way, and let me tell you, I don’t feel that way anymore,” doesn’t help, it hurts. You’re dwelling in the present. Don’t insist that those in pain relocate themselves to the future.
reblogged from ---->
my friends response to this was also very interesting: ( lets keep this conversation going - this is a good debate to be having )
"hmm some valid points... but I think a lot of this is taken out of context. The point of these "It gets better" videos, in my opinion, is for visibility. Yes maybe we should strive to include a different narrative... one that highlights ho...w queer people struggle and continue to struggle (since everyone comes from different circumstances) but that wasn't the point of this video initiative.
Maybe there should also be some diversity in these interviews - not just designers, journalists and other high profile people. But we also have to remember what having these people speak out represents - as they help to prove to the (ignorant) public that queers can be successful socially and financially and demonstrate that it is possible to live openly as a queer person.
If the writer of this blog wants to criticize the fact that Dan Savage and his partner (and I'm guessing that this train of thought applies to the others in the video I posted) misrepresent the gay community, than they are misinformed. These videos launched by the mainstream media have encouraged queers of all races, statuses and walks of life to create videos and share their stories online (which is an incredible feat in my opinion).
This whole objective of these videos is to encourage children and teens to overcome the harsh reality of what it means to be young and gay - geared in response to the staggering numbers of suicides that have happened in regards to homophobic bullying in schools. I don't think Savage (or any of these speakers) is suggesting that life suddenly transforms after highschool... but that there are possibilities for people to live fulfilling lives and be openly queer. To distribute this message it is necessary to show these types of role models in the queer community.
The blog writer also suggests that "campaigns like these lump people together" and that they give a false sense of connection. I can see why they would think that, but at the same time I think they should give this whole initiative some credit for starting a dialogue and making these stories accessible to the public via the internet and using high profile people (places where children and teenagers - the ones addressed in these videos - can easily find).
So the mass media in this case (at least I think) is a vehicle to start a dialogue, not to impose iconography or false hope on the viewers. The fact that each of these speakers has come forth to a) identify themselves, and b) acknowledge their sexuality and their struggle is a huge accomplishment because it shows that there is life behind this whole issue and that there is a community of people who are fighting for change.
So in all, while I agree the media should have selected a range of subjects for these videos... I think that it also necessary to show audiences people who are positive influences in the queer community - emphasizing that it does indeed get better. It is this central theme that resonates with people and helps them to endure the inevitable (and problematic) homophobia that exists in today's society.
Glad you linked me to this though. It is always interesting to hear dissenting opinion!"