Following Savage Campaign for Queer Youth, Peter Fiske says “It Gets Better” But DOES It?

But does it? Well-known Leatherman and friend of this site Peter Fiske has made an “It Gets Better” video and posted it on YouTube. We are, of course, re-posting. Kudos, Peter! It is fantastic. Of course. Messages of future promise are great, and can be just the thing to turn despair into hope. But. But. But. The “It Gets Better” video pep talks, started by columnist Dan Savage last year in an effort to curb high rates of suicide among queer youth, have really taken off. Cool. More on them here. Great campaign, but…it is not enough. Not nearly.

By all means, keep these positive messages coming. But. But. But. There are a few problems here. First off, it does not always get better – and we know that. If it always got better, dead friend of this site and Frameline co-founder Mark Finch would not have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. A popular, successful adult gay man kills himself. Or: youthful co-conspirator WRG, handsome, smart, set to inherit two fortunes, dead in a hotel room in Rio with a spike in his arm, the body stripped of valuables. They had to identify him by dental records. Just two examples. It did not get better for either of them, and they were pretty well set to overcome the past.

But. But. But. Another problem: The most vulnerable queer kids may be those least likely to be able to respond to these messages. Consider two scenarios:

One: You are 17, a junior in high school, with loving, educated PFLAG parents, a nice group of theatre friends, early acceptance to UC, and a problem with the school bully who taunts you with calls of “Faggot!” and elbows you in the hallways to the amusement of his toadies. It makes your stomach churn.

Two: You are 17, living on the periphery of San Francisco’s Castro district. You left Idaho and your violent Christian Identity family at 13 when your mother caught you with another boy. She broke a bottle over your head as you fled the house. See the scar? Arriving in SF, you met guys who turned you on to meth and fucked you raw. Already shell-shocked from childhood, you seroconverted at 14, have been on the streets for four years, and look really rough. Half-crazy with rage and despair, you kick trash cans and shout in frustration, sometimes sit on the curb sobbing. Everyone avoids you.

These are two pretty extreme, but true, examples. “It Gets Better” is a good message, but it is not enough. The kids need more than words. Even the UC-bound good gay kid needs more than words. And seriously damaged youth need a lot more. They also need the tools to survive a world which will continue at times to be hostile. Food. Shelter. Protection. Health care, including mental health and substance abuse help. Access to education, job-training, connections and good adult mentorship. Spiritual support, including services for survivors of  religious abuse. They do not need to be encouraged in magical thinking: “Oh…if I can only get to San Francisco! It’s like Oz! Everything will be fabulous!” Yes, sometimes it gets better. But: it does not always get better, and it does not automatically get better. If we actually want to see the kids flourish, we need to open our eyes to the full scope of the horror under which some queer kids come up – and add real resources that are equal to our encouraging words. We need to get real.

4 responses to “Following Savage Campaign for Queer Youth, Peter Fiske says “It Gets Better” But DOES It?

  1. Thanks for this refreshing perspective on this. A few dissenting voices have been questioning the “It Gets Better” campaign, and its potential to actually change things for queer youth. This is one of the most articulate critiques I’ve seen.

  2. Also, I think there is an element of ego in the “It Gets Better” campaign that nobody is talking about. How much is it actually a venue for queer adults to brag about how great their lives are, for anyone out there on the internet who is interested in listening? Certainly, not all “It Gets Better” messages have this tone, but there are a good number that seem focused on the adult showing off/bragging about their lives (“Look! I have a hot boyfriend, a great job, a cute dog, and a sweet apartment in the Castro! AND we just went on a fabulous vacation to Paris!”), rather than actually focused on encouraging queer youth.
    I like this short IGB video, because the message really seems to be “There is hope for you” rather than “Look how great I am:”

  3. WOW! I completely agree and feel very strongly about this perspective. It doesn’t always get better and in many cases it can get. Threw words of support and knowing people like Peter Fiske are out there does give “hope” though and for those that have access to these videos it can be a way of showing that it can get better. But for those that do not have access or are in such fear and isolation that accessing these videos is not possible it does not do much good. Services, a hand of real support and a change in society is what is really needed.

    As someone who was bullied throughout my school years I know the pain well and I’d have to say I carry those emotional scares even today. What I’d also add is that videos from organizations like the SF Giants would not have made an impact on me, I was looking for real people with real stories to tell. The Giants did their video as a political statement and frankly I find it slightly offensive. Seeing real people like Peter and letting those know who are living in despair know that there is “hope” does more than any celebrity video.

    The “It Gets Better” Project is a good first step and it sheds light on an incredibly important issue, but we MUST do more. Because for so many bullying goes on through out their life. I met a person a few years back who shared their story with me… while sobbing, tears flowing down his face, he said “i go to work and everyone calls me fag, they threaten to fire me because I am gay and I should be thankful for my job. They call me horrible names and I just do my job making copies and delivering mail, but it hurts so bad.” That man was 50 years old and living in the Bay Area … I cried with him and helped him with some resources. I don’t know what happened to him, I never saw him again, but I pray he was able to find some peace and know that there is “hope”!

  4. These comments and the enormous problems faced by LGBT youth are REAL and I agreewith them. I agree that It gets Better is only ONE step in getting our youth the actual help they need to survive.
    We need to put our money and time where our mouths are! Volunteer, work for more youth services. Demand zero toleration of violence and bullying…Do something. But at least the vidoes and the campaign give hope and attract allies and for that alone are worth our support.

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