Thursday, 30 June 2011

Bringing some thoughts together on It Gets Better

I've generally come to dislike the It Gets Better project. Which is sad because when it first started I cried. I cried and couldn't stand to watch a single video – because it was exactly what young Sparky would have needed.

When I was 8, 12, 14, 15, 16 – I needed this. Needed this beyond anything I could say

I know some people don't like it because we've got to do more than say it gets better. And that's true – but I also see where the project is coming from. The project is coming from GBLT adults to GBLT youth. And, for all we do, for all we fight, there's an extreme limit to what GBLT people can do to in this straight, cis dominated world. We can't stop the hate preachers speaking. We can't stop the vile law makers passing prejudiced laws. We can't stop the holy men spreading bile and hate from the pulpit. We can't stop the parents beating their children or throwing them out or cutting them off. We can't stop the violent thugs who hunt us. We can't stop the constant negative messages that scar minds.

We can try, we can fight it, we can make progress. But “make it better” is too simplistic, it ignores that if we ever fix all this shit it isn't going to be in our lifetime. It isn't going to be in that youth's lifetime. It's probably not going to be in the lifetime of that youth's grandchildren. We can make progress but we cannot make the world safe for them – we cannot even make the world safe for ourselves.

“Make it better” is a wonderful thing to aim for, but everything we do won't make that real tomorrow or next week or next month or next year. It Gets Better is hope to hold people on until then.

And I know some people don't like it because it's a lie. It often doesn't get better. I sigh, again, because I think of young Sparky and what I would say to him

What would I say to the boy who has been ostracised from his friends, alienated from his family, who has been beaten, who has been freaking burned, who has had bones broken, who stays up half the night with nightmares and wakes up with dread and has just emptied the medicine cabinet. What would I say to him?

Would I say “there's a lot more shit to go through. You're going to be beaten a lot more. Your low self-worth is going to leave you vulnerable to some real arseholes who are going to treat you like shit and worse. You're going to lose your first 2 jobs. You're going to have to tolerate a hostile work environment. You're never going to have a happy relationship with your family, the nightmares will never go away and you won't be able to look in the mirror at all for the next 12 years and probably never comfortably because of your scars and you're going to have to take pills every day to avert a mental break down that had rapidly reduced you to an unstable wreck. You will never be able to go out your door without being afraid. You will never be able to touch another man without fear, you will never look at a stranger without wondering 'are they safe?' You will never speak without wondering who can hear, you will never walk without wondering who is watching you. You will never feel secure, you will never feel that anything you have is ever remotely safe.”

Would I tell young Sparky that? It's the truth, after all?

Or would I tell him, “you're going to fall in love with a good man who never fails to make every day a little brighter. You will have a home, a haven. You will find the courage to be you, despite fear. You will get a job, and despite everything you'll be bloody amazing at it. You will help people, you will safe lives and families and protect rights and provide other people a safe haven. You will be loved, you will have friends who know you and value you. You will have fun. You will laugh. You will enjoy life. You will survive and be strong and do well.”

It's also truth. It's heavily edited truth, but it's still truth.

Because I know which I would tell young Sparky. I know what would have helped him not reach into that medicine cabinet. And it sure isn't the hard truths or painful realities. It's the hope – however weak and erased and glossed over that hope may be. Because it's hope that will keep them going to manage another day, it's hope that will tell them someone understand and is working with them. It's hope that would have helped me.

So the concept of It Gets Better was something I celebrated. But it has been grossly derailed, appropriated and pulled every which way. I mean watching it before was hard due to my own issues, now I just rage.

Because it is so full of straight, cis appropriation.

Well meaning straight, cis allies wanting to announce their support were a beginning. It was well meaning and nice, but not an appropriate venue. I don't see how allies can SAY it gets better. And it doesn't have the power and authenticity that coming from within the community does. I love that straight, cis people want to show support, I love that they care and want to help and reassure our youth, but I think I would have preferred a parallel ally project, I dunno, an “I'll stand with you” project to run with it

There's always a risk from simple demographics. While there are eternal battles about how many GBLT people there are out there, I think we can all (largely) agree that you straight, cis folk outnumber us considerably. Even with the best will in the world you risk overwhelming us simply because there's so many more of you. I've seen this happen in, among other things, gay bars, on websites and in GBLT societies. Even when everyone has the best intentions, the simple fact there are so many more straight, cis people turned the space from one of our spaces, to a straight, cis space.

Of course, that was a pleasant thing with an unfortunate side effect. There's also a lot of fuckery. In particular people using this to advertise. Politicians have posted fully fledged campaign videos on there – which is gross, appropriative and disgusting from a dedicated ally of GBLT people. So you've fought to pass some laws? Nice for you – that doesn't mean you are freaking owed and it certainly doesn't mean you can use this project like this. But it's beyond the pale for outright homophobes to pull this shit. I have no words for how appropriative it is to use a project about saving young lives to try and get votes or sell things

Which brings me to another repeated meme I loathe. “Hey, we're the GBLTs of 'insert company here'”.Yeah, this is my side-eye. Now if a GBLT person wants to tell their story and add “and now I work in X company as Y” fine. But a video that is about the company and selling the company and how shiny it is – even when it is shiny and accepting and wonderful – is gross. This isn't a personal story or a message of hope. It's a bloody advert. A nice, cheap advert. You have to push hurting kids out the way to make sure your brand is prominent, but don't let that stop you. And, again, that goes 10 times worse when it comes from a company that is guilty of some severe fuckery – yes Target I'm looking at you. You made an It Gets Better video. Really?

I loved the idea of the project, but I feel it has been very badly twisted and used. Kind of like if a group of environmentalists planted a wonderful, natural forest of sublime beauty – then the loggers moved in.