Website of the Month: itgetsbetter.org
On the theme of learning from one’s elders, the website of the week is the ‘It Gets Better’ project on youtube. Founded by Dan Savage with the goal of preventing gay teen suicide, thousands of people including celebrities, politicians, and college students submitted videos attempting to speak to gay teenagers to convince them, no matter how hard life is now, it will get better. By sharing their eventual happiness after their own difficulties finding acceptance due to their sexuality, these adults provide hope for and solidarity with teens struggling to imagine a future in which they are openly gay and happy.
As a queer woman who enjoys tearjerkers with happy endings, I was immediately hooked. However, after hours of procrastination through youtube watching, my opinion of the project started a steady decline. Clearly the project is well intentioned. However, at a point, I started worrying that the ‘It Gets Better’ videos were like those “post what bra color you’re wearing for breast cancer lolzz” facebook campaigns you do because its easy and even amusing, despite that fact that even buying a cookie on DASH at a Novack bakesale makes a greater actual impact. It doesn’t hurt anyone, but it shouldn’t be held up as the paragon of activism. My misgivings grew as the amount of submissions exploded.
Even if I didn’t identify with every video in my early procrastination stage, I enjoyed most of them. As the project gained notoriety, it became less of an outlet for older non-heterosexuals to discuss overcoming the issues they faced in their youth with teenagers, and more of an attempt of celebrities and politicians to gain virtual facetime. Ke$ha, Nancy Poleski, Kathy Griffin, and Barack Obama all made videos that racked up huge amounts of hits, despite identifying as straight.
At risk of sounding snobby, I do think it is very difficult for people who are heterosexual to understand what it is like to be a non-heterosexual teenager. I’m not saying other people didn’t have difficult times in high school, or that all gay teens face the same issues (I honestly had a pretty good, if mostly closeted, time in high school). However, ‘It Gets Better’ seemed to be becoming a way for people, heterosexual and non-heterosexual, to pat themselves on the back for a job well done without addressing the social and political issues that make it hard to grow up and not follow or identify with heterosexual norms. While suicide is not the answer, and life overwhelmingly does improve for teens after high school, currently homophobia still remains embedded in our culture and our laws, affecting people of all ages.
A couple months later, while procrastinating for finals, I somehow stumbled upon the ‘It Gets Better’ video of Joel Burns, an openly gay Texas politician, speaking about the bullying he faced in his youth and his current political success and happy marriage. Please watch this video- I can almost guarantee you will be teary eyed at the end. While I am still critical of the ‘It Gets Better’ project, it is videos that like this that remind me why it needs to exist. ‘It Gets Better’ may be an easy fix manufactured by people who like to hear themselves talk, but is that necessarily a bad thing if it allows a wide variety of voices to be heard? Connecting to someone through shared experiences when you feel most alone is an incredible opportunity that would have been impossible a decade ago without the advances that created the accessibility of youtube videos. Even a cynic like me cannot dismiss the value of that kind of experience. Though maybe not the most genuine, even the facetimey celebrity videos are steps in the direction of making all sexualities on the spectrum equal and accepted. Finally, not to be cliché, but if the videos make life a little better for one person, then or band-aid fix for the alarming rate of gay teens’ suicide. The ‘It Gets Better’ project isn’t perfect, but it provides a platform for stories that can be incredibly influential for queer, lesbian, gay, bi, and trans teens, as well as any other teenager who feels alone and confused as to where they fit in the spectrum of sexuality. If you need to talk to someone, there are some great resources and people at Dartmouth you can find through the GSX, or call 866-4-U-TREVOR a national 24- hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth.
Some of my favorite ‘It Gets Better’ videos, all of which can be found on youtube or itgetsbetter.org:
‘Joel Burns tells gay teens “its gets better”’ – as I mentioned, one of my favorites, a recorded speech to the Fort Worth City Council
‘“It Get Better” – Love, Pixar’ – from the creative and diverse employees of Pixar
‘It Gets Better: Wisdom From Our Gay Elders’- men and women the same age as your grandparents sharing experiences from their long lives
‘It Gets Better, Samantha Lauzon Hamilton Ontario Transexual’: a woman who discusses the difficulties faced by trans teensgender teens