Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Spirit Day: In Support of LGBT Youth

I'm not even sure if "Spirit Day" is the official name for today's outpouring of mourning for the five recent and highly publicized suicides by LGBT youth, all of them tormented by homophobic bullying and very public persecution. But somehow, in the lavender ether of the internet, I have gleaned that we are all meant to wear purple today, and tint our cyberimages purple, to let people know that we care. This, I am only too happy to do, but since fiddling with the "Color Balance" feature on a piece of graphics software so old you would laugh if I named it doesn't quite feel like enough, allow me just to add –

I am extremely fortunate to say that I was never bullied, much less violently, for any aspect of how people read my sex, gender, or sexuality, even though I know there were people reading me as gay before I did. Watching some of the testimonies on the "It Gets Better" Page on YouTube only reinforces how lucky I am in this respect. And I was hardly mainstreaming my gender or opting for deep cover during those years, not least because I wouldn't really have known what I was "covering." I effused about actresses as much then as I do now. I walked down the hallways of school belting Whitney like an idiot. I sucked at sports and wrote a lot of (bad) poetry. My groups of friends were almost exclusively female. A 9th-grade English teacher caught me craning my neck during That Scene of the Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet. You know, while he walks to the window. My 11th-grade English teacher gave me stern, somewhat bemused, but understanding looks whenever she saw me gazing like a fool at the back of the head of the very cute and charming guy who sat in front of me. That same year, in a high-school pageant for which I was voted to participate—catapulted unexpectedly into this popularity contest on a surge of Nerd Voting (nerds unite!), at the controversial expense of some of the jocks who actively campaigned for this annual event—I offered, for my talent portion, a full-on drag routine to Boy George singing "The Crying Game." The castle walls of heterosexuality did not exactly quake in the face of my routine. Sometimes we queers, especially the white, male, middle-class ones, can get a little precious about thinking that every sissy or saucy thing we ever did struck a giant blow for The Cause. Still, I wouldn't say it was the safe option. I wonder if anyone I went to high school with, including me, even knew what a drag show was in 1994, and I am baffled that I went ahead with it, not knowing at all how people would react. I just couldn't think of anything else to perform and thought it would be fun.

I have to say, at risk of flaunting my good fortune, all those varsity football guys and Prom King types I was suddenly thrust into company with were nothing but nice and jovial and back-slappy during our rehearsals, while I learned to walk in heels and they practiced whatever skits they'd worked up. (The only one I remember concerned sleeping with a girl and drinking a six-pack of beer, and I guarantee my 16-year-old self found his routine at least as alien as he probably found my wig and rhinestone clip-ons.) I add this detail for three reasons. One is that I sometimes want to reach out to the LGBT kids who actually enjoyed high school and say that that's okay, too—just recognize, as I did and do, your incredible good fortune! Another is to say that there are lots of kind people in the world, many of them wearing football jerseys and revering Animal House like a religious scroll. Struggling gay kids should know that it's not only from other LGBT folks that they'll eventually receive friendship and support, no matter what their present antagonists look like. Don't let the bullies or haters currently in your midst mislead you into forming your own sense of entire categories of people who are never to be trusted. Maybe I'm also addressing some other kids, too, with these comments: I know from experience that you can be the captain of the football team or voted Best Looking in the yearbook or be devout in your faith and even be uncomfortable with some of the things in your world without being a jerk, much less a hooligan or an oppressor. There are a million ways to be Homecoming Queen or Big Man on Campus or a hero to your buddies or a member of your church, just like there are a million ways to be gay. Let's everyone try to avoid the small fraction of ways to be any of these things that turn you into a bully or a snob or a bigot or a creep.

Most importantly, though, I'm trying to say this: as much as I marvel at all the LGBT role models and Gay-Straight Alliances and out activists and queer entertainment options and pre-college romantic relationships that exist for today's queer high schoolers—and which I absolutely didn't have, and of which people older than I am had even fewer—my heart sometimes goes out to today's LGBT youth for, ironically, these same reasons. The increased visibility of gays, lesbians, and transgenders, and the chance to identify yourself or identify others at very young ages within those terms, can have a really vicious kickback. I wonder if I would have had a harder time in high school if more of my peers had really been thinking all that much about homosexuality, and whether they were "for" or "against" it, and who in their vicinity might have stuck out as a tempting emblem, or a scapegoat. I'm speaking to my age bracket and older right here: sometimes it's easy for us 100-year-old queens to think today's young-duckling queers have got it made, at least by comparison. We need to remember how hard it is (and I'm reminding myself here, too) to come out and fit in even if you're not surrounded by overt aggression. And we also need to know that with all these new privileges have come lots of new pressures, and some people get swatted by the pressures without enjoying any access at all to the privileges.

I know of one other guy and one girl from my senior class who have come out since I graduated high school in 1995, in a cohort of nearly 400 students. There must be more, but since I don't go to reunions, I don't know. On both occasions I have learned about classmates who have come out (one of them a very good friend, with whom I'm barely now in touch), I have felt a huge wave of surprise, which is crazy. I should be surprised that I only know of two! But for me to be this taken aback, even now, only signals how not on the radar non-straight sexualities were for most of my high-school classmates. That probably caused some suffering for people who felt totally lonely, totally unrecognized, totally lacking in a vocabulary or a context for their own feelings. But at the same time, few people were walking around with a police-lamp looking for a gay kid or a butch or a flamer to antagonize. Whether because of the time or the place or the people, there just wasn't nearly as much of this happening as I gather there was and is in so many other high schools... though I don't mean to imply there was none. Our lesbian gym teacher, who was absent from school the day of a major LGBT Rights rally in nearby Washington, got hit with some gross epithets, sometimes to her face. A handsome guy and National Honor Society member whom I literally never met was transferred out of our school during sophomore year by his parents, because someone had written an article in an underground newspaper calling him a "cocksucker," and, from what I gather, offering highly ornate verbal portraits of him engaged in this felonious pastime.

But here I'm writing about myself and my experiences when I meant to write more directly to you, imaginary lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transgendered reader—or to any imaginary reader, anyone who wants to know what you or someone you know might be feeling as they advance into a sense of sexuality that is awfully hard to know how to manage, at least at first, even without the additional and vicious threats of bullies and hate-mongers. And in that category, I am tempted to include anyone from teachers to parents to community leaders to school administrators to politicians who won't say or do anything about acts of violence or intimidation transpiring in their midst. Sometimes the bullying is internal, and I urge you so strongly against this: the last enemy anyone needs is themselves, not least because they're the hardest enemies to get away from. I am trying to be honest enough to say how strongly I empathize with you and how often I think about you even though I didn't exactly walk in the same shoes as all of you—not even when I was wearing high-heeled pumps and fishnets in front of the whole school and tossing my lollipop into the audience. I've been through plenty, have seen a lot more, and have read and heard about still more than that. I worked for three years as a hotline counselor. I can understand the feelings and the pressures, though if one of you bullied lesbians or transgenders or gay kids were to say to me, "You can't really know without having gone through what I go through," I would respect you enough to say yes, you are right, and ask you to tell me what it's like for you.

The official rallying cry this week has been "It Gets Better!" and I'm of two minds about this. Part of me wants to say, it does and it doesn't. Mostly it does, but it's not always a consistent upswing, and in general it really depends on almost everything that life always depends on. More LGBT visibility, politics, and action means more power and more peers and more love for you, which counts for a lot. But in some cases they unwittingly entail more pressures and more danger. As a certain image of homosexuality (often white, often male, almost always upper- or middle-class) becomes more "normal" anywhere in this country, there's usually some other group, even some populace within the LGBTQ umbrella, who gets stigmatized with new fervor as the bad queers, or the people it's safer to pick on, or to try to silence.

Some queers need hope, some need love, some need power, some need a job, some need medicine, some need basic acknowledgment from fellow queers. Lots of people need all of these things. I read last week that one in three black men who has sex with other men in Washington, DC, is statistically likely to be HIV-positive. If that's the community you're already in or growing into (and I wish we all felt it to be part of our whole community, to at least some broad degree), then that is a really, really tough row to hoe. You might not give a damn about Brokeback Mountain or the right to get married. My purple-tinted Profile Picture, or anyone's, is unlikely to count for anything, especially if you never see them.

I wonder what Tyler Clementi needed to hear after he found out what his roommate had done, found out in what way his privacy had been exposed to the world. I wonder if any of what I'm saying today, or what anyone is saying today, would have assuaged him in what was surely a moment of profound mortification. It's so crucial that we reach out to LGBTQ kids, but I hope we think of ways to reach out pre-emptively, too, to the people who are most at risk of becoming their antagonists and attackers. (Sadly, Rutgers was in the middle of trying to do just that, in the week that Tyler died.)

Then again, the fact that the media now reports these kinds of news, ideas, and terrible tragedies, and that I can openly post a blog entry about it, and I can expect sympathetic readers to take note of them and think about them and maybe even respond—that's huge. Life is tough, and it's tough in different ways—sometimes more difficult ways—if you're transgendered, or bisexual, or gay, or intersexed, or lesbian. But to have a partner, a circle of friends, a circle of co-workers every single one of whom knows I'm not straight, a Web-based network of people I read and admire, and a country that's as far along as it is in respecting its LGBTQ citizens, though not nearly far enough: all of that constitutes a tremendous gift in my life that I didn't know I would have when I was younger. I bitch plenty with my friends, gay and straight alike, about everything I just mentioned, but I've got the friends, and I've got the life. Clearly, a lot of LGBT kids need to hear that, and to know that it's much closer to being within their grasp than they might think. It's a climactic refrain in my and everybody's favorite gay play, Angels in America: "More life."

And there's the catch. There's the reason why, despite my concern that "It Gets Better!" could unwittingly conceal some of what might be tricky or hard about your burgeoning queer adulthood, I nonetheless enthusiastically agree: It does get better. Even if it was never that bad, it still gets better! I am so blessed that I never thought there was anything wrong with me for being bi or gay, and that even settling on one of those terms doesn't even feel important to me now, when I once thought my whole world hung in that very balance. I didn't assume I would be unhappy, but what I didn't know is that being gay (the easiest shorthand) would become one of the very sources of my happiness. Even at my most optimistic, near the end of high school or in college, even as I accepted that I wasn't straight and refused to give myself a hard time about that, I think I instinctively felt it would be a hardship I would manage—a fair burden for a life that frankly hadn't been saddled with all that many, like having a disability so slight that some people wouldn't even notice it, or having a latent health condition that wouldn't flare up if I were responsible about monitoring it. That's probably what I thought, and it's so off the mark of what has actually happened. Being queer is an absolute source of joy to me.

I thought when I was really young, that if I were gay, as I secretly secretly secretly suspected I might be, I would still be okay, but I might not ever meet another person like me. Do kids today, after Ellen and Will & Grace and Glee, still worry about that? Not only do I know more LGBTQ people than I can count, I find them to be, on the average, remarkably generous people, open-minded about all kinds of things. "We" are not any one way—I'm talking about a huge swath of people here, thank goodness—but on the whole, the kind of thoughtfulness, humor, compassion, self-reflection, and principled living I see among my LGBT friends and acquaintances sets a hugely high standard that I love aspiring to. Coming to grips with yourself is tough, especially if you're simultaneously dealing with hostility from the outside or the inside or both. However, it's also a way to find out who you are, and to grow up into an adult with a clear, sturdy self-identity. Like anything that's tough at the start, it eventually makes you stronger. Like anything you have to put some work into, the fruits of your labor get repaid twofold, at least.

If you're young and stigmatized, bullied, suspected, jeered, unprotected, or unloved, you probably feel a huge, huge weight on your shoulders, your back, your heart. It can feel like no one will ever take it off of you. And then you meet huge groups of people, and you really, finally, fully meet yourself, and with all of those people putting their two hands under the weight, it gets lightened, maybe even lifted off entirely. Sometimes this can even feel bizarrely easy, if only compared to what you might have expected. Though I spend a lot less time at the gym than some of The Gays (read: no time at all), I do understand the principle: working against a weight endows you with muscle. You have to break that muscle down in order to build it back up, stronger and tougher and more resilient than before. It gets bigger. It gets more flexible. It can more easily lend its power and support to someone else. It gets better.

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Blogger R-Co said...

Beautiful and spot on. Thank you.

7:19 PM, October 20, 2010  
Blogger R-Co said...

Beautiful and spot on. Thank you.

7:20 PM, October 20, 2010  
Blogger James T said...

I wasn't as lucky as you were (and boy, you were, indeed, very lucky) but I know much worse could have happened to me during school years.

The first time I felt bad about myself was when my teacher in fisrt or second grade (the same woman taught me in both those years) told me I shouldn't hang around with the girls so often. Why? I might turn out to be gay? 1)I already am 2)So what?

Then some kids started calling me "fag" (in Greek of course). How do they know the word and its use? I mean, do their parents teach them at home? Because I only learned the word from the kids.

There was a time I was afraid to go out because I might come across one of those kids.

I have to say, I wasn't much better than them. I did similar things to other kids, even more vulnerable than myself. So, I was a jerk too. But (not that "but" is an excuse) I would probably not need to behave that way if I hadn't been made to feel inferior. And the kids that bullied me obviously had their reasons (read: problems). So I agree with you that these reasons should be eliminated. Teachers, parents, politicians etc need to help. But first, of course, they have to love and care. If you make your kid feel worthless, then why care if he/she makes another one feel the same way?

I told my mother when I was eighteen and she was supernaturally OK with it. I mean, mom, you could have told me you wouldn't mind years ago. I didn't have to feel bad about it for so long!

My dad doesn't know it yet but he had clarified he wouldn't have a problem with it. But I chickened out at that time. Damn!

I have now many straight friends (mostly women but not exclusively) that are (mostly) fine with my sexuality and I can happily say that being gay is the least of my problems at the moment, if it is a problem at all.

And I'd also like to say: I think the Law (in every country, obviously) should protect the rights of LGBT people, but I wouldn't want intolerant people to think they are forced into a situation they don't approve. I don't want anger for anger. It just makes it more of a war. Civilized conversation is what I consider to be the best approach.

Thank you for this beautiful article. I know you didn't ask for our personal stories, but I couldn't resist talking about it.
By the way, some time ago I sang Whitney at a square, at night, as loudly as I could. But I felt more like a diva, than an idiot. I was also totally drunk :p

And just to spite Nathaniel, I quote Hilary Swank from her first Oscar speech:
"I pray for the day when we not only accept our differences but we actually celebrate our diversity"

7:57 PM, October 20, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@R-Co: Thanks so much. I really appreciate that.

@James T: I love that you shared your story! I'm sorry to hear that things were tougher for you, and for elementary school teachers to be instilling this kind of self-doubt is just grievous. I really didn't cross-dress through my entire youth, but I did dress up as Madonna for Halloween in 4th grade, and the 5th grade teacher made a slightly joking remark about it. I actually don't think she meant to be cutting, but my own teacher put her in her place so fast I couldn't believe it. Another lucky break for me—especially given that I was attending a school for children of U.S. Marines!—but as much as I profited from this sense of having such strong unconditional supporters, I try to flip that in my mind and think what it would be like to know, just as confidently, that your teachers or your schoolmates are not on your side. And all of this over a frigging jean skirt!

Anyway, thanks as always for your great comment. And I like that Hilary speech, too!

8:43 PM, October 20, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this. I went through a bad self-inflicted year in middle school (the equivalent of Grade 8) when I learnt what the label "gay" meant because the prime minister had announced that the government would "allow" gays in the civil service, and there was some backlash in the press forums from a few ultraconservatives, including a forum letter that started: "I am a heterosexual man, married to a heterosexual woman and we have four heterosexual children." (At around the same time, George Bush was trying to rally support for Marriage Day or something similar.)

Because of these media "events" I came to associate all these inchoate feelings I'd had when I was younger with this pejorative label "gay". (In my head, "homosexual" seemed like a more objective, less dirty term. Funny now that I realize most culture thinks of them in reverse.) Coming from a semi-religious background, this led me to a simultaneous identity and religious crisis; I felt betrayed by God, and at one point contemplated suicide. So I was very fortunate to have had a empathetic teacher-counselor at the time (who turned out to be Catholic and theoretically disapproving of homosexuality, which in itself would teach me about the multitude of forms that Christianity or any religion allows), and concerned friends who reported signs of my depression to said teacher.

So I can definitely say that it does get better, even if I was "just" someone who was mostly the target of self-hatred (since none of my friends have had a problem with my orientation after I came to terms with it). And it, like in your case, came to be one of the best things that ever happened to me, even if it's still an issue that I haven't fully worked out (with my family, with my nation). I feel like a much more open, accepting, empathetic person for it; am more conscious of whether I am excluding people; and have a loving partner of over six years. And the big irony is that all this came about because these faceless names inadvertently taught me I belonged to a group that I previously did not know existed.

11:43 PM, October 20, 2010  
Blogger Andrew Rech said...

Nick, this is truly beautiful. As someone who's only come out a few months ago, and just graduated high school it's really taking me back to my very recent past, which was still a crucial part in my coming out.

I guess I'm one of those kids that actually really loved high school - if anything it was middle school that was the worst - especially from the little distance since then, despite some trials and tribulations. Sure I had my times where I'd stay home from school because I'd been called a fag - a crystal clear moment permanently burned into my memory was when in my sophomore year,a student during science class asked to talk to me from across the room and all he said to me was "Faggot." Those kinds of things made me not want to deal with just anything and kept me always anxious whenever people like that student were around. But I had far too many good times in high, and great friends that I knew deep down would be accepting of me - they are - when I knew I was ready and was never scared I would have no one to turn to. I couldn't let those occasional dark days get to me.

And despite how small my former high school is - 700 students - and how it managed to be one of the minuscule highly concentrated conservative communities in Washington, it amazes me the good things that did happen for LGBT youth here. A good friend of mine and in my circle of friends that has been out for a whole year, is now up for Homecoming King. And a former boyfriend of his is the ASB president of the high school. 3 years ago I never ever would have pictured something like that happening - when the school board shot down the chance of bringing a GSA to our high school - but that it is happening, is incredibly moving and proof that things will get better, even in the now. I realize that not everyone experienced things as nicely, but surprises like the ones I mentioned, are still possible.

Anyways, I haven't been in the comments lately (Oh school!) but I've been reading everyday and I actually shared this on Facebook in the hopes this wonderful ray of light gets around, even to my non-cinephile friends. Too moving to not tell others. Thank you, Nick.

12:09 AM, October 21, 2010  
Blogger Glenn said...

Lovely piece. I agree with you about possible misgivings about the phrase "it gets better" because, for some, it will not (some will leave devastated husbands or wives, some will be rejected by their own flesh and blood and others will continue to experience the same kind of torment that they receive at high school), but I do generally think it's a great initiative and probably better than any other I have seen.

I was lucky in that I never struggled with my sexuality. I struggled with the regular gay high schooler (not exactly "out" not exactly "in the closet") bullying and so forth, but I kinda always knew that it would get better, I knew it was different outside of the high school walls. I think I knew this threw my several online friendships (actually, all of them were met through a Scream trilogy message board and we're all still friends to this very day, over 10 years later!) who helped me deal with sexuality, divorcing parents, homophobic gits and so forth (we all helped each other, in fact, as most of us were all of the same age and were all in the process of discovering facts about ourselves whether it be our sexuality or any number of other hard truths).

It's why I wish more high profile people would come out. It's all well and good to hear "it gets better" from someone who is rich and white, but...

1:15 AM, October 21, 2010  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

i teared up. you always get to me. i think you're spot on about what protection gay invisibility gave those of us who are 30 and up. I was called "fag" before i knew what it meant. and pushed around a couple of times but nothing was comparable to the stories I hear nowadays.

in terms of "it gets better"... i would just like to add that even if some of the terrible things that people fear will happen to them if they come out or fight for a full life -- like estrangement from loved ones (something that definitely happened to me, given my religious environment before I came out) -- it still gets better.

I think people who have been through it need to be honest about people about both the good and bad that follows.

Life is not perfect for anyone and everyone has their crosses to bear and some LGBT people lose their families when they come out. That's totally true. but the important thing for people to know is even if these horrible things happen, the alternative, which is a life lived in solitude and dishonesty and people loving you for what they want you to be instead of who you actually are (i.e. not full love you can totallty rely on even though, to be fair, it's not completely "false" as love goes. it's just not enough) is much worse.

and so many beautiful things await even if you'll still have to deal with tough times.

what's that tv jingle? "you take the good you take the bad you take em both and there you have the facts of...

10:16 AM, October 21, 2010  
Blogger Dr. S said...

Bravo, Nick. Thank you for writing this. I'm so glad to know you.

9:35 PM, October 21, 2010  
Blogger The Pretentious Know it All said...

It was so nice to see such an intelligent piece tethered to this whole movement. I think the more, the better. The most visible proponent of this Purple Spirit Day of sorts, at least online, has been the intellectually and culturally anorexic Perez Hilton, who's "heart" (does he have one?) is in the right place, but who's image and person represents absolutely nothing young LGBT youth should look to emulate. Fortunately for young gays looking for role models, It Does Get Better than Perez Hilton.

Not to get all maudlin, but this story really spoke to me because it underlines that even in the absence of overt bullying and teasing, it's still hard. I was raised by West Indian Catholic immigrant parents, and yet when I came out at 17, my mother cried, not because I was gay, but because it was accompanied by the admission that I thought she would stop loving me for it. She was offended, appalled by the statement, as was my admittedly more terse, but no less loving father. They are still very much of their time, their world and their upbringing, but I never feel a greater sense of love or belonging than when I'm sitting at the table during Thanksgiving or Christmas and I hear my mother jump down the throats of extended family for homophobic statements or attitudes, be they off-handed or pointed. I agree that it doesn't necessarily get better, but you can find love, acceptance and hope.

Great piece.

10:26 PM, October 21, 2010  
Blogger Catherine said...

Thanks for this thoughtful and measured piece, Nick. I was originally kind of ambivalent about where I stood on the 'It Get Better' trend. Yes, it is vital to reach out to queer youth and some of the videos and testimonials have been incredibly moving and instructive, but at its most reductive 'It gets better' is a kind of glib nothing, right? I highly doubt that, in the throes of my most miserable closeted period, watching Ke$ha insist that the quality of my life was going to improve would've helped me a huge deal.

That said: although a large amount of the videos are overly simplistic or lacking in any instruction on how to actually make our lives better or are cases of celebrities hopping on the latest feel-good bandwagon, the sheer amount of videos and written pieces - the written ones often far more nuanced and affecting IMO - and the urgency with which this project is being propagated gives me a glimmer of hope*.

Although slightly unsure of how a fashion statement would affect anyone or anything in any real, tangible way, I dutifully donned a purple wardrobe yesterday and spent the day at college spotting various shades of violet and lavender around the campus; in class, in the library, in the dining hall, sitting on a bench in the quad. I didn't speak to any of these people, but I felt gladdened whenever I saw one. I was glad I'd gone against my initial misgivings and worn purple.

Actually, I guess this is the first time I've "come out" in the comments of this blog. Not because I was hiding anything, per se - I mean, if this isn't a safe space, where is? - but because it never seemed relevant to anything I was commenting on. Seems kind of apropos now, though, so...cue Diana Ross?

*Speaking of 'hope', it'd be awesome of President Obama copied Hillary Clinton and made his own contribution to the project.

10:44 PM, October 21, 2010  
Blogger Catherine said...

Woah. Seems I spoke too soon!

11:12 PM, October 21, 2010  
Anonymous PJ said...

Nick, this was so lovely and thoughtful, and articulated superlatively the nuances of what it means to be queer, and, simply, human. Thank you.

2:29 AM, October 22, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

What an unbelievable thread of comments. I'm really moved by all of these stories and sentiments. It sounds like we're all more or less on the same page about how much a "Spirit Day" or a showing of purple does and doesn't accomplish... not that I think the organizers of this campaign didn't appreciate those things. I understand that, cognizant as they are of the complexities and difficulties, they just wanted to carve out a day to be huggy and hopeful.

Anyway, this exchange of stories makes me feel all that much clearer about how much sustenance and warmth I really do get from other LGBT people - even though I don't have the same acute need or appetite for this as I did when I was younger, or I don't think about it nearly as often. Thanks, everyone, for being so candid and heartfelt in these comments. I've said it before and will say it again: I have yet to find the website whose comment threads I'd exchange for mine. You all are the best!

Now, if only someone could explain the peculiar cosmic joke that has led to "BREED" as my Word Verification for this comment. I'm not kidding. Now donning my rainbow-colored conspiracy hat!

4:15 PM, October 22, 2010  
Blogger Dan Callahan said...

I sang "The Rose" in the high school talent show, very seriously and literally perched on the edge of the stage, like Judy Garland at the end of her concerts. The kids were...stupefied? Alarmed? Vaguely intrigued?

Like you, Nick, I was never really bullied. I acted like an adult, and I was friends with all the teachers (I hung out with the teachers outside school all the time), so the kids kind of treated me like an adult, and you don't bully an adult, I guess. That strategy worked very well for me; I think it can still work for kids today.

But we were in the stone age when it came to representation in 1994. I was deeply closeted, and still was in college, without even really knowing what "closeted" was. Your worries about kids getting new hell without even getting to enjoy the new privileges is well-founded, and scary.

The most important thing to come to grips with in this new situation, I think, is that adults need to be held accountable when they ignore bullying, from the most minor incidents to the most outrageous. If these bullies acted as they did in a shop or on a street corner, they'd be arrested. School should be no different in that regard than outside.

But it does get better, obviously. And I'm glad that the President himself is telling kids that. His message was a very good way to begin this day.

7:37 PM, October 22, 2010  
Blogger CCW said...

Nick, I deeply thank you for your honest and insightful words. I've just recently come to terms with my homosexuality after many years of confusion, denial and repression. As I near another birthday, I'm attempting to gather the strength to come out to a number of people in my life. It's not easy, as you and others have so elegantly put it, but I try to keep the positive mindset of living only in the truth. One can choose to live alone in lies and have people love you for a false image you project (as Nathaniel so wonderfully said), or one can choose to live in the truth. I choose the truth.
One thing I've found solace in during this process of coming to terms with myself is viewing many LGBT-related films. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting both your "Special Section on Queer Cinema" page and your "Speaking of Gay Pride: Queer Folks in the Cinema" page. I identify with what you stated about seeking different and challenging films that reflect the complexities within oneself, instead of tired, formulaic films that repeat the same aspects over and over.
I recently viewed L'Homme blessé based on your review and found it striking. Your story of how you came to view the film really struck a chord with me because I had a very similar experience renting the Merchant-Ivory film Maurice at a young age. Like you, I couldn't articulate why I wanted to see it, but I felt a strong need to. And like you, I had to view the film discreetly because of self-imposed fear.
Maurice may be rooted more in fantasy than reality, but, nonetheless, it had a huge impact on me. The unapologetic love scenes, in particular, really rocked my world since, as you said about L'Homme blessé, same sex love scenes continue to be mostly absent from our screens.

11:06 PM, October 22, 2010  
Blogger Unknown said...

Embracing, expansive, inclusive and inspiring -- all the moreso since it is grounded in your personal journey of discovering yourself. The importance and the projection of pieces such as this, Nick, cannot be overstated. As my dear late brother, Mark, used to say: "Each of us -- in his or her own way -- is one of the walking wounded" in the sense of everyone carrying specific insecurities, doubts, self-questionings. Sometimes the loudest sound of all is the simply the silence of the human heart in hurt or need. Thank you for speaking out so eloquently.

11:00 AM, October 24, 2010  
Blogger David said...

I'm glad you made that point about heterosexuals not always being mean or quick to bully but sometimes wonderful and accepting. When I went to college, I ended up feeling like a good 98% of the judgement, harshness, cruelty, and rejection I received was coming directly from the people who were supposed to be my "community." My life pattern turned into my own rejection of the gay community out of anger, fear, and sadness and a retreat into the everything else of society that made me feel like I should be proud and that I deserve happiness on a daily basis (that includes all of my very wonderful straight male friends). Counterintuitive, but it happens. I certainly didn't expect to find comfort and acceptance in everywhere and everyone but my fellow LGBTQs.

Luckily, as you say, it does get better. Even though I was convinced I would never find other gay people like myself, graduating from college has taught me that maybe those sorts of attitudes are a condition of certain environments (e.g., the East Village and NYU social life) and were a result of the primary enemy being myself. I'm also glad that you advised against letting that happen, as it can make things so much worse than they actually are or need to be.

This was an awesome post that I'm going to share with my friends. It's perhaps the most level-headed assessment of the current state of things as a member of the LGBTQ community. Thanks for that!

5:31 PM, October 24, 2010  
Blogger Y Kant Goran Rite said...

That´s a touching and thought provoking piece as usual, Nick. And even though it's ages since you posted, I'm drawn to comment.

Though I agree that greater gay visibility might be making the high school environment in some ways more treacherous to today's young gays, I definitely think it's ultimately doing much more good than damage.

I was actually openly gay in my final high school year (this is 2003) and actually some of the jock types (or at least the Aussie outer-suburban equivalent of jocks - read: hardcore alcoholics and stoners) went out of their way to tell me they admired me for it.

I think the main reason I didn't (and still don't) get bullied was because I was 'straight-acting' - and therefore sufficiently masculine (also I could argue very very aggressively). So somehow my coming out - because it wasn't forced, since no one ever suspected or accused me of being gay beforehand - was seen as gutsy and therefore no reason to poke fun at me. I think some of the more effeminate boys may have been bullied though not drastically as far as I could tell. All the same though, nobody else in the entire school of 1200 was openly gay (not that year, not the previous and not the following), so the climate can't have been all that friendly even then.

So all in all, while I certainly can´t relate to today's or yesterday's bullied gay teenagers, like you, I have a lot of sympathy. And I was flabbergasted in the best possible way at all the mainstream media coverage gays of all ages were getting throughout the two months I spent in the US. Anderson Cooper is welcome to stay in the sort-of closet if he keeps at it like this.

I think this whole surge of striking back at homophobes that seems to be taking place at least across American media is definitely making a change though. And while I can confidently advise today's gay teens that it gets better, more crucially - I'm now more optimistic that relatively soon it will get much much better for gay teens even before they leave high school.

5:15 PM, October 27, 2010  
Anonymous Mike said...

I really dislike this post. Have you ever heard of neoliberalism? This post is drenched in it (e.g., "Like anything that's tough at the start, it eventually makes you stronger. Like anything you have to put some work into, the fruits of your labor get repaid twofold, at least"). Victim blaming at its worst. Have you thought about what it's like for low-income queer youth, or just enough so that you can seem tolerant?

11:02 PM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Mike: I can see how those lines read that way, and I'm sorry that the whole piece comes across to you as neoliberal cant, as much as I don't think that's where I'm coming from. I don't think I'm victim-blaming; I don't mean to suggest, for example, that if "it" is not getting better for you, that's because you're not trying. I do try to point out the limitations of the "It Gets Better" rhetoric at various points (which even its originators are plainly aware of) and to acknowledge the structural inequalities that exist as sharply among people who identify as queer as among virtually any other group. That point is certainly not lost on me, and it's not out of an impulse to be simply "tolerant" that I think about it and teach about it. But I accept your criticism, I'll keep it in mind, and I respect the fact that you at least attached a name to it.

11:28 PM, October 21, 2011  
Anonymous Mike said...

Thank you for the fair and thoughtful response, Nic. Your initial post did read to me as if you were implying that if "it" is not getting better for you, that's because you're not trying hard enough. I apologize if I was overly accusatory, though, and I appreciate your clarification.

8:50 PM, October 22, 2011  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

No problem at all, Mike. As I've said many times, I relish how many thoughtful and enthusiastic comments I receive on this site - well out of proportion to what a lot of web-writers enjoy... but, if anything, I think even regular readers could be harder on me than they typically are. I certainly don't expect to be exempted from criticism. I can see exactly where you're coming from, and since I still get asked repeatedly in my work and my personal life about this "It Gets Better" movement and my own relationship to its messages, I'm glad to have your frankly stated critique to keep thinking about.

10:51 PM, October 22, 2011  
Blogger Michael Patison said...

This is really wonderful. I am a straight high schooler, but this still rings true, maybe because of my age. A student at an all-guys school with about 80-95 kids per grade, the joke runs around town that we're all gay. Not true, but whatever, you ignore it. As it is, there is one gay kid in my grade and probably at least 4 total in high school, with at least 2, possibly 4, having graduated this past year. Before I ever met these people, came to know them, and learned of their sexual orientation, I was stuck on my thoroughly Christian views. Now that 4 years have passed and that several of these gay guys have become some of my closest friends, I've come to realize that, much like race, sexual orientation doesn't make any sort of difference in terms of what kind of person you are. A nice guy is a nice guy, period end of story. Conversely, an asshole is going to be an asshole regardless of whether he's straight, gay, bi, or undecided. Luckily for these 8-10 or so gay guys in high school, my classmates and I are very accepting in comparison to the rest of the cold, ruthless, ignorant world. I still stand with some of my old Christian values (i.e., no religious marriage, but if two guys (or gals) want a civil marriage/union, have at it), but I will never look at or interact with a gay or a lesbian person in the same frightened manner that I used to. The issue of anti-gay prejudice and violence is admittedly awful and unacceptable. As a straight guy who has had his views changed regarding homosexuality, I would say that maybe the single most important part of eventual acceptance of homosexuals is for all of the straight people out there, me included, to understand that a person is a person, no matter which gender he or she prefers.

5:45 PM, January 02, 2012  

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