If Sady Doyle had not decided to use a word other than “queer” to describe gay youth at the end of her essay addressing the question, “Does [the Web Video] ‘It Gets Better’ Make Life Better for Gay Teens?“, I would highly recommend her piece. Semantics aside, it remains a thoughtful contribution to the conversation on what to do in the wake of the suicides of Tyler Clementi and other young gay people.
So, let me just recommend the piece, wondering at the same time if the use of the term, “queer”, to describe people like us, increases the sense of marginalization that young people in our situation feel when they start coming to terms with their difference.
In considering the benefits of the video, Doyle gets at the issue which has been at the top of my mind since I first read of Clementi’s suicide:
However, if we keep telling suicidal people that their situation will “get better” without actually taking any steps to improve it—if we don’t provide support and medical care for people with depression; if we don’t help people who are being abused to find a safe place; if we don’t make sure that the systematic, community-wide abuse of GLBT youth is eliminated—then belief alone can wear thin. And this seems to be one of the main contentions of Savage’s critics.
“There is actually no path to change in this vision,” alleges blogger Zoe Melisa, in a post from her personal blog which was re-published at Queerwatch. “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.”
Now, much as as I’d like to see the disappearance “the systematic, community-wide abuse of GLBT youth”, I don’t know that we can ever eliminate it. More on this anon.
That said, I particularly like her focus on providing support to young people in need. I believe that if such young people find a place where they belong and mentors and friends who can help them find their own inner strength, they will be better situated to deal with their difference, even in a hostile environment.
Her left-wing class rhetoric notwithstanding, Melisa is also onto something. Is promoting this video merely a feel-good project for well-being people? It is nice to tell a kid that it’ll get better; it’s better to help him find the means to make it so, that is, to take the time to listen to troubled teens.
Perhaps, the answer is greater mentoring of such young people. But, then how do we make them aware of mentoring programs, without forcing them to confront issues they’re not yet ready to face?
Now, as to the eliminating the abuse, that is, ending the bullying. Given the very nature of adolescent behavior, we will likely never do that, save by finding a means to channel teens’ aggression into activities other than picking on their peers.* Schools should already have policies in place to deal with physical assaults. If schools aren’t disciplining such students, then that this is a serious cause for concern. They need to change their policies forthwith.
It seems, however, than in the wake of these suicides that the focus has been on the perpetrators, on the bullying, rather than on the questioning and often isolated young people. If we helped them find the inner strength, the confidence to deal with their difference, then perhaps they would be better able to stand up to their tormentors and for themselves.
*(Primitive cultures did that by including adolescents on a hunt with the men, ancient cultures trained them for war, we try to do it through sports.)