‘Coming Out’ of Better

I want to preface this entry with a note about the incomplete and ongoing nature of these preliminary thoughts.

The extensive media coverage of the haunting suicides of gay teens in the last few weeks has added poignancy to this year’s National Coming Out Day.  Tragedies of this sort wound through identification, through the thought that we could have helped, that we are more lucky or have faced a similar situation and found a light, a door, or a way out not found by these unfortunate souls.  Popular gay sex columnist and humorist Dan Savage has spearheaded a highly visible campaign with the slogan “It Gets Better,” and celebrities – queer, gay and straight identified – have joined in making Internet videos speaking to queer youth.  The message is one that I am conflicted about – with my thoughts echoed elsewhere on the Internet – the message being that in the depths of despair queer youth should know that they will find support, love and compassion by coming out or changing their physical location.  I have long had a beef with Savage’s notion that moving to the city solves problems for LGBT youth – he was a pride speaker at my undergrad and he trotted out the same thought there.  I understand the history of urban spaces as gay meccas, I understand the ways in which clubs and other public spaces allowed for contact and the emergence of a queer/gay community (as fictive as community may be).  But I am concerned that by pushing the city, we are painting simplistic pictures that ignore a broader issue in society – moving doesn’t solve homophobia at home.  I am not arguing that staying anywhere is the solution if it’s poisoning you.  I think we must be careful of painting the rural as regressive and conservative and the urban as magically progressive and liberal.  Further, we are painting queer youth as children that desire to grow into white upper middle class gay men – a la Savage and his partner, instead of the great array we can see around us (not that there’s anything wrong with whiteness et all, I happen to fit all these categories, but we need to reset our impulses to have a default that we enforce with power and violence) (An excellent examination and critique of Savage’s own “It Gets Better” can be found here).

I am arguing that every queer person must assess their own situation, that love and compassion can be found but they are not always accessible in this moment or decade.  I volunteer at an afterschool drop-in center for LGBT youth and at a recent fundraiser the director used Antonio Gramsci’s words about the revolution of the everyday (wo)man to argue quite persuasively that the queer youth at the center are revolutionary in their daily lives.  This revolution is one of many pieces that are needed to overturn the institutional barriers to equality.  But it’s also a piece of the change that needs to happen in how we treat each other.  Which, interestingly, is something that “It Gets Better” does do; the campaign may not be the great queer revolution, but I would hate to write off a viral effort that humanizes youth often painted as either deviant or victim.  I would hate to ignore the deep compassion seen in many of these videos (let’s ignore pop singer Ke$ha’s entry).  I would rather say, “It Gets Better” should be only one front of an ongoing fight that starts with love, understanding, listening and asking for decency in the everyday.  It doesn’t always get better because progress narratives are shit and it’s still a straight man’s world, but it does move in some direction (even if that directio goes off the map/graph/chart/outside the lines).  The only way for possibility, the only way to stop the steady move towards sameness and hetero/homonormativity comes from loving self, loving others and not being afraid to speak up.  I know that the rhetoric of speaking up is tired and unstable, but this world is unstable and we only have each other.  So let’s go out and have really great sex and make love in a hundred different ways.

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3 thoughts on “‘Coming Out’ of Better

  1. I think I agree – a timely post. Just because there is a seemingly logical or probable historical explanation of something doesn’t meant that its the best or the only good way for things to happen (i.e. “moving to the city has been good and thus is the best and only solution I can think of”).

    I also suspect (but those better versed on the topic can maybe expound on this) that there is an urban-rural bias going on with the idea. I’d be curious as to how much of that is real and how much is imagined by generalizations/biases/etc. Generally, rural areas tend to be more conservative, especially along social issues, but the why should be sought and not just avoidance. Brenden points this out succinctly I think.

    The point is that we can’t just ignore the problem back “home” wherever that is. What’s the next kid to do when nothing’s changed?

  2. I completely agree that this discussion is staged around a notion of a rural/urban divide – one that paints the rural environment as ipso facto resistant to queerness/difference and the urban as a gay mecca. My point is NOT to discount the move to “the city” as a beneficial one for some but personal experience cannot become gospel. We need to think about ways to change our attitudes, not just our locations. I am not saying don’t move to a more inclusive space, and I’m not saying that bullied youth need to fight the fight alone or make the changes alone, but I am saying before we say “it gets better in the city” we need to make sure we know what we’re really saying.

  3. Right, my corollary at the beginning of my comment was meant for the “it gets better” org. You’re right again.

    It makes me wonder what might be a better aim? For example, the name of the org./movement first made me think it was just a broad movement to tell young people that things (can) improve and to hang in there-type stuff. This was before J. Brenden clued me into it and I looked it up a bit. But maybe that would be a better theme–too broad probably, but better…?

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