Betty Greene Salwak

Dan Savage Tells Bullied Kids "It Gets Better"

Filed By Betty Greene Salwak | September 22, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: anti-bullying, Billy Lucas, bullying, Dan Savage, suicide, teen suicide

When Dan Savage learned the story of Billy Lucas from a reader, he wished he'd had five minutes with Billy to tell him "it gets better." Dan went on:

"But gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay--or from ever coming out--by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models."

Dan has started a YouTube channel called "It Gets Better" in which he has posted a video telling kids to wait it out until they're out of school. He and his normally camera-shy husband Terry talk about their school experiences--which included bullying--and how they're so glad they stuck it out to have the lives they're enjoying today.

"We both went to Christian schools and we were both bullied--he had it a lot worse than I did--and we are living proof that it gets better. We don't dwell too much on the past. Instead, we talk mostly about all the meaningful things in our lives now--our families, our friends (gay and straight), the places we've gone and things we've experienced--that we would've missed out on if we'd killed ourselves then. "You gotta give 'em hope," Harvey Milk said."

Dan's video is below the cut.

Dan invites all LGBT adults to submit videos to this channel so that kids all over the world can learn to hang on to hope. I encourage Bilerico Projectors and contributors to be a part of this important community project. What did you want to hear when you were a teenager? There is hope. Tell the kids.

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Dan and Terry, I loved the video. I feel inspired. I too am from Spokane, Washington...just a few decades earlier...I remember my childhood into first semester of High School (the first semester Shadle Park H.S.) was open. From early on as a small child I knew I was Gay (or whatever it was that found me attracted to men)...I also knew that this was not a topic for discussion, sharing or even whispering...I remember peddling my bike home from Finch Grade School where a big kid a recess had attacked me for being whatever it was that he didn´t like...I remember feeling miserable and wanting to ¨kill myself¨ to ¨make him feel bad¨ and within seconds I got furious and said to myself BUT THEN I´D BE DEAD! I got it! I wanted to be alive for the whole adventure...whatever that adventure was going to be...I had no idea but we moved to Los Angeles and then I discovered who I was and who many of you were to and after High School I went to College in the Bay Area of San Francisco...I spent my late teens and early twenties rejoicing my life with many of you...I love you and thank you for being like me...what a wonderful thing being Gay has turned out to be.

Len (Leonardo Ricardo)

Educate, enlighten and enroll.

Thank-you Dan and Terry.

Oh, please. 'It gets better' is the stock response to every kid, ever, of any sexual and gender orientation, who is the target of bullies. In elementary school, it's "In two years, you'll be going to a much bigger school and there will be all sorts of people to make friends with. You probably won't even see [bullies] anymore." Then when that doesn't work, in middle school it's "Just one more year until high school. It's a new environment, you'll be able to do more activities with people who share your interests / people are more mature." Then when high school is worse, it's "Just hang on three years, then you can leave this town behind for good."

Furthermore, it's exactly what [most] bullied kids don't need or want to hear. You want to know how to stop being called names and shoved into lockers, you want to know how to make the bullies hurt as much as they've hurt you, you need it to stop NOW. Not to be told, "Patience is a virtue."

It was comfort to me, but false comfort.

Because I'm trans. And while the bullying, and beatings, haven't been as common since then, they haven't stop. And the pain of my body always feeling sick, never fitting, always feeling the same general body-not-working-right feeling that accompanies a cold, or food poisoning, or anything else... that pain just got worse as time went by.

I would cry myself to sleep over the idea of living another year as a guy. Another month. And that didn't get better... By far, the most common regret among transitioners is that we didn't do this earlier.

For our trans siblings, it gets WORSE if we wait.

That does seem to be the case, yes.

But I don't know that it's useful to be honest with them.

Besides which, for the "Classic Transsexual" kids, Transition won't solve all their problems, but it makes life worth living. Challenges that seemed impossible become easy.

While objectively, yes it gets worse, it doesn't feel like it. They've already gone through the worst there is in that regard.

Yeah... life in Junior High was hell... life in highs school, with my body rebelling against my brain, was worse, despite my finding places to bury my stress.

I remember slicing my index finger well, trying to clean my razor thoroughly, so I could get a clean shave... so I could stop getting stubble. Instead I got an 1/8" deep cut to hold closed for a few hours...

I remember walking out of a house party seeing two girls kissing and not feeling arousal in any way... just feeling I'd been deprived of something essential...

Kids who look in the mirror and see someone of the wrong gender. Who spend countless hours daydreaming of being the person you truly are: It gets worse. Go fix it.

get over yourself! | September 23, 2010 8:28 AM

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What an amazing idea! I'll gladly contribute to this project. Our LGBT youth need to hear from our voices to know that they do have support. This is an excellent example of social media being used in a grassroots way to help reach people in our community.

I may not agree with everything Dan Savage has ever said, but I can say that about ANYONE, because we are all unique and have our own perspectives.

I found out about this campaign on another site before Bilerico, when I decided to break my own silence and make my first ever video, just for this project. I didn't actually see the first video posted by the Savages, but I felt I had to do one anyways, and I rather enjoyed it, and hope that my "alternate" perspective on this issue is somewhat helpful to this cause. Link below, feel free to ignore if you disagree.

I think it's a great idea and it's a positive message for kids to hear.

While the commenter above posits that the kids need to hear a way to get the bullying to stop, I think we can agree that it just doesn't. It doesn't stop during our lifetime as an LGBT person, but it does get better.

It gets better. But this infighting among LGBTs is still depressing to me.

We have to give these kids hope.

I don't know about the situation of Gays.

But in my observation, the situation of trans kids doesn't get better, unless they hide. It gets worse.

But how to give these kids the strength to overcome anyway? Be realistic, brutally honest, and they'll give up, when they have the strength within them to continue, to overcome, and to prevail.

Perhaps if you focus on what they've already endured, build up their self-esteem so they see things like being landed in Intensive Care as challenges, rather than only injustices.

Let them know that by surviving, they spit in the eyes of those who oppress them. Survival is the best revenge. And most of all, that they're not alone. People care.

Zoe, did you even watch any of the videos? So, you don't know about the situation of gays (despite that this project involves LGBT adults talking about their situation to LGBT kids), but you expect gay people to know about trans people? It's a two way street.

A gay kid killed himself, and a commenter said he wished he could've told him it gets better. So Dan Savage whipped this little project up.

I mean really, this is a crowd sourcing project. So, if you think the videos should contain different advice, then make one and submit it.

What many trans people know to expect from Dan Savage is spreading horrible misinformation, double-standards, and other transphobic crap. See the comment with links above. Just the fact that Dan's name is attached to this project makes it known that it is not friendly to trans people, young or old.

Tell religion. The only reason kids are singled out and bullied is someone told them they were wrong or defective. That's what religion does.

There are nuances in the LGBT community, not infighting. Trans kids clearly have it the hardest because the world lack understanding. We'll get there. It WILL get BETTER.

I was a gay kid and religion is not the only reason I was bullied. Maybe you were, but that was not my experience. I was bullied due to sexism.

Well, sexism comes from religion, too. Do you have any Baptist friends?

As if atheists can't be misogynists?

Misogyny has been useful to patriarchy.

In the specific case of Christianity, it is worth noting that both Roman and contemporary Jewish society were more patriarchal than the first Christians, and that Roman institutions, with various changes, were taken over by later Christians - making Roman patriarchy more homophobic and arguably more transphobic but quite possibly less misogynistic than before. It is secular misogyny at its root, even when religious institutions have taken it up.

Who said anything about "atheists?"

The major male dominated monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam have had a profound effect on women's lives up to and including the present day.

The ancient Greeks weren't very nice to women - in fact they were horrible. But, it's 2010. Visit Greece, things have changed for women. Well, not as much for the "religious" women.

Mysogyny may not have it's roots in purely religious belief, but religion has it's fingerprints all over it still. (SEE Catholics, Baptists, Muslims and on and on).

I like Dan Savage and his writing. I also think the video could be helpful to LGBT kids who experience bullying. Will it reach and profoundly affect all LGBT kids in a transformative way? Probably not. Still, Dan and Terry's message is of value. By the way, are you currently doing active outreach to kids who are bullied? If not, perhaps you should suspend your criticism unless/until you are doing something yourself.

Just because Savage might not conform to the politics or sensibilities of the self-proclaimed "progressive" queer cabal doesn't mean that he should be condemned and dismissed.

So now it's the "progressive queer cabal" who thinks trans people should be treated with respect and dignity? If he continues his attitudes from the podcast to this particular project, he will be bullying trans kids himself (or, more likely, ignoring their existence outright, which is just as bad). I don't have to be doing active outreach to criticize him for that.

I don't think anyone's arguing that life is difficult for trans individuals, but you're saying that this program doesn't have any merit because your needs aren't being addressed. At the same time, however, you're refusing to participate in this open source project to help it address the needs of trans kids. Dan probably did not address trans bullying in his video because he is not trans, has no experience being bullied for such, and feels it isn't his place to offer advice or encouragement.

Right now, it seems like you're mad for not being included, but that's like if you were against DADT repeal because it doesn't address the needs of transsexuals. Just because it doesn't relate to you (or me, for that matter) doesn't mean that it's not valuable.

You have the opprotunity to change that, however, to address the needs of bullied trans kids, getting your message to them, but you are refusing to, content to play the victim instead of doing anything about it.

You are completely missing the point. This has nothing to do with the project "addressing my needs" or not. It has to do with Dan himself being transphobic—in person as well as in his columns and podcasts—while refusing to acknowledge his privilege and correct the misinformation and ignorance he spreads about trans people. Thank god he hasn't talked about trans people so far in this project on his own, because if he had he WOULD get it wrong.

I feel this is somewhat patterned after the NoH8 campaign, in that there is a proletariat call for more and more people to participate in the project. (ahh, the joys of social media and virality). Over time, even public figures (& even rinky dink peons like myself) jumped on board with the NoH8 campaign whose impact has immeasurably shifted public opinion.

Based on dan and terry's own video, I am not sure their somber grave tone is the best vibe for the channel, but alas, I applaud them for their effort. Wasn’t it Bill Cosby who famously said:

“Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.”

I concur Bill! Personally, humor, laughter, satire & glamour are my weapons of choice. And in the spirit of humor, laughter, satire & glamour, here is an fitting quote from Oscar Wilde:

“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.”

For all the kids (and adults) out there who get stepped on, take solace that even I, Herman, an indomitable sparkling personality, was a total outcast. And you know what…. I still am! Your ‘otherness’ will catapult you to the stars…but only if you embrace it! It is a gift. Tap into it!

here is my submission to itgetsbetter! enjoy

Herman, your gift is your smile. THANK YOU for submitting your video! I love this project. It is powerful, and it will save lives.

Many of us have stories to tell--of feeling marginalized, cast aside, shamed, and bullied. I don't think that Dan and Terry's video proclaims to represent the entirety of LGBT experience. They speak of their own history and journey, and they should be supported in doing so.

It seems as though an unfortunate and destructive tendency has emerged here on Bilerico as well as in other conversations whereby people are quick to criticize instead of affirming and encouraging the rights of all LGBT people to participate in the conversation. We all have a story to tell. All of us.

As others have already articulately stated, Dan and Terry's video opens the space for others to share their experiences. I didn't hear anything that would preclude trans people from having a voice, regardless of what Dan Savage may have said or written before. Stop looking for excuses to whine, denigrate, and complain. There is no virtue in claiming perennial victimhood.

Dan himself is transphobic. Therefore his inclusion in the project makes it unsafe for trans participation and turns away trans people, because he is one of the main people behind the project. Being inclusive doesn't require being a transphobe apologist as well.

I'm sorry, but I don't understand. You're punishing Dan by withholding your insights from kids who need hope? Tell Dan how you feel on his website and consider telling the trans kids what you wished you had heard as a teen with a video of your own. Build up instead of tearing down.

Dan has been approached many, many times on his transphobia, and his usual response is to deny it like most people who don't want to admit to their privilege. And then there's also the victim blaming, which you're doing a great job of too, BTW.

I know that I speak from a position of privilege as well. I will never know what it is like to grow up transgender. But since you do, aren't you better qualified to address the kids today? Why withhold this wisdom because of another person's feelings about you?

We can't rely on personal feelings about people who don't even know us to guide our actions. For that matter, it's pretty clear Dan doesn't think a whole lot of women in general, although he'll protest that some of his best friends are women. His loss as far as I'm concerned; I'm damned delightful. And I have better things to do than to worry about how he feels about me.

I have bumped into misogyny all of my life. I can let it get me down or I can find my way around it. I urge you to use your passion to lift others up. We have a powerful weapon literally at our fingertips with a keyboard and, in the case of this project, a video cam. Use it to inform. I'm rooting FOR you, not against you.

I agree that it is good to reach out, and I appreciate that you are trying to be supportive. But I hope you are aware of the pitfalls of speaking like an authority to people who don't share your privilege. It is condescending and trivializes the experience of the oppressed person. This is about more than just "how Dan feels about me".

You're assuming that I, as a trans person:
1) Have the resources to participate
2) Am safe to participate (as in, my job and personal life will continue to be secure if I am open about my trans status and make myself identifiable as such on video).
3) Am affected by transphobia equally as cis women are by misogyny, which is not the case. (Reminder: Trans women have to fight both transphobia AND misogyny at the same time.)

Trans people have very few legal protections (*zero* protections, in most places). Trans people have far, far less social acceptance than cis women, which leaves us with less access to resources that others (including cis women) take for granted. It is MUCH less of a risk for you to speak out against misogyny than it is for trans people to put themselves on the line.

You also have the benefit of a thriving feminist community that will support you should something happen. Considering that most feminist resources are openly hostile to trans women and don't accept trans men as actual men, equating your experiences dealing with misogyny to my experiences dealing with misogyny and transphobia is both ignorant and incorrect.

I would actually love to participate in a project like this, but the only way I could do it was if I knew there were a large number of people that have my back, should Dan pull something idiotic.

Dan & Terry's video? Condescending and lazy. a lot of how i feel is articulated here...

"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. Fuck that."

I guess YOU will be starting something to help young people? Maybe launch a website or post a youtube video?

I noticed you took offense with Dan's suggestion that the problem is based in religious-bigotry. Where do you think it comes from? Religion is the only institution that makes homosexuality wrong.