Austen Crowder

"It Gets Better" isn't perfect, but it will save lives

Filed By Austen Crowder | October 17, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: criticisms, it gets better, transgender

I contributed my voice to the "It Gets Better" project.

I know there's some guff coming toward this project from all comers - both inside and outside the community - but I think it's a worthy cause if for nothing else than creating an easily searchable, public repository of LGBT people talking frankly about the lives they live. Not the negative issues, or the headline-worthy discrimination we face in our lives - just a flat-out affirmation of "I made it, and you can too."

Are there still problems in this world for LGBT people? Absolutely! Are there some cynical remarks that could be made about celebrities just now realizing that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender kids are bullied to suicide daily? Sure, if you want to go that route. I'm not here to throw stones, though.

Just because we don't have a perfect world doesn't mean we can ignore the needs of people trying to make do in an imperfect world. No matter how loud we scream, or how much we work toward change, the fact remains that our community has to find a way to live happy, productive lives in a culture that tries to take that away from us. I love being active for LGBT rights - especially in the transgender realm - but that doesn't mean I'm not a human being who wants for friends, family, and happiness. In the shuffle of indignation toward the people in power and the identification of our world as a hotbed of anti-gay bigotry, we often forget to mention that our lives are still worth living. This is a serious error on the part of our community, as far as I see it.

We have a duty to pay forward the favors that were paid to us during our own coming-out processes. The people we met who pointed us to resources, the chosen family we gained when our blood relatives tossed us out the door, the helping hand of a matron who's been there and seen that and knows friendly places to call. These resources, networks, and bonds are often hidden under the woodwork of the LGBT community - one that has been trained to hide lest they face the wrath of decency groups, anti-gay policies, and potential violence in places where we "don't belong." Growing into our societal roles as proud, self-reliant LGBT people requires us to find a path into this secret community and network, oftentimes without the help of others. This process is never easy.

Besides, we can't lie to ourselves. The door into LGBT community isn't likely to land us all in Care-a-Lot. Being LGBT is a hardening experience, often fraught with bullying, ostracization, and rejection from members of family and social communities. Even with the tight-knit bonds of a vibrant community we still bear the scars of tribulations we survived. The key word here is "survived" - we may have been cut deep, but with the help of a community that says "hold on and things will get better" we managed to heal our wounds, becoming stronger in the process. We cannot find this lifesaving community if we do not know it exists. We cannot survive if we cannot see the scars of others healed over, the happiness they hold apparent in their gentle smiles, intense eyes.

Perfect or no, this project will save lives. That alone puts "It Gets Better" out of the purview of critique from me. The fact that this optimistic activism has become a ubiquitous phenomenon also makes it one of the most impactful events I've seen in the LGBT movement in the past few years - so much so that even Conservative Christian denominations are mulling the question of anti-gay bullying in their churches, their communities, and their lives. Theological sins are one thing, but seeing both the bottom-line effects of their words and the pain their words cause in the lives of their neighbors is hard to ignore.

"It Gets Better" isn't about pointing fingers. It's about flipping the normal script to encourage empowerment. Given the choice between throwing stones and building up lives, I'll take the shovel every time.

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You make a really great point right at the end, Austen -- efforts such as "It Gets Better" and The Trevor Project are all about empowering our young folks so that they can feel better about themselves and make it thru the difficult adolescent years.

Empowering the ones who come up behind us generationally ought to be a bigger priority for the LGBT community than it has been in the past -- and I hope that is now changing.

Regan DuCasse | October 17, 2010 8:26 PM

Wow Austen!
It's nice to see the real you and how you look and sound.
Lovely and so sweet. Thank you for your contribution to the project.
We need ALL the voices of experience we can get.

These suicides are a BIG F**KING DEAL and I hope this country NEVER stops talking about it!

This is the most powerful thing that has happened for our movement since Matthew Shepherd. I'm glad Dan Savage (and many others) have created this platform to give young people "hope." Now, we need to create some "change."

Nice conclusion, Austen. Where have you been?

Truth be told? Volunteering for my local youth center, participating in some hospital training on LGBT issues, doing some mentoring, and... um... working with a publisher to get my first novel ready for the printer. Other than that, not much. ;)

I agree: this is a significant break for the community. Politics continue to be important, as the issue must be lobbied lest it fall through the cracks and become invisible. But this realm of local communities and - I don't know, _not letting kids and adults die_ - may be the fuel the world needs to give a crap about the LGBT community.

Maybe this whole campaign will get people to put their money where their mouth is when they say "we want things to be better."

Thank-you for all those contributions. Participation changes everything.

Maybe this is a wake-up call for mankind. I hope so.

Hurry up with that novel.

Thank you for saying what you said, the way you said it. Frankly, I was getting perturbed and disheartened by a lot of the picayune complaints and crticisms from within the LGBT culture. I'm surprised that someone (with a bit more moxie than me) hasn't made a vid saying; "It gets better - but don't think for a minute that a swath of unctious LGBT folks will always be happy to attack your good intentions just for the sake of being critical."
And you're right. This whole episode suggests a cultural shift that I suspect historians and sociologists will pin down more precisely in years to come. No other issue, no other tragedy has provoked so many of my straight pals to reach out and comfort me - unsolicited - as if I had lost a child of my own; as if there might be bruises on me that could yet be salved?
Precious little comfort to the victims and their families, but there is more good coming out of this than not.

Well said, Austen.

Admittedly my misspent youth is now far back in the transitional "rear-view mirror", so to speak.

Nevertheless, as I am currently standing on the tippy-toe edge of my own seemingly bottomless and mostly self-induced abyss of intractable problems, the subject of taking one's own life is at the very forefront of what's left of my baby-boomer mind.

For the sake of blessed brevity, I would ask you all to consider, compare and contrast the following:

A substantial segment of the population is afflicted with a very real and ofetn distressing condition, but due to ignorance and misinformation, a social stigma prevents far too many of these people (as well as those who care about them) from getting the professional help that they really need.

This all-too-common scenario describes the plight of a LOT of "gender non-conforming" individuals, right?

Sadly, this same situation exists for literally THOUSANDS of folks (irregardless of orientation, identity, race or religious affiliation)that suffer from deep depression, which is the most typical pre-cursor to suicide.

Taking into account the alarmingly high percentage of "T" in the most recent stats that defined such relevant demographics as LGBT (41% of respondents in the last NCTE survey had tried at least ONCE to kill themselves), it would be reasonable to believe that the trans-community (such as it is) and the legions comprising what I will refer to as the "suicide community" (family and friends left behind to cope, as well as "incompletes") would be natural allies, yes?

Sadly, both of these groups of confused, misinformed people are stuck in the proverbial darkness, in separate but equally confining "closets" of guilt and shame that are NOT mutually exclusive, particularly if the deceased had gender issues.

Like an onion, the more you "peel back the layers" of these similarly sad situations, the more there is to cry about.

Perhaps these observations will inspire some further discussion which can better serve a LOT of folks in highly avoidable pain?


What a magnetic and unpretentious essay. I have doubts about the campaign's message but out of respect for what you're asking of us as readers, as members of the GLBT community and, at the risk of sounding dramatic, the human race I'll spare you and your readers. And I'll help spread this message on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc., no doubt.

I've lost count on how many reasons I have for loving Bilerico. But you're certainly one of them!

Victor H

I am with you on doubt - the cynic in me is screaming to launch into a tirade about publicity stunts and such. However, the old adage "Never look a gift horse in the mouth" keeps echoing in my head. :)

Hey, Austen,

I just wanted to let you know that my thoughts on the subject are going up tomorrow. It's an NSFW site, so unless your boss is okay with large penises on your monitor, it's probably best to have a degree of privacy when reading it. (Of course, you guys do report on gay porn quite a bit, come to think of it.)

You've really helped me come around on this - I linked to this piece and quoted you generously - so thanks for helping me to see what should have been obvious long ago.

Victor H.

BTW, a family member came out to me in March, telling me he he's been hiding a very big secret: he wants to transition to a woman! I told him I'd be there every step of the way unless it included us sharing a bathroom.

What a great story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

If anything, this project is good because it forces us to go back to high school and to our teenage years. It's not enough to just move on, we should reflect on what those challenges did to us and others like us.

Exactly! We should strive for our victories but let's make sure as many of us as possible are still there to share them. Thank you for adding your voice to this.