It gets better

posted 11 August 2011

[I tried to make an It gets better video, but it didn't work. If I spoke it sincerely I kept bursting into tears, and speaking it insincerely sounded robotic and terrible. I am much better with the written word, so inspired by Tom, here's my contribution. This is a message to gay kids. You can read it if you're not a gay kid, but you're not the intended audience.]

Hi. So I know this is several paragraphs long and you were born into the age of YouTube so you may not get to the end of this. In which case, here's the summary: it gets better. It's really bad now, it may even get worse, it will become unbearable, but somehow you'll bear it anyway. And then it will get better.

When I was fifteen and sixteen, I thought about suicide quite a lot. Not vague unfocused intentions, but specific plans of where, when, how high up I would start and how hard I would hit the ground.

I was going to do it because I had realized I was gay, and I couldn't face it. My parents were pretty conservative, especially my father, and I lived in Trinidad, a small island in the Caribbean with a whole lot of religions, most of which were pretty clear that being gay was a bad thing.

My school didn't help. It was an all-male, Catholic school run by priests. It was an all-day machismo competition and intensely homophobic. I was already unpopular for being a geek; I was already getting beat up every day, even before I realized I was gay.

So I couldn't come out, I was sure of that. I was sure my parents would disown me, my few friends would reject me, my school would expel me. And I couldn't leave, literally. On an island, there is nowhere to run to.

I already knew that after school I would be leaving the island to go to college. But that was three years away -- three years! An unbearably long time to endure the hell of knowing I was a sick pervert, of hearing friends belittle each other constantly for the slightest hint of less-than-total masculinity. Of hating myself for being unable to change myself to be "normal". I wanted desperately to be just be normal.

Most of all, I wanted to kill myself because I couldn't see how things would get better. As far as I could see I had fucked up my life. My plan had been: school, college, job, wife, kids, retire. Now that whole plan was derailed. I felt like I had lost everything I was looking forward to. I didn't know anything about gay people except that a lot of them seemed to get AIDS, and that a lot of people hated them.

And that's why I'm writing this now. Because I was wrong, totally wrong, about all of that stuff. And because what I really needed then was someone who knows the stuff I know now to turn up and tell me that things would be okay, that it would get better. To tell me it was worth hanging on.

I found those people when I got Internet access, via the Youth Lists. The love and support of my friends on that list saved my life. But lots of gay kids don't find those people, and they do terrible, drastic things that break my heart every time. So I am adding my voice to the chorus, hoping you can hear me: it gets better. And here's how.

The first step is to stop judging yourself by what you thought you had. Don't think about the things that your being gay has denied you, don't think about what you've lost. Think about what you have. Your youth, your health, your mind, your body, your potential. So much potential, to do things that are brave and beautiful and smart and funny.

The reason we older gays get so upset every time one of you guys kills yourselves is because we see ourselves in you. We see the same shitty situation, and we get angry that nothing seems to have changed in those schools that made our lives so terrible. But overwhelming our anger is our grief, because we see what might have been. We cry because of all the things you never got a chance to do just because we didn't find you in time, we didn't try hard enough, we didn't say it loudly enough: it gets better.

The next step is to come out. Even if it's just to yourself. You don't have to decide now and lock in your decision forever. You're allowed to change your mind later. But be honest with yourself, about what it is -- who it is -- that you want right now, and who you want to be. There's no right and wrong in recognizing what you want. There's no weird and normal. There's just you, and what makes you happy. There's nothing more normal than just wanting to be happy.

Maybe you can come out to some friends. My friends surprised me, and they were from a crazy homophobic country, and that was fifteen years ago. Your friends grew up watching Will and Grace, and Ellen, and that awesome Justin kid on Ugly Betty, and Kurt on Glee. Even if they might not think about it, they know that it's okay to be gay. They know that only crazy old folk really think it's wrong to be gay, even if they sometimes say otherwise.

And, amazingly, they'll realize that the person you were before you say the words "I'm gay" is the same person you are afterwards. They won't abandon you. I remember when it was so hard to believe that. So tell a friend. And then another. And that's when it will start to get better.

And after that, it keeps getting better. You can go to college, or just get a job, and leave home. That makes telling your parents easier, believe me. Once they realize that you're not around, and them acting like jerks just because you like dick means they might never see you again, they come around. And if they don't, then it's their loss, and their fault, not yours. You're not doing anything to hurt them. You're just telling the truth, like they taught you.

And you can get the hell out of that one-horse town you're in. So there are no gay people where you are? Head for a city. There are lots of us here, enough to make sure nobody tries to fuck with us just because we're different. That makes it get a lot better. You can do what you want, dress how you want, hold hands in the street. You'll discover that all the bad things about being gay are put there by bigots. Just get the bigots out of your life, and suddenly things improve.

Those are the little things. And then there's the big thing that makes it get better: falling in love. Oh, there's sex too, and sex is pretty great. But love -- love is amazing. Love is the real deal. Love is what makes all the shit you're putting up with now worth it.

And it'll happen to you. I know it's hard, so hard to believe that right now, as you're stuck in your bedroom watching this video with the sound down so nobody will hear. To believe that somewhere out there is a boy who will actually like you, your mind, your body, just the way it is. But there is.

It's worth it. Hang in there. Please hang in there. I know how hard it is, and I remember knowing that nobody could possibly understand how hard it was, so all I can do is tell you that I do understand, I do remember, even though I know you won't believe me.

It's hard, unbelievably hard, and totally unfair that you have to put up with all of this shit just to be the way you were born. But it gets better. Please believe me. All of it, all that crap I put up with was worth it, every second of the pain and misery and guilt, just to fall in love, just to feel that way for a moment. That feeling is worth it. So please be here to experience it.

And one day I'll meet the right guy, and get married, and have kids and retire, just like I planned. All that stuff I thought I lost? I was wrong. I can still have it, and so can you -- or whatever else it is you're looking for. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe it'll take years. But it gets better. Nowadays, my life is so great I can barely understand what it was that had me so worried when I was a teenager. I was just so wrong.

It gets better. It gets so, so much better.


If you're in the US, the Trevor Project is a help line specifically for gay youth. In the UK, the London Gay & Lesbian Switchboard is a great place to start. And if you're in Trinidad, then organized resources are a bit thin on the ground, but you can email me and I can put you in touch with the right people.