It gets better. That’s what all the videos from celebrities and a myriad of other people from different professions across the globe are telling our gay youth. “It gets better.” My question is probably the same as every kid out there who sees these video messages: Does it? Really?
Don’t get me wrong here — I think it’s amazing that so many people from all walks of life, both famous and non-famous, are rallying around the gay youth of our nation. But words can only do so much. It’s similar to trying to tell someone who has just gone through a painful loss that everything will be okay. They’re just words.
Saying “I know how you feel” has an artificial ring to it that someone in pain can sense a mile away. Sure we can identify with the struggle against bullies and the uphill climb to become who we truly are, but just like the details of a death in the family or an excruciating break-up, every situation is different.
How can a gay kid from Dogpatch, U.S.A. Feel that a celebrity ensconced in a Bel-Air mansion can possibly know the pain and the isolation of being the only gay person in a hundredmile stretch of corn and ignorance? What these young people need is a physical manifestation of what they can become, but the problem is that it may not exist. And if it does, the person who may be able to help them is still hiding in the closet afraid of what might become of them if they step into the light and tell the world who they really are.
Bullies like to use strength or power to intimidate those who are weaker. And when you hide your head in shame it makes you weak. If you want to show our gay youth that it gets better you need to make sure the world knows who you are and who you love.
Be an example to someone who may have no one to turn to in their time of need. Let them know that bullies will never win and that bullies are just sad, brainless products of our society and their own cowardice. The funny thing about the word “bully” is that is comes from a Middle Dutch word boele, which actually means “lover”. As Alanis would say: isn’t it ironic?
So what makes a bully a bully? Bullying isn’t something that appears out of nowhere. It is bred into people who believe they need to lash out at things they perceive as different or things they fear. Let me cast a wider net by saying you can see a bully’s violent stripes in terrorist cells. You can see their fear of diversity in the religious right. You can even see the pleasure they take in tormenting others in the Legion Of Doom. But heroes stand up against these bullies and show them they can’t win. Bullying won’t end because we expel vicious football players or lock up religious extremists. The reason they are bullies in the first place is because that’s the way they were raised.
When parents decide to raise their children to embrace diversity — whether it’s the colour of someone’s skin, who they choose to love or even the waist size of their classmates — then bullying will die a lonely, well-deserved death. Along with teaching our children that people who are different are just like everyone else, we also must teach our youth that there’s no need to jump on a bandwagon when other, less educated kids are bullying those who are different. Even if you fall into the category of what this world considers to be normal, it’s okay to stand up, speak out against hate and be exactly who you are.
The media is flush with reports of how schools and communities are finally going to put an end to bullying. The sad news is it will never end. Bullies will find a way. They always find a way. It’s the same as saying that one day we will win the war on crime or the war on drugs. It won’t happen. Not until the entire world somehow shifts their way of thinking. The death penalty hasn’t stopped people from murdering each other and prison time hasn’t dissuaded drug dealers from pumping our nation full of poison, so what hope does an anti-bullying crusade have? The hope that teenagers decide they would rather graduate or play basketball as opposed to torturing their classmates? Does anyone really think about the consequences when they are caught up in the moment? Not always. And by then the damage is done.
We are all scarred by what happened to us in high school. Whether you were an acne-spotted theater geek or an all-American running back, if you are gay, back then you lived a lie to survive. Maybe you bullied someone who was more like you than you’d care to admit because you saw your reflection in their frightened gaze and even though you weren’t on the receiving end of taunts and harassment, you were stuck in your own prison of denial and deception.
Was I bullied in high school? Constantly. I was 98 pounds of skin, bones and braces who barely looked up in the hallways. That Matt still lives inside of the confident 190-pound muscle-bound lothario I am today. But I haven’t forgotten him. And the fact that my training and knowledge has blessed me with the ability to cripple or kill a man only fuels my fire of rage when I hear about my young brethren being tormented by half-witted, weak-willed oxen.
Does it make me the same as them when I think about teaching these pathetic bullies a lesson by giving them a bloody taste of their own medicine? Maybe. But I think it makes me more of a champion, a vigilante, a hero who wants to protect and save the children he will never have. I look at it this way: how do you feel about someone who kills for the fun of it compared to a person who kills someone in self-defence? If I thought giving some Cro-Magnon bully a black eye or a busted molar would prevent a gay teen from killing himself, I’d say wrap my knuckles in some tape. Sometimes it’s the only language bullies understand.
I firmly believe that violence is never the answer to anything, but sometimes fighting fire with fire may be the only solution. Unfortunately some kids who are bullied believe the same thing and that’s when tragedies like Columbine happen. When violence breeds violence it can escalate and spin out of control. On the flip side of this violent coin, when kids are afraid to be who they are in the town where they live, they seek out companions on the internet. These predators are often not who they say they are and sometimes these trysts end in murder. Because of these unfavourable consequences people who truly want to help are wary of how they will be perceived. If I said that my home was open to any teenager who was lost and scared how would that make me look? Like a Good Samaritan or someone from To Catch A Predator? Unfortunately the sword cuts both ways.
My parents always taught me “living well is the best revenge”. I never really knew what that meant until I saw one of my bullies where he belonged: pathetic, broken-down and working behind the counter at a fast-food restaurant. Did I take pleasure in this? You bet I did. But when he was shoving me into my locker and spilling my lunch tray I had no idea that I would have this moment of clarity. The other thing my parents taught me was to stand up for myself, but that was a harder road. If I knew then what I know now, I can guarantee there would have been a lot of broken bones and an expulsion for yours truly.
No matter what happens, there will be a continuing wave of young people emerging into a world that fears and despises them. There’s no way anyone can stop it or beat the gayness out of any of them. The time for ignorance is over. It’s time for all of us to rise up — just like our brothers at Stonewall did — to show the world that we are not going anywhere and that we will protect our young like a lioness on the African veldt. There’s a new era coming and I am going to do whatever it takes to gay it forward and cement my legacy. What are you going to do?
So… What do I have to say to young gay people who are out there feeling scared and alone? Yes, it does get better. But don’t take my word for it. Stand up and see how beautiful and amazing you are. Life isn’t for hiding, life is for living. Life gives you the chance to laugh, to love, to dance and even time to look up at the stars. Follow your heart and jump to your feet because when you finally stand up and take a stand for what you believe in, that’s when people will show up and stand with you to take your side. If no one’s around to help you, help yourself. Do your push-ups and make sure you keep your left up when you deliver that right at eyebrow level.
If you think you can’t fight, then pack your bags and run to a place where your gay brothers and sisters will help you. Remember that strangers aren’t always a threat but use your common sense and let people earn your trust. Most importantly, if you are thinking about ending it all, please, please don’t do it. Hold on. Don’t let those dicks win. Show them how wrong they are by becoming who you want to be. Who you dream of being. The world needs you. Have you ever seen a Christmas tree with one light missing? It throws everything off. We need your light in this world to make it complete.
I know it hurts and I know it feels like there is no one out there who cares about you, but you are wrong. Someone’s waiting to be your friend. Someone’s waiting to be a part of your whole new family. Someone’s waiting to hold your hand and kiss your lips and show you that every ounce of pain you’ve ever felt has been worth it. Maybe our churches and our government want you to believe that you don’t matter, but they are spineless cowards hiding behind words they twist to suit their needs. Don’t listen to them. Instead, heed the words of all the people out there who care about you by saying: “it gets better”. Better yet, take a look at yourself in the mirror and tell that person you see and the person you will become: “I’m going to make it better.” It’s a long, hard road to get to the Emerald City where all your dreams will finally come true, but we are here waiting for you. So, come and get it. I can’t wait to meet you.