It gets better. It really does.

So Dan Savage, a columnist, has begun the It Gets Better project-- a series of YouTube videos where GLBTQ adults recount their high school experiences and also share how their lives are now, post-high school. It's an effort to show GLBTQ teens that life does, in fact, get much better outside of high school.

This project is in response to the high number of suicides among GLBTQ teens. This month alone, three suicides made headlines-- Billy Lucas and Justin Aaberg, both fifteen, hanged themselves after facing ridicule and bullying for their sexualities; just today I read about a Rutgers freshman, Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his roommate put a hidden camera in their dorm room and streamed footage of Tyler being initimate with another boy online (and tweeted about it inviting everyone to check it out-- classy, dude).

These are definitely not isolated events. Check out the statistics from this Time article about the It Gets Better project:

Almost 85% of LGBTQ teenagers are harassed in high school because of their sexual orientation, with 61% of gay youth reporting that they felt unsafe in school and 30% staying home to avoid bullying, according to a 2009 survey by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network.

I'm straight (if we're putting a label on it-- I wouldn't say I'm a total 0 on the Kinsey scale, if you know what I mean), and so I've never been bullied for my sexuality, unless you count the time I held hands with a female friend in eighth grade as we walked and some kids called us lesbians. But I was bullied very badly in middle school.

I'm not exactly sure what made me such a target-- I had glasses and braces and was kind of awkward and definitely shy, but I was average overall. I was also desperate to fit in. Everyone who was cool wore Abercrombie & Fitch, so I bought one shirt from there (with Abercrombie stitched across the front, of course, so everyone would know, because otherwise what was the point?) and wore it all the time.

Weirdly, I also was mocked for writing all the time. I wrote and read constantly. During class. At lunch. Whenever. One popular boy once tried to snatch my notebook from me and interrogated me on what I was writing about on a dare from his friends. My group of "friends" in seventh grade once tried to get me to sit elsewhere at lunch because I'd always be writing in my notebook or reading Steinbeck instead of talking to them about Sailor Moon or whatever (none of this ever deterred me, haha).

During those years, I tried really hard to wear the right clothes and listen to the right music in an effort to be accepted. It didn't work, and I had almost no friends until eighth grade (and these efforts did nothing to improve my self-esteem). One day four kids (two boys, two girls) in my sixth grade class told me I should just kill myself because no one would miss me. I had the courage to actually report them for it; the boys apologized, the girls accused me of making it up. One of them confronted me in gym class really aggressively and drove me out of the gym in tears. The whole experience was pretty traumatic.

When I was fourteen, I moved to a new town for the start of high school. I didn't reinvent myself, but I was actually myself for once, and I made a lot of friends, and I never had to deal with bullies again, thank god.

I'll never be able to fully understand what it's like to be gay or transgender as a teen. I can only imagine how difficult it is. But I do know that even with my own experiences, I would have given anything for someone objective to sit me down and explain how much better things would get. I've done so many things in the past few years alone I never imagined would happen. If I'd known at thirteen what I know now-- that I would sell my first book a week after my 22nd birthday, have friends who are like family, visit places like New York City and Boston and California and the Bahamas, swim with dolphins, kiss boys who thought I was pretty and cool and smart, go to Lollapalooza, get a tattoo, embark on epic road trips, meet some celebrities, learn to play guitar, and be not only accepted but appreciated for who I am, I probably wouldn't have believed you.

But maybe I would have. Maybe surviving those years would've been easier. Either way, it would've been nice to hear.


Sara said...

Hi Hannah! I'm not sure if it's my computer or your actual site, but the contact button isn't working for me... :( I'm currently reading SAVING JUNE and absolutely loving it! I'm a fellow Michigander - I live in Kalamazoo - and some of the places in the novel seem awfully familiar. :) I'd love to chat with you!

Sara @ The Hiding Spot

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