Thursday, September 23, 2010

It gets better

Bullying, it seems, is as much a part of school life as the three Rs and homecoming. As long as there are outsiders or people who do not conform to their society's definition of "normal," there will always be people who feel the need to ostracize and abuse them. If you're not part of the tribe, the thinking goes, you're not a real person.

Sometimes the picked-upon manage to shrug off the abuse and move on, focusing on a better life away from their tormentors. Other times the physical and mental scars linger long after the fact, affecting the victim the rest of their days. Most tragically of all, there are those for whom the abuse is just too much.

Advice columnist and blogger extraordinaire Dan Savage has seen too much of the latter and is doing something about it. In his most recent Savage Love column (third letter down), he mourns the death of 15-year-old Billy Lucas:

Another gay teenager in another small town has killed himself — hope you're pleased with yourselves, Tony Perkins and all the other "Christians" out there who oppose anti-bullying programs (and give actual Christians a bad name).
Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother's property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates — classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body.
Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide. Many LGBT kids who do kill themselves live in rural areas, exurbs, and suburban areas, places with no gay organizations or services for queer kids.
"My heart breaks for the pain and torment you went through, Billy Lucas," a reader wrote after I posted about Billy Lucas to my blog. "I wish I could have told you that things get better."
I had the same reaction: I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.
To that end, Savage launched the "It Gets Better Project" on YouTube, asking readers to send in videos describing their experiences of surviving bullying and going on to live happy, successful lives. The goal is to provide a beacon of hope and positive role models to kids who are struggling, showing them the torment doesn't last forever and that it does, in fact, get better.

As I am heterosexual -- despite the numerous accusations and insinuations hurled my way over the years -- my posting a video wouldn't be much help. Nevertheless, I am 100 percent behind Savage's effort. Growing up a nondescript white boy in a nondescript, whitebread city in nondescript, whitebread Nebraska, I was still bullied and mocked for the heinous crime of being "different." Why? Who knows, but I'm sure those people felt much better about themselves then and still do to this day. While I'd be lying if I said I emerged unaffected -- I'm nowhere near as friendly or open as I used to be, and my cynicism and misanthropy can't all have come from listening to Bill Hicks -- I pushed on, graduated from high school and left town in search of a place where I could fit in. I wish all the bullied kids had the chance to do the same.

Resources such as Savage's are invaluable. Adolescence is tough enough for the "normal" kids, let along the outcasts. Who knows how many lives could have been saved if such support was widely available 10, 20, 30 years ago or more? To quote Yul Brenner from "Cool Runnings": "We're different. People always afraid of what's different." It's a shame that being different is seen as a negative, and all the more tragic that some people so virulently reject what's different to the point of hounding another human being beyond despair.

No comments:

Post a Comment