"Careful the Things You Say"...Not Just to Children
So...as I mentioned in a previous post, someone (a former friend) whom I had no intention of telling about my HIV+ status found out without my telling them. It's really not important how this person found out, just know that I didn't tell them.
Below is a series of e-mails that we exchanged about the whole affair. I'd like to say I was the bigger person throughout and handled this perfectly. I did not; I did the best I could in making my feelings (the stronger of which were anger, hurt, & disappointment) known. I've decided to share this, because I want to make everyone aware of a really important issue when dealing with HIV/AIDS -- really ANY medical/health issue, actually -- be careful.
So, here goes. First, from me to...let's call them 'Senor MindYourOwnBusiness' (or MYOB):
Dear Senor MYOB,
From discussions with [our common friends] I know that you've surmised that I am HIV+. I don't like the way you found out, but you know and I can't make you "UN-know" it. This is exactly why I've been afraid of telling people in my life that I'm HIV+. Now, because you know, and I have no way of knowing to whom you've spoken, I'm forced to worry about other people's possible reactions, without any chance of giving them the full story. This shouldn't be about anyone other than me, and yet you've managed to worm your way into it.
I don't mean that in a selfish way, as there are several people who have known about my status since I was first diagnosed, and I've told people at various points along the way...on MY OWN TIME. I should have been able to tell anyone when I was ready for them to know, not after someone went slithering around me, talking behind my back to the people who mean so much to me.
I need you to understand how much you've infringed upon my life with this, Senor MYOB. [...] The issue at hand is that you have weaseled information out of our common friends just to make yourself feel as though you have power over me, that you can get any news you want about my life whenever you want it.
And the really sickening thing is...you do & can. By getting this information about me in such a surreptitious manner, you've stolen from me the opportunity to share an incredibly important part of my life with my loved ones on terms that I'm comfortable with and that I feel is best for, not only myself, but them as well. I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive you. You snuck around and pestered my friends until they told you what you wanted to find out, rather than just talking to me.
So, now I'm forced come to you for two reasons...
1) [Our common friend] mentioned that you seemed very concerned about my Mother not knowing about my status. Not that you have any right to know this, but I haven't had an opportunity to see my Mom, face-to-face, since I received my diagnosis. As I would hope you'd understand, this is not news that I feel appropriate sharing over a phone call with her, mostly because I know how scared she's going to be and I want to be there for her then. I've been desperate to be more disclosing with my status, but feel it wouldn't be fair to my Mom, should she happen to hear it someplace else, even inadvertently. [I've since told my Mother, FYI.]
2) I would appreciate it if you'd tell me whom you've told, or whom you've even discussed the possibility of my seroconversion. There are people who are going to be upset, or possibly feel hurt that I didn't share with them sooner, without knowing the full story, and I'd like to do what I can to help them deal with this news. I'd say you owe me at least that much.
I'd appreciate a response as soon as possible.
Senor MYOB's reply:
I don't have the time to spend days drafting some elaborate response so here's a quick bit...
i have never gone around you to get details about your life. they seem to come to me no matter what i do. and no weaseling was necessary - between the posts of yours I see on facebook and the number of time(s) people have come to me with sordid stories about your life, I know MUCH more than I care to about your life. this is just another example - nobody told me. it didn't take much to come to my conclusions and for them to be confirmed. no sneaking around or pestering was involved. if you really think I want to know about you to have power over you, you are beyond wrong.
I was concerned [...] you can believe whatever you want but i am not interested in this as a good bit of gossip. i am sorry that it came to this and that you are upset. i do understand how difficult this must be and i was worried that you were alone but you wont ever believe that so no use trying to persuade you.
i was wrong to discuss it and i am sorry.
You would have thought that would be the end, but then I got this message from Senor MYOB, addressed to me and our common friends:
I knew I would end up under the bus on this and it is fine. No matter what I do, when it comes to Jim, I will always be viewed as the bad guy and I came to terms with that years ago. I fully expected to get blamed for my knowledge of the situation and it's okay. I can't win for losing so this is one big lesson...this bridge is burned and I officially throw in the towel. I will keep my concern to myself and will do everything in my power to make sure I never hear a peep about Jim's life again. We can resort back to ignoring each others existence.
Needless to say (I hope!), I got pretty good and mad at this point; angry because I couldn't believe Senor MYOB was becoming "the victim" in this. Also, I was upset that this exchange was still happening in e-mails (though I had included my phone # to actually talk this out), so I replied:
Really, Senor MYOB? Are you kidding me with this?
'Cause, first of all...we're all damn near 40-years old. I'm just laying that on the table (as a placemat, if you will) for this dish of ridiculo-sauce you've put down in front of us. I mean, did you write this with "Bitter Betty's Book of Tired Ol' Clichés" standing by?! With all the towel throwin', bridge burnin', & winnin' for losin', it's a wonder you actually had time to write at all!
Second...you're far from "under the bus". I would recommend you go back and think about that one because...there's no way you can be both UNDER the bus & DRIVING the damn bus at the same time! To be under the bus one must be 'thrown' under by a co-conspirator...or possibly a fellow ninja. It's just you. No ninjas, no "partners in crime" (see, I've got the "Bigger, Bitchier Billy's Book of Banal Bullshit")...it's just you who asked our common friends about my HIV status specifically, without me being present to join the conversation.
Go ahead and stamp your feet, point your finger at me, and scream "He started it!", all you want; the fact remains -- you discussed a very personal, intimate detail about me with people who are not me. I'm not sure how else to get it through your head that doing that is not only wrong, but also dangerous.
[...] this is a pattern for you, talking about me with others to avoid talking to me directly. It's what my therapist calls a "repetition".
And, I could have very well just kept my hurt & anger all to myself in an effort to save everyone discomfort (my own repetition) or take a moment to try to help correct a rather unfortunate habit you have of embedding yourself in others' lives to the point of losing perspective on where you stop and the other person begins.
I know you meant me no harm, and I'm aware you think this entire issue is you being overly-concerned, ever-attentive Senor MYOB that Meanie Jim, and his "sordid" HIV, are just picking on. But see? There's repercussions to not dealing directly with someone. *ahem!* LikeAnADULT! *Cough!* Hence, here we are.
You've tried to jump behind a shield of our friends, avoid actually speaking to me directly (you said you didn't have time to write a draft, so wouldn't a phone call have been speedier?), and stubbornly cover your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears, and sing, "I won't hear you! I won't hear you!"
Oh, wait! There is one thing, and I'm begging you on behalf of HIV+ people everywhere (Uh huh! Hells yeah I played my POZ card! What am I, an idiot?!) to please pay attention to this, if nothing else.
While I know you "meant no harm", the fact is -- Senor MYOB, you could have caused a lot of harm, pain & tears simply by ASKING about not just mine, but anyone's status like that. And that's why I felt I had to be so harsh in my original message. I need to make it abundantly clear that *NO ONE* should be talking about another person's HIV status.
Now, as far as all this "ignoring each others' existence"...I honestly thought that was how we roll. I think you're a damn fool if you think it's even remotely possible, but I'm not telling you what to do. Nor am I remotely interested. I said what I needed to say and feel better for the doing.
P.S. Thanks for totally ignoring the one and only response I asked of you in my original message, by the way. You're one classy act!
Wow. Just read this: “There’s a problem with the way we accept Charlie Sheen and condemn Lindsay Lohan.” (@sarah_ross)
It’s sad, because it’s true. Look no further to see the proof of the advantages provided to men in our (unfortunately) patriarchal society. Lindsay got caught acting out, was jailed, sent to rehab, and is essentially raked over the coals in every tabloid across the world every single time she messes up. She even had studio heads sending memos publicly reprimanding her, possibly killing any hopes she has of returning to an actual acting career.
Charlie Sheen, boozing it up with porn stars in a coke-fueled sexcapade in the Eloise suite of the PLAZA HOTEL (Good God!)? Yeah, he “had an allergic reaction to medication” is all. He’s quickly jetting back to LA where he’ll return to the set where studio execs & show producers have bent over backward and thrown millions of dollars at him to keep coming to work.
One of my closest friends in college was a man named, Earnest Straughter, who was older than the typical college co-ed and yet, actually doing the whole “college experience”, living in student apartments next to us, getting scholarships. It was all kind of odd, but he was such a kind, generous spirit, and all-around wonderful guy that you didn’t think too much of it.
In the summer after my second year, Earnest got a strange cold that bothered him, and my friend, Liz, and I took him to the doctor ourselves to make sure he took care of it. He was always bad about that sort of stuff. He died the next day.
It was so sudden and really shook me up pretty bad, along with everyone who knew him. It was weeks later that Liz heard some gossiping people at her waiting job talking about “that drama major who died of AIDS”. We were livid! Just so convinced that it was another example of the small-town Texan mentality of bigoted assumptions that these assholes were jumping to such a horrible conclusion (Drama Majors Are Gay ergo Drama Major Dies of AIDS) about our friend.
But, it turned out that Earnest had, in fact, died of AIDS-assisted pneumocystis pneumonia. Earnest had actually come back to Texas to go to college, from living in New York City (he told the most AWESOME tales of partying at Studio 54!) because he got diagnosed with AIDS, and the school was close enough to his family that he felt like it was the most reasonable and enjoyable way to live out the little bit of time he thought he had left. If I thought I was floored by his sudden death, BOY was I completely knocked for a loop by learning all of this! Suddenly, all of these little clues started making sense in hindsight; his constantly having a new credit card every other week, his seeming lack of ambition when we all were so amazed by another performance he gave and told him he HAD to go back to NYC and audition…it all made perfect sense when you realized he was simply riding out his days at this college theater getting to act, doing what he enjoyed. It was so sad and so, SO hurtful that he didn’t tell us, but I could appreciate his reasons and certainly respect him for the courage it must have taken for him not to scream at all of us ignorant children every other day, “I’m sick! THAT’S why I’m not planning my “big break” like you, ya’ fools!”
There were a few other people that were “before my time” at the theater department, but that I met those first two years, who very quickly withered, shriveled, and died. I actually was one of the first recipients of a directing scholarship at Sam that the family of one of those alums lost to AIDS started in my last year. So, HIV/AIDS has certainly been a part of my life for many, many years.
Especially now…I received my HIV+ diagnosis in November 2008. I’ve only shared this information with a few people in my life, for all kinds of reasons, but it is certainly a major part of why I’m as passionate as I am about the disease, it’s prevention, and raising awareness.
It’s been tough for me, navigating the waters of disclosing, dealing with, and generally living with HIV. Now, almost two years in, I’m starting to see that I can really do more good for the world by telling people rather than trying to hide it. I guess it’s another facet of my activism, maybe? Or maybe simply the strong need I have to live my life as honestly as possible after spending so much time ashamed and lying to myself and everyone who cares about me by living in the closet? Regardless, it’s time “my secret” is no secret any longer.
Please know that I’m glad to answer any questions you might have, or tell you about my treatment, or whatever I can do to help you not feel uncomfortable about my disease or worry about me unduly. I was really lucky to have found out I was positive very soon after infection and have had an undetectable viral load since January ‘09. My T-cell numbers have actually been that of a normal, healthy, uninfected person since back in May, so I truly am doing well.
I would like to make a single request: please, no one tell me, “it’s not the death sentence it once was”. Honestly, I think it’s going to be a new mission in my life to put a moratorium on that. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that of the…let’s say 12, people I’ve told about my status, 10 have used that exact line verbatim. I mean, yes — it’s uncomfortable and no one’s really sure what to say. But that line doesn’t really help me feel anything but condescended to and a little bit patronized.
In the past few weeks, the news of my positive status got out to someone that I’d wished it hadn’t (I’ll be writing more on that experience later), and just this morning someone on Twitter called out one of the pills in my “Meds Photo” as an ARV drug for HIV, so I felt the time had come for me to start my “full disclosure” policy. At this point, my family and closest friends have all been told about my status, so no one needs to feel that this is a secret to be kept to protect me. I would ask that you all, my friends, consider the stigma that’s associated with HIV/AIDS though, and realize it’s what I’m trying to fight against in disclosing my status in such a public way.
A: “being pro-dadt does not always equal homophobic #fact #DADT”
@Clarknt67: Yes, like being pro-Jim Crow doesn’t mean you’re racist.
I think this highlights one of the fundamental problems the gay civil rights movement keeps encountering; people aren’t seeing the relation between how all this hatred is legislated against us. I’m certainly dealing with it in my personal life, as members of my family say, “I don’t have any problem with your being Gay”, followed by, “Gay marriage is wrong and shouldn’t be allowed.”
I know this doesn’t seem like it should be so “black & white”, but…it kind of is, I’m afraid.
"…but, i ask you this question, as food for thought. are we not all human? do we not all breathe the same air, or do the same things, or feel the same emotions, do we not all have a heart pumping every minute of every day? are we not all human? gay, straight, white, black, asian, rich, poor?
the idea that man are so advanced in their sciences and their mathematics, and technology, but we can’t get over the fact that we are different. that we are all special. that it is okay to be different.
these innocent young boys, were openly gay. they had faith, and they had hope that their societies would embrace them, and offer them love and hope as any other human. They put their faith in their peers. Only to be led to believe that their lives weren’t important. that their stories didn’t matter. but their stories do matter. as does yours. and your family’s. and mine. and my family’s. and so on.
5 innocent lives lost because nobody was there to deliver love and hope when they needed it the most. 5 innocent lives lost because nobody would join them, and remind them that they were not alone in questioning the big things.
tonight we will all be reminded that we all question those things. we will be reminded that if we had tried to fight for them, and meet them halfway in their questions, we could have saved them. but we will also be reminded that love is louder, and stronger, and bigger than hate. and friendship is one of the worlds greatest gifts.
but we all need reasons to believe in that.
Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, and Billy Lucas, did not have the chance to discover these reasons for themselves.
Something very scary just happened to me and I want everybody to read this. Let me put this into perspective: I'm about 5'3" and weight 129 pounds. Most of that weight is muscle, and fat in my butt. ;] I eat the right amount of food. Sometimes too much but I work out a lot. Lately not as much as usual. Anyway, I was lying in my bed this morning and all of a sudden I got this really sharp pain right by my heart. I felt like I was getting stabbed in the heart. It lasted for about 15 seconds. My thoughts were racing and I was trying to breathe heavy to get it to go away and I thought I was going to die. And this is the part where it applies to every single one of you. I've tried to take my life before, I've wanted to die so many times in my life, but when I felt like something was going to kill me without my control, all of those thoughts stopped. In my mind I was begging I would be okay. No matter how much you hate the world, no matter how much you hate yourself, there are answers that are better than death. Believe me. There are people that love you. I love you, for crying out loud. There are people who would be a wreck if you were gone. There is a reason we are all on this Earth, I promise you, even if you don't see it now. "And if you’re feeling alone, know that the world can be a lonely place but it would be lonelier without you in it." - Hayley Williams
WOW! I’m in tears reading this, tears of understanding and identification, because…I’ve been there.
Below are a series of messages exchanged via Facebook yesterday, 10/23/10, between myself and an old friend back in Texas:
Hi there. Jim, I am worried about you. I know I have no right to say this to you, since we only have a short history. I worry about how bitter and angry and vitriolic life has made you. You are such a lovely person and I can feel how disappointed and hurt something or someone has made you. I want you to be joyful and productive in this world. How can I help? or encourage you? I am risking our thin connection to say this, I realize. I also can see that I fit into this “group” that you seem annoyed with and hate, so maybe I should leave your FB friends, as friends do not hate each other. I hope to hear back from you in a respectful way, if not I will understand the choice.
Very truly and with respect and love, M
~ Jim ‘Bullied’ Swimm
Well, I’m not sure what to say, M. If you feel that I’m spewing “hate” toward anyone, then I, first, would ask that you go back and read my posts, as I assume you’re basing this assessment of me on what you read here on Facebook. Even with the group of people that I find myself railing against (that would be: homophobic bigots who use religious zealotry to justify their denial of my equal rights), I always try to explore the other perspective, and I’ve never been closed to discussion or further exploration, as long as someone can have a rational discussion and not take every question as some sort of attack on their faith that needs defending against.
So…I’m afraid that if THAT’S the group to which you belong? Then — Yes, we should not be “friends” any longer.
Now, as you say, our friendship is not terribly far-reaching in our lives’ history, but I certainly have never considered you close-minded, nor homophobic. To say I would be surprised that you are either would be a huge understatement.
As for myself, it’s actually my lack of bitterness that helps me contend with the hatred and injustice that life seems to continually challenge me with most strongly. I refuse to give in to the idea that people are not inherently good. Some just need a little help finding the true humanity inside them to see the error of their thinking. Sometimes, I get a bit harsh. Sometimes I come across as motivated by anger, but please know that it’s almost never vitriol that fuels my intensity. Mostly it’s hurt & bewilderment as to how some people can be so cruel without even realizing they’re being so. I find that many people just don’t consider the further ramifications involved in saying things like, “I don’t support gay marriage”, or “I don’t have a problem with Gays, but I don’t want one in the army.”
As I’ve stated — strongly — throughout many posts/messages/tweets/interviews, it bothers me that extremists (or fundamentalists) seem to be the loudest group of Christians that are heard through the media and in our society, in general. Now, many Christians have explained to me that they feel it’s not for them to “cast the first stone” and to “turn the other cheek” to these people who continue this movement of extreme prejudice against people like me; that is, the LGBT community. The way it’s explained to me, some people are not worthy of fighting because they don’t represent the majority of Christians.
But, to me, that’s the very reason I feel I MUST speak out, and march, and cry, and scream, and yell. There has to be a counter-position presented to that view that’s getting shoved in all of our faces. The very extremity of these people’s intolerance and denial of justice needs to be matched with as much truth, love, and reason. That’s how I see things; my role in all of this, if you will.
It’s because I know so many good-hearted Christians, so many Texans who aren’t bigoted lemmings following some sort of dogma enforced on them, so many Straight people that aren’t un-accepting of Gays and even love us as members of their family and count us among their dearest friends…it’s because of my faith in the goodness of all those people that I fight.
So…again, I’m not sure if any of this gives you a better understanding of me and my position, or whether I’ve even misread your message entirely and there’s something else to which you’re referring maybe. As I said, I don’t have an issue with discussing this, but if you feel that we’re in disagreement on the very fundamental issue of justice & equality for Gay people…then I’d have to say we probably don’t have much to discuss.
Thanks for your consideration, Jim. I appreciate where you are coming from. As an observer, it just seems like you are overcome with anger in most of your posts. I can understand the feeling of wanting peace and a life full of “and justice for all”. My concern is rooted in not wanting those I care about [to] sink their own ships, and I am willing to be wrong. I will say this, if one continually seeks out the hate of others and their hate-mongering, then it has a way of mirroring it onto that individual. I know many news items have upset you as of late, as have they me too. But why not volunteer at a crisis center instead of ranting into the ethernet? I think you are a very well-spoken man with valid points and again I mean no disrespect. Walking the talk is a challenge all people share. As far as frienships go, my truth is that reading or listening to anger/hate/well-intentioned disparagement is not good for my healing walk. Protect your spirit.
Many times when I read your posts, I feel like you are directing them at me simply because I’m a Christian. Isn’t that the very thing you despise? People hyper-generalizing in order to prove their opinion? So can one make a great argument without an alterior (sic) motive? I’m not sure. Can you find your strength in life without buying into all the one-sided media relating to any subject? I think so. Tell me what you are doing to help your cause, other than FB and Twitter. I am interested in learning.
~ Jim ‘Bullied’ Swimm
M, this is going to be hard for me to put into words in a way that is not going to seem harsh or defensive, so I ask that you read it as simply an explanation and not an admonishment or reprimand, OK?
It’s none of your business what else I’m doing in my life for the causes in which I believe and follow. Reading my FB posts or my tweets is simply one tiny aspect of my life, a tiny aspect that I am in complete control of, actually. I get that you’re asking out of concern and caring, truly. That’s why I don’t want to seem like I’m angry here.
But, it’s sort of like you’re asking me to justify my life, beliefs, & actions to you, and yes…that is exactly the sort of thing I don’t want people to feel that I’m doing. I don’t necessarily go “looking for” the hate & judgement in the world towards me, but I can’t simply sit back and ignore it either. In doing so, I would certainly feel as though I was being a hypocrite, and I cannot abide that.
I would say that I’m sorry you feel attacked by me or that you feel that my anger is directed at you for being a Christian, but I can’t say that I am. It’s important to me that I understand others’ views and opinions, and that’s the main objective to my Internet reporting. I share how I feel, you share how you feel, and somehow we figure out where we can meet in the middle, or even change one of our minds for the better.
Now, that’s not to say I don’t hold people accountable or feel that everyone has the freedom to just act out their basest desires. There are ethics & morals to which we all agree, as human beings, and those must be upheld for our society & culture to thrive, i.e., murder, rape, child endangerment, abuse. If you don’t value those morals & ethics, then you go to jail or worse. That has nothing to do with religion, or at least shouldn’t, in my opinion. That’s what the separation of church & state is all about.
Which brings me back to the judgement I feel from you in asking me what else I’m doing besides posting & tweeting. It’s the part I feel gets lost by a lot of Christians in trying to discuss faith, religion, and how they apply to the fight against homophobia and equal rights for LGBT people. There are far too many people who base their fear on something their church has told them. All of them? No, certainly not; but enough to sway court rulings, criminal cases, elections, and how children are taught. That’s what I have a problem with.
But I’m veering off topic. Sorry.
If you think that I’m sitting here, isolated from the actual world, constantly reading internet data, and just “shaking my fists at the sky” by only posting on social media outlets, you’re wrong, and I’m not really sure what I can be expected to do about disavowing you of that belief.
Nor do I feel a need to, quite honestly.
I guess, I’d ask that you think of me throughout the total experience of our friendship and question whether you truly believe I’d just sit and broadcast my frustration without taking action. I’d ask that you have a little bit more faith in me. And, if you honestly think that’s all I’m capable of, or assume that I feel so limited…well, you’ve sorely misjudged me. I’ll understand if you want to “hide” me on Facebook, or even de-friend me. You certainly wouldn’t be the first to do either.
I’d be sad to see you go, but I’d understand.
May peace be with you, M. Just as it is with me. : )
A couple of weeks ago, Matt Gallaway posted a short piece about Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, realistically titled “Actually, for some of us it gets worse.” It wasn’t at all a rebuttal to the effort, but a “corollary” angle; he made that clear. Which is why I was sort of surprised that at least one reblogger got in a hizzy about it, pulling out her righteous indignation card and saying things like, “Even within our own community, out come the naysayers. Shame on you.” Because yeah, we all live in Barbie Dream Houses and we all date Ken and everybody loves us because Will & Grace was on the air for eight fucking seasons!
But OK, I get it. The idea that just in the past two months so many teenagers have killed themselves over being bullied, over being called “faggots,” over watching their roommates out them on Twitter with accompanying iChat video feeds — I’ve cried about this. Literally. Because I remember being young and white-knuckled over the knowledge that, someday, everyone will know. Everyone who ever called me a “faggot” would be justified. Every girl I ever kissed who knew something felt totally wrong would laugh at me, vindicated by my queerness. Every uncomfortable shrug I offered whenever the preacher at my family church condemned homosexuality would finally be decoded. The relief of actually living in the truth felt too abstract in comparison to the harsh realism of being shunned for simply existing.
Here’s what I didn’t know back then: It’s one thing to be perceived as a “faggot” when no one knows that you are, indeed, a faggot. But once they know for sure, it’s different. Living in fear of a secret relinquishes your power to a mythical “them,” but acknowledging that truth immediately strips them of that power. I have yet to hear a reasonable — or even cool-sounding — answer to the question, “So what if I’m gay?”
So yes. It can get better. But what that means is highly subjective and dependent on several other totally uncontrollable variables — and that’s a pretty cumbersome footnote to add to such a pithy slogan. At the very least, it gets complicated. Maybe that would have been a better name for this campaign.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched several video contributions for the It Gets Better project, and while this is not a scientific assertion, I do feel comfortable in making the generalization that an overwhelming amount of the stories I’ve heard inevitably follow a trajectory in which the gay person in question moves away from their hometown — and almost always to a larger metropolitan city where gays are known to migrate. This emerging subtext is kind of impossible to ignore considering such an important piece of fine print. It’s like, Hey! It gets better! But only after you leave your family behind and run away from that horrible place where you grew up.
If I’m being honest, and if I really try to go back to what it felt like to be a teenager, then I have to to say something a little bit heartbreaking about this ostensibly hopeful message: That’s not better. That’s like changing schools because your old principal refuses to do anything about the bully and patting yourself on the back.
In fact, I have an idea of what “better” looks like, and it’s not a dream. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes.
Last year, while I was working as a writing tutor in East New York — one of Brooklyn’s poorest and most persistently challenging urban neighborhoods — I met a young man we’ll call André. He was a high school senior, and he was easily one of the most well-liked kids in my classroom. André was tall, handsome, charismatic, masculine with delicate features. He was also crazy funny. So much so that whenever anyone else in the room made a joke, they immediately looked to him for his laugh of approval. He gave out this approval generously.
André is seventeen years old, African American, and openly gay.
He has a biological mother who accepts him unconditionally. He has an adopted “mother” in New York City’s gay ballroom scene that he absolutely adores and chose to write about for his project. He has the support of his school — both faculty and students — who seem to place a high premium on mutual respect and “being real,” rather than blindly adhering to any dominant heteronormative narrative.
He is also still poor and struggling and facing discrimination at every turn from the wider culture. But in that school, for eight hours a day, he is safe. André knows he has a future — for better or worse.
The fact is kids alone can’t make that possible. They need adults. Somebody at André’s school stayed in East New York and made it a point to nurture that kind of secure learning environment. Somebody realized that it kind of sucks to tell someone who is hurting that they will just have to wait until they turn 18 for things to get better, or that things will only get better when they move away. Somebody said, Fuck it. It’s going to get better now and it’s going to get better here.
For all of its goodwill and wonderful intention, there is a substantially missing element from the It Gets Better campaign missive: We are making life-or-death assertions that need more than the mere anecdotal evidence of our so-called fabulous lives to create any real faith in the message.