I don't know that my voice—added to the voices of so many who've already spoken so eloquently on the matter—will make a difference, but I'm taking a moment this morning to not only reflect on how grateful I am that I stuck it out, but also tell frightened teenagers that it gets better.
Being a teenager was, frequently, almost impossible for me. I just wasn't very good at it. I don't want to deny the positives: I had some great friends (thank you, ladies). But I was tormented for being gay, pretty much all through school. The adults in my life didn't give me the kind of support I needed. I was, at times, scared for my life. And I didn't value myself—my life—very much. I went pretty far in my efforts to harm myself, directly and indirectly.
But this isn't another sob story. (See my October 2009 blog post "Bullies" for that.)
I want to tell you now that, although being a teenager was rough, being a grownup has turned out to be pretty awesome. I think a lot of people get either a good few years in high school or a good several decades of adulthood. And if you're a bully target in high school, it means you're the second type of person. Trust me. Many of the fantastic, amazing, creative, brilliant, gorgeous people I know were terribly picked on (or just trying to be invisible) in high school.
Wait and see—you'll meet a bunch of similarly wonderful people someday, when you make it out of whatever craptastic teenage situation you're stuck in now.
When I was in my early 20s (20 years ago), self-identifying as gay meant (I thought) a life on the fringes of society, beyond what people considered "normal life." And that was fine with me, as I had fairly punk-rock sensibilities. Back then, being gay was something that "polite society" talked about "tolerating," like an offensive smell or bad weather.
Being gay isn't like that anymore. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people have moved out of the fringes and into the mainstream in a way the younger me could never have imagined. If you want to live a counterculture life, you still can. But if you want the whole white-picket-fence thing, that's a real option now, too. You can have any kind of life you want.
In some ways, I think this new acceptance of gays and lesbians actually makes things harder for some teens, because it has frightened a fast-shrinking minority of bigots into louder and more virulent anti-LGBT activity. They sound scary, and they motivate violence against us. But from my perspective of 40 years on the planet, I promise you: what we're hearing are this minority's last gasps. Their viewpoints are quickly becoming unacceptable to Americans. If you're a teenager now, these bigots will have all but disappeared from the national conversation by the time you're in your 40s. They'll be just one of those shameful blots on our country's history, as ridiculous and as despised as the KKK.
It gets better. It's getting better every day.
On a personal level, life has been wonderful. I'm so glad I made it. You know, I'm not rich or famous. I don't even have a partner to make an "It Gets Better" video with. And I love my life. I have amazing friends. Things got better with my family. I have work I enjoy. I've been all over the world, I've been in love, I've danced all night, I've laughed so hard I couldn't breathe, I've created art, I've been applauded, I've been upgraded to first class, and I've seen beautiful things (and terrible things that made me stronger). So much interesting stuff has happened to me—and I'm really quite average.
Years later, people I knew in high school have thanked me for being who I was—for setting an example of bravery (which I didn't realize at the time I was setting, and which you are setting, too). And a bully (or two) has even found me on Facebook and apologized to me (and, no surprise, come out to me as gay himself)—giving me the delicious experience of forgiving him.
I don't want any L, G, B, or T teenagers to miss all this good stuff that's ahead. Please hang on! We need you. So many people are on your side. I'm on your side. You can have an amazing life. If being a teenager is hard, if you're scared, if things seem impossible, find someone to talk to, and know that it gets better.