I have signed only a handful of petitions in my life for the simple reason that after I have logged in to Change.org and recorded how I feel about a certain situation and all of the encompassing reasons, there is no follow up.
After I’ve clicked that “submit” button and realize months down the line, that I have never received any feedback or insight as to whether or not I have even made a difference. This is the point where I question the usefulness of online petitions.
However, Dan Savage recently gave a speech at the University of Chicago after being invited by the college to give a lecture on It Gets Better (an online project for future white cis men by white cis men from privileged backgrounds delivering platitunal encouragement for Savage’s profit). During the speech, Dan Savage (in tandem with UChicago’s Institute of Politics) used transmisogynistic language.
Many trans students who had protested the event to begin with met with the IOP following the incident, but the college refused to apologize or prohibit transmisogynist slurs/lecturers from being featured in the future.
Last week, I felt compelled to sign a change.org petition for the basic reason that Dan Savage already really annoys the living crap out of me. It Gets Better videos annoy the living crap out of me. Transphobic language and objectification of minority groups by supposed media professionals doesn’t just annoy the crap out of me- it infuriates me.
Why is the Elevation of Pundits such as Dan Savage Socially Damaging?
It’s actually completely unacceptable and socially damaging to undermine a portion of your audience, to misrepresent them in such a way that signifies them as something “other” that can be ridiculed and imposed upon.
This all too regular occurrence signifies that divide where you stop being a medium for your audience to receive and assess valid and pertinent information, and where you quite simply become a self-aggrandizing product, celebrating your own awesomeness at the expense of large portions of a potential audience.
As a gay teenager, my favourite movie was The Craft- the one where Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Fairuza Balk and Rachel True are teenage witches.
It’s about outcasts who happen to be pretty good at putting freaky spells on annoying, shitty people, before they learn (with the exception of Fairuza Balk) that it’s better to just change your own situation organically instead of chanting mumbo jumbo to alter other people’s realities. It’s a stupid teen movie, but I liked it back then.
Who Does the It Gets Better Project Serve?
If I had seen an It Gets Better video as a teen, I’m not certain I would have been wild at the idea of turning into one of those absolute, walking assholes in the videos. I wanted to like who I was then– not what I could become one day. If Dan Savage had been a public figure at that time, he would have gotten an instant Itchy Crotch spell from me that I had learned from watching The Craft too many times.
On the surface, Dan Savage’s project/product smacks of egotistical privilege wanking. It’s the no makeup selfie where only Dan Savage profits. It’s slacktivism where you actually put in quite a lot of effort only to not make a difference; and young gays, at best, get to watch a few videos that complete and utter self-satisfied douchebags made about themselves, for themselves.
Then a suicidal gay teen just goes back to dealing with a life that’s still heavily stacked against them. Classrooms in which they prefer not to speak, playgrounds where they prefer not to run or draw attention to themselves, and solitary lunch periods spent just generally trying to avoid aggravation.
A Few Things to Remember about Gay Teen Suicide
Researchers have found that attempted suicide rates and suicidal ideation among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth is comparatively higher than among the general population.
It’s under-reported in the news but gay teen suicide is alarmingly common. Even the Queer press can’t keep track of the sizable number of tragic stories due to the existence of a possible double stigma (depending on each individual case) of homosexuality and suicide. I would hazard a pretty confident guess that It Gets Better has done nothing to ease the epidemic of Queer youth committing or attempting suicide.
-Developmental psychologist Ritch Savin-Williams argues that the It Gets Better Project “promotes a false ‘suffering suicidal script.’” He also presents as evidence the past surveys attached to It Gets Better have a bias built in and do not accurately portray that presently there has “never been a better time to be young and gay.”
-He argues that we should not be sending the message that “it gets better” but that “life can be good now,” saying ‘things get better’ sends the message that suicide and poor mental health are normal processes for queer/non-heterosexual teens.
– He notes that the suicide and bullying are more easily attributed to gender nonconformity than sexuality itself, “straight youth who are gender-atypical suffer as much as gay kids.”
–Associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah, Lisa Diamond studied adolescents in Salt Lake City and found that, although LGBTQ youth were more likely to make friends with non-white and differently able children, they lead ‘ordinary lives’ and are just as well-adjusted as their straight counterparts.
We’re Learning that the Solution to Intolerance is Conformity
The main issue is that conformity is not the solution to non-conformity, as Dan Savage and his brigade put it so annoyingly, in their self-directed amateur film-making efforts.”You’ll fit in someday” is horseshit.
You don’t have to conform. You don’t have to be “straight acting” to be accepted by your straight peers. You don’t have to be a stereotypical homosexual to be accepted by gays.
Having grown up in the West of Ireland, I was in my mid-twenties by the time I met a trans person for the first time when I lived in Australia. I was standing in a club, waiting for a date to arrive and struck up a conversation with a Singaporean lady, whose name I now forget. I guess I’m not cool with new things and began the conversation really guardedly.
Once she got a hint of my accent and the fact that I was Irish, she used this information to sing the words “And I swear it all over again” (A line from a Westlife song) every time I finished a sentence.
It was from this stupid but funny recurrence that we began to be able to ask deeper questions about each other. The end result was drunken dancing and a really fun night. No assumptions made or predictions cast– just a focus on good, present-tense fun.
Interactivity over Objectification
The other major point in the Dan Savage conversation is that there are way more interactive ways for Queer teens to tackle isolation and bullying issues, some of which are run by The Trevor Project, including helplines and online forums that are moderated by trained staff to create a safe and hassle free environment for its users.
Have you noticed that boy who is also reluctant to partake in sports? Well why not strike up a conversation? Ask him what sport he thinks is the most annoying. See that girl alone in the cafeteria who reads too much? Ask her for a book recommendation. These are proposals to suggest that it can be even slightly better right now.
The fact is that a lot of the people you will meet in your life will be absolute dicks. People who make videos that reinforce how shitty your life is, are not going to make it better. Dan Savage is a documented Transphobic, Biphobic, Misogynist.
Despite his “teachings”, never forget the fact is that there are people in your immediate surroundings who feel just as much of a misfit as you do, and these people could be the start of instant mutually beneficial associations. This is where “It Actually Gets Better”. Not when you have finally achieved all the trappings of a white picket fence life and have paid your dues, earned by serving your seven seasons in hell as a homosexual teen.
Essentially, when he’s taking a break from criticizing female rape survivors, Savage’s gleeful transphobia is directly harmful to the work he claims to be a champion of: By objectifying, dehumanizing and disrespecting trans audiences, he’s further highlighting the depressing idea that “It Gets Better” only if you’re exactly like him: a douchebag.
Most of all: Fuck Dan Savage and everything he stands for. I don’t know if it will make a difference but sign the petition at Change.org.
FURTHER READING (because I’m not linking everything in the post):
RESOURCES FOR MEDIA PROFESSIONALS DEALING WITH TRANS STORIES
GLAAD Media Reference Guide- Glossary of Terms for Transgender Stories