by Dan Savage
on Tue, Apr 12, 2011 at 6:53 AM
Got this question last night at Cornell University...
Cornell professor Ritch Savin-Williams said in the New York Times that he's concerned that it's not about gay youth, but about gender-atypical kids. Is the "It Gets Better" campaign too narrowly focused?
The kids who suffer the most from anti-gay bullying—the prime targets—are the gender-nonconforming kids, i.e. the sissies and the tomboys, the kids who can't pass for straight. And some of the kids who can't pass for straight are straight. Most kids who are gender nonconforming, or gender atypical, are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans, and the IGBP was created to reach out to these queer kids. But the messages at the IGBP are relevant to straight gender-atypical kids, and we know that straight-but-gender-nonconforming kids are watching the videos, commenting on them, taking hope from them, and contributing their own videos.
But, yes, we have to address issues around gender—gender expectations and stereotypes—to truly address anti-gay bullying. We can learn to recognize rough gender norms without stigmatizing or punishing kids who depart from those norms. We also need to remember that it's not just the non-passing, gender-atypical kids who suffer in environments were anti-gay bullying or homophobic speech is tolerated or encouraged. Even the kids who can pass—the gender-conforming queer kids out there—suffer. Kids who no one suspects are gay witness anti-gay violence, listen to anti-gay statements made by thoughtless and bigoted friends and family members, and feel despair. They worry about being outed, they feel like frauds, they doubt that their families truly love them, and they can wind up feeling just as terrorized and suicidal as the kids who are the primary targets of anti-gay bullying and harassment.