The Season of Gay Whiplash

Illustration by Dienstelle 75

A few weeks ago, I found myself wondering whether the Logo reality show The A-List—in which a handful of vapidly handsome men make fools of themselves in the playground of Manhattan—would be “bad for the gays.” That this would even occur to me as a concern shows just how blissfully easy it can be to be a gay man in New York.

How embarrassingly silly that worry seems this week, with the news of the torture of three young gay men in the Bronx. That came on the heels of a string of gay-teen suicides nationwide, including one young man at Rutgers who felt so humiliated by his roommate that he jumped off the George Washington Bridge. And in the midst of it all, this state’s Republican nominee for governor declares that homosexuality is not a “valid or successful” option. As we were trying to process all of this, the Washington Post allowed Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council, to write a thuggish op-ed inspired by those suicides, as though his bigoted gay-conspiracy theories are legitimate.

It has been, at the very least, confusing. We live in an America where public outcry can make a major movie studio remove a gay joke from a trailer for a Vince Vaughn comedy, but also in an America where a movie studio felt it was okay to make the joke in the first place. After Carl Paladino’s remarks, Rudy Giuliani, who leans further right with each passing year, surprised us by calling his remarks “highly offensive,” and the usually boorish New York Post strained to take Paladino to task for it.

Meanwhile, judicial momentum is on the side of gay rights. Recently, federal courts have ruled against “don’t ask, don’t tell”; California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay couples there from marrying; and the Defense of Marriage Act. And yet—disconcertingly—the Obama administration, which says it favors repeal of DADT and DOMA, is appealing both.

Of course, this confluence of events feels more significant than it is: The court rulings are parts of legal processes set in motion months or even years ago. Paladino is an unhinged man who’d already alienated his party by saying whatever was on his bitter and unsympathetic mind. The Bronx assaults, which riveted the nation—even Glenn Beck railed against them on his show—were, sadly, not unprecedented. Yes, the half-dozen suicides in the past few months among gay kids, or kids who were bullied for seeming gay, are a devastatingly high number—but I suspect if we knew the real number of kids who kill themselves as a result of these pressures, year round, devastating wouldn’t even describe it. Which is why it’s such a good thing that these tragedies have brought bullying and the preponderance of depression among gay youth into the national conversation.

As kids come out at younger and younger ages, they face resistance and even hatred. Progress always is met with resistance, and as gay people appear more and more in the mainstream, blowback is inevitable from those who don’t want to see them. These aren’t just people who don’t want to watch The A-List. These are people who don’t want to watch gays and lesbians living in their neighborhoods, or teaching in their schools.

So even though it feels like something is happening—because people are talking, because headlines are being written, because rage and sorrow are being expressed—in reality, progress is just a very long, winding path. It’s one that often seems to double back and take us through some scary places.

Which is why I’ve been fascinated with the popularity of the “It Gets Better” project on YouTube, in which grown-ups make videos to tell gay kids that things will be easier in the future, when they are out of school, or when they are simply older and more comfortable with who they are. “It Gets Better.” Not “Here, I’ll Make It Better.” The passive voice betrays the seeming helplessness of the situation. We really can’t do much to immediately ease the circumstances of bullied young people.

But still, I like the “It Gets Better” videos. I like their generosity. They make me tear up, even though I didn’t have such a rough go of it in school. I’m 29, and I know I’m fortunate; it has gotten better for my generation. But even I like to be reassured that the path is forward, if not straight.

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The Season of Gay Whiplash