It. Blew. Chunks.
It was a time of desperately trying not to be shunted off to the margins. The most minor of infractions got you seated on the sidelines, which is where the hazing took place. If you managed to get out of the margins, you would do your damndest to keep anyone else from getting back in. Apparently the lessons of dodgeball are a little too literal - letting anyone else in somehow made you more vulnerable. It's a system built on fear and unsupported by any sense of real self-confidence. The fuckeduppedness of it all is that time goes at a different speed in high school, like dog years – one month of high school time equals seven months of human time.
Imagine if you’ve got something burbling beneath the surface beyond your garden-variety teen angst. Most everything about high school is related, in some way or another, to gender or sex dynamics. If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of teenagers who deviates from the accepted social norm of “healthy sexuality”, you’re fucked, so to speak. I had to try to act normal while going through some pretty non-normal sexual abuse on the homefront. (Try explaining to your boyfriend that you don’t want to go past second base because when you get home, you’ll be raped and have to do your trig homework and honestly, that’s enough for one day.)
Now, imagine you’re one of the lucky kids who deviates, but is still accepted. Oak Reed posted a message on Facebook asking people to vote for him for homecoming king. And they did – he won. The school stripped him of the title on the technicality that he’s registered at the school as a female. In effect, they robbed Oak of his right to choose his gender role. Very few people in the US have a healthy body image, which is closely tied in with your self-worth, regardless of what culture you’re from. If you don’t feel good about the way you’re presenting yourself to the world, you don’t feel good. Period.
It’s galling that a student put himself out there confidently and the school denied him and his classmates the opportunity to redefine normal. That is officially systematic persecution, institutionalized bullshit.
It doesn't instill a lot of hope for changing the system.
When I was a freshman in college, Matthew Shephard's death was shocking. He was tortured and left to die an agonizingly slow and painful death for being gay. We all thought it would be a wakeup call. More than ten years later and on the cusp of marriage equality, things still haven’t clicked in the high school world. At this point, it's exhausting and demoralizing. Recently, Billy Lucas, a teenager in Indiana killed himself after bullying at his high school escalated. He was only suspected of being gay.
His school’s response? Well, don't you worry there, because they are on top of that shit. In fact, they are forming a committee. Just like in Congress, and we all know how well that works.
A reader wrote into Savage Love expressing hopelessness and frustration at the situation. What the hell can we do?
One thing got me through high school. I had a handful of amazing teachers who had suspected that something wasn’t right. They offered me the best comfort they could:
It gets better.
And they were right. Here in adultland, high school seems a distant memory on Saturday nights when I’m surrounded by friends. Time moves faster and all the fucked up stuff that you thought was going to be the end of your life in high school are now fodder for funny stories to share over drinks. Dan Savage’s response is the same one that got me through high school.It gets better.
He’s started the It Gets Better project on YouTube to host videos from the LGBT community sending the message to high schoolers that life really does get better. My only hope is that they’ll expand the message to any kid who has lost power and self-confidence at the behest of their sexual circumstances or gender norm.
And because I'm a petty person, I'd also like to point out that not only does it get better, but the people who peak in high school generally live pretty menial lives while you're getting on with your adulthood awesomeness. You know that cheer - it's alright; it's ok! You're gonna pump our gas one day!Well, they might not be pumping your gas, but you'll find your comeuppance. Don't forget to tell them how incredibly awesome your life is.
Mine came one afternoon when I found a particularly heinous high school classmate clearly hating her job at the Customer Service counter, tucked away in the chilly blue fluorescent glare of the basement lighting in Filene's Basement. I smiled, thanked her for her service, and went back out into the bright sunshine.