It doesn’t always get better

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the It Gets Better Project.  In some ways I agree, there are very few things worse than high school.  At the same time, I feel like this is one of those times being transsexual is different from being gay.

For me, it hasn’t gotten better.  Not enough.  I am still trans.  I still wake up every morning and am slightly surprised that my lower half is entirely different from what I feel like it should be.  I still have days, weeks, sometimes even months where seeing myself without a shirt and pants is physically painful.  I still have times where I wonder if that pain is worth it.

Part of this is because I have chemically based depression.  Just like being trans, that isn’t something that is going to change.  I’ve known that for far longer and have mostly come to terms with it.  However, coming to terms with it has not made things any easier.

I admit, my life is much better than it was before I came out.  I have words for my feelings now.  I’ve found people who feel the same way and can sympathise, even if they can’t fix things.  I’ve treated my condition in the only way anyone knows how to treat it: with legal documents and hormone injections and therapy to help with all the things that aren’t solved with a simple shot.

I no longer am so caught up in my own nameless pain that I can’t function.  I have a successful career, incredibly close friends, and a generally decent life.  Not amazing, I’m not rich or famous or anything, but good.  In the most basic of ways my life is better than I could have imagined at 16.

Unfortunately, there will always be reminders.  My trans related depression was never linked to people disapproving.  It was never linked to bullying or bigotry.  It wasn’t even really related to society’s perception of my gender.  No, my depression was always due to the knowledge that I would never be fully comfortable in my own body.

Some of that has gotten better.  I enjoy my tenor voice.  I like the feel of slightly rough skin when I rub my face.  I love that my slim build now allows me to develop the long, elegant muscles that I wished for during years of ballet classes.  I will never be a bulky man, but my toned abs are a particular point of pride.

Those things are nice.  Very nice, actually.  However, they don’t make up for what I lack.  They help.  They allow me just enough strength to push through the depression.  Most of the time they’re enough to keep it away entirely.  There are still moments.  Moments when it feels like nothing in the world will help because medical science isn’t moving fast enough and likely never will move fast enough, not when being transsexual is seen as something deviant rather than a condition to be treated.  Not when medical professionals view us with emotions ranging from mild curiosity to outright disgust rather than compassion and dignity.

Yes, it has gotten better.  It also has not.  I am no longer a terrified young adult.  I no longer worry about being shut out from society.  I no longer look in the mirror and fail to recognise the face that looks back at me.  However, these things all come with their own drawbacks.  I am not afraid, but I am aware.  Aware that there are people in the world who hate me simply because I exist.  I am not isolated, but in some ways that hurts more.  It hurts when I have to decide whether I trust someone enough to disclose.  I recognise myself, but that’s just another reminder.  Every day I am faced with the reality that sometimes I don’t have the mental or emotional energy to look past my waist.

For me it wasn’t quite as simple as leaving high school and coming out.  I wish it was.  It’s not so bad that I feel like killing myself every day as I did when I was in my late teens, but it’s also not all better.  I’m not going to lie to people and say it is.  It’s hard.  Some days it still feels impossible.  I still keep sharp objects and all ingestible medications locked away.  Most days I don’t need to.  Some days I do.

Not all of us will ever be fully ok.  Some of us will always feel that pain, will always have to fight against our darker emotions.  Is it worth it?  I don’t know.  For me, today, it is.  Tomorrow I may have a different answer.  Point is, we keep fighting.  I don’t know if that makes us stupid or strong, but we do it anyway.

30 thoughts on “It doesn’t always get better

  1. Just wanted to say how much I agree with your main point. When I tell people about having depression or how my mother is sick, people always tell me it’ll get better. Not only is this bullshit, it has set me up for even more disappointment when I realized that the real world is just as homophobic, racist, sexist and transphobic as the rest of society and my mother will never get better. This past week has been really difficult to deal with, and I couldn’t really point out why this campaign bothers me so much. It may get better, it may not. The focus shouldn’t be on outlasting pain that may never end, but to accept yourself and find support. Anyway, I’m just glad you wrote this.

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  2. I agree there are things in life that don’t get better and it’s bullshitting to pretend they are. This is not a muscial where everything turns out happy-happy. (there was a text at Bilerico about that by a gay cis guy)
    The campaign still makes sense because the main reason why people are miserable in high school is because they can’t leave. They are minors, they are financially dependent. They are in a completely different legal space. And *that* changes. It makes a world of difference when you have more choices because of legal and (relative) financial independence.

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  3. I think that the “it gets better” idea is a bit of a stretch for everyone; it’s not magic. Time won’t heal all wounds or make your life automatically awesome. I think that growing out of teenage-hood, regardless of your experience in highschool, though, goes a long way to it getting better.

    I think the point of the campaign is right – reminding kids that it won’t such THIS BAD forever. Yes, it will still suck at times. But as adults, we are frequently able to handle it better because we’re not such a hot mess of hormones, newness and inexperience combined with a proscriptive and stifling environment and complete financial dependency on others.

    I struggle with depression too and being older hasn’t really lessened that struggle, but I have better tools now for dealing with it as a result of having lived with it for so long.

    I know it’s not perfect but I really do like the idea of “it gets better” for all teens, regardless of their trans (or not) experience or sexuality. Being a teenager is especially rough because you have no perspective. It seems like it’s all or nothing. I think it’s great that grown ups want to reach out to them in a really honest way and show examples of how it CAN work.

    My “it gets better” video would probably be kind of sucky…

    “Dear 15 year old self: You think it’s awful right now and it will never get better. Guess what? It doesn’t, but You will.

    You will learn that the things that devastate you now are normal. Everyone has something similar. You are not as unique as you believe; because everyone has aspects of themselves that are terrifying and beautiful and bizarre. This will comfort you later and allow you to dance in clubs without being self conscious.

    You will learn that people are generally good and want to be loved, even while they’re spewing hate and that the very best offense is to channel Sailor Moon and harness the power of your love and the connections between you and your friends and family.

    You will learn that it is okay to be single, fat, transsexual and queer. You will stop asking peoples’ permission for being who you are and you will find them accepting you more often because you’re giving them no excuse not to.

    It will not be perfect, it will never be perfect but it will be really, really nice sometimes and you will, overall, believe that this exercise (life) is worth doing.”

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    • Skcup wrote: “Dear 15 year old self: You think it’s awful right now and it will never get better. Guess what? It doesn’t, but You will.”
      It’s not as catchy, but this is a much better campaign slogan.

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    • I think it’s also true that it doesn’t get better *immediately*. My 20s were terrible, *much* worse that my teens (my teens were good because the bullying stopped at age 12). But after 30, I started to get more savvy and get a hang of things. I was actually beginning to solve problems. Life is difficult when you’re under 30, because life is something thatt akes a lot of learning, at least that’s how it was for me.

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    • I think you should make that video, maybe some kid whose not being helped by all the “it’ get’s better” stuff will see it and it will be exactly what they needed to hear.

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  4. But it does get better after high school, at least in the sense that you’re no longer so trapped. If you need to move, to quit your job, to get away from someone, you can do it and the cops won’t come find you and drag you back. Legally, as an adult you’re actually a human being with rights. You’re entitled to legal protection from things like assault and battery and stalking and harassment. You won’t be required under penalty of law to endure day after day in a tiny room with your assailant three seats behind you. That’s “better.”

    It may not be enough better – you might still want to kill yourself in your twenties – but it’s enough that it’s worth enduring and trying to survive to find out.

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    • For the first time since I was in high school, I find myself in a situation in which I am stuck. I cannot move, quit my job, get away from anything and the cops only care what happens to me because a family member is a cop nearby. There are many many queers that find themselves in the same exact town, with the same exact people they went to high school with, living with the same exact family who still doesn’t accept them. For some people, things don’t change and they never will. What do we say to them? That’s because things don’t change, you’re shit out of luck? There are much better ways for us to provide support queer youth.

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      • Why can’t you leave? Do you have a court order requiring you to stay?

        There’s a big, gigantic, enormous, insurmountable difference between being stuck for economic reasons (where, if you really wanted to, if you found your situation absolutely intolerable, even if you had no money at all, you could pack up your most cherished belongings into a backpack and walk away to go live in a shelter) and being stuck for legal reasons (where if you did the above, you could be arrested and forcibly returned home, and if you managed to evade arrest you’d have to eke out a living as a legal non-entity who can’t work a legal job, can’t go to most shelters, can’t rent an apartment, and likely can’t even get identification).

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        • There’s a level of victim-blaming in this that I’m not entirely comfortable with. I understand what you’re getting at, but I’m sure there must be a way of phrasing it that doesn’t amount to “if you’re an adult stuck in a horrible place you must just not want to get out enough.”

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          • I guess this is a sore point for me because of how often I hear people use the “adults can feel stuck/trapped too” line to minimize the severity of the situation kids are in. I totally get that an adult can be stuck in a horrible place. But for an adult, the option to leave exists – it can just be extremely unattractive if you don’t have much money. But an adult – any mentally competent and physically nondisabled adult who’s not in the military – can leave, if they find themselves in a situation that’s worse than living out of a backpack at a homeless shelter.

            For a kid, the option to leave legally doesn’t exist, and pragmatically amounts to something just short of suicide. it’s dramatically worse for kids. Not that it can’t get really really bad for adults – it can, I’ve been there, I’ve been to the point where it was almost so bad that walking away seemed better…and then I’ve been past that point, and walked away. Tried that once when I was 12, too…cops found me, brought me home, my mom locked me in the basement for a week with no food. It works way better when you’re 20.

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          • I get that it can be worse for kids that have no real power (trust me, I really do) I also know what it’s like to be homeless and poor. I know what it’s like to be excluded from things for being autistic, anxious, and depressed. Excluding all mentally disabled, physically disabled folk, military folk, sick people, and poor people is why I’m so angry at this entire campaign. The people that desperately need help once again fall through the cracks of a social justice movement.

            These videos are not made for or by poor and/or differently-abled folk. If they were, the message would face reality a little more directly and acknowledge that often your reality does not and will never get better. Dealing with this fact is one of the hardest things to do, in my opinion. There are things one can do to make life more bearable, but these are things that don’t get taught in a sappy youtube video.

            I get that this means a lot to people, but to me, it mostly tells me how much we’ve all failed in helping our fellow queers. Kids need much more than a pity party and false hope. There’s a whole culture of bullying that is part of American culture, for all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. Schools need major reform and it’s not just queer people who desperately need help.

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          • You about summed up everything I was going to say in replies. Ta.

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          • I’m think I took this issue too personally. Sorry if I got too intense about it.

            For what it’s worth, Dan Savage has started supporting an alternate campaign, Make It Better (http://makeitbetterproject.org/) that focuses on specific anti-bullying legislation and helping schools form gay-straight alliances.

            Also, the Trevor Project (http://www.thetrevorproject.org/) is a great resource for queer youth that need help now.

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  5. I have to add that I didn’t look at the videos in the campaign yet, I just stated watching the one in the link and had to laugh so hard when I heard that both of Dan Savage’s parents were catholic ministers or something Why doesn’t that surprise me to the least?

    NA, about your initial post- there is a real difference between suffering because of bullying etc or suffering because of an inner state like gender dysphoria, I guess.

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  6. I have looked at the initial video and I think people are mostly pissed off because of that. The first part is ok but when they start about Paris and skiing- omg That’s a bit too much even for me.

    There are so many different people posting though that I am really impressed by the project.

    um, and here’s Chris Colfer’s message 😉
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RKmnAJ3ZWM

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  7. So far the only celebrity video I’ve really liked was Tim Gunn’s, he doesn’t talk about being bullied (because if he had I wouldn’t of been able to relate to it, I myself was never bullied) but does discuss a suicide attempt as a teenager and how he’s glad now it didn’t work but at the time he wasn’t so pleased that it failed.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GGAgtq_rQc&feature=player_embedded

    The fact that most of the videos focus on being bullied as a reason kids are comiting suicide kinda bugs me, because every time I’ve contemplated suicide it’s not been because of bullying, it’s been mostly from my own internalized fears, worries, self hatred etc etc and in a way this campaign is kinda saying “if you’re suicidal because others bullied you into it than it’s sad and here’s help, but if they didn’t than you have no excuse/ there’s no help for you.”

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  8. As much as I understand why you all feel this way, the whole point of the project started because someone told Dan after Billy Lucas’ death that, “If only I had had 5 minutes to talk to the kid to tell him that it gets better.” The project is about trying to save whatever lives can be saved just by comforting someone enough to see a life beyond the hurt they’re going through. It’s aimed at bullying-related suicides because that’s what people are seeing more and more in the news lately. Yes, they’re are more reasons to commit suicide, but that’s why there’s programs like The Trevor Project and other suicides-prevention programs out there. They don’t cater to one type of case.

    Of course, the project isn’t perfect. Even I submitted a video and wished that I had said things a little differently, but that’s not the point. People are trying to reach out to someone through these videos to give them just enough hope to maybe keep them alive. I didn’t submit a video because the whole world was doing it, I did it because I hoped that my words would make a difference in someone’s life. And if it only helped just one person, that is still one less person helped had I not done that video.

    I’m not asking you to agree with the way the project is implemented or by what a lot of the submitters talk about. I’m just asking you to at least try to see it in the spirit that it was intended. The project wasn’t meant to mislead, gloss over, or simply ignore the pain of life’s vicissitudes. It was meant to comfort, inspire, and give hope to the people the project CAN help. It might not be able to save everyone, but it can save someone.

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    • Oh I understand the point of the project. I’m just sick of people acting like the *only* reason GLBT kids kill themselves is bullying. Plenty of us are just bloody depressed and we end up being ignored. We’re all told that life will be amazing when you manage to runaway to the gay meccas of NYC, LA, and San Francisco (nevermind that that’s not feasible for all of us, let alone desired) and if it’s not…well, too bad for you then.

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  9. A good number of the videos don’t talk about just bullying, some talk about fighting labels, others talk about how the situation may not always get better but the person’s ability to deal with it does, etc. I think people who are submitting videos are recognizing that anti-gay bullying isn’t the only source of depression facing teenagers these days. Hate to say but Dan has vaguely mentioned the trans people who submit videos for the project when I’m sure he’s aware that trans people have a higher suicide rate than homosexuals.

    Hopefully schools and smalls towns get the picture, but I know some of them won’t. I’m sure there’s help for people suffering from general forms of depression but, if it’s not well…then maybe I should consider working towards fixing that 🙂

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  10. I think it makes a big difference if you live at home where your parents don’t accept you or if you live on your own where you can close the door behind you. So, yes, it does get better then once you move out. Got through it (not with trans, with “bisexuality”, mind you).

    I had strong suicidal tendencies during my teenage years and anything that helped me there was welcome, as I struggled against killing myself daily. I made my testament etc. So I think, altogether, the campaign is good as it helps people in their most vulnerable phases.

    However, the gay scene is far from perfect and it seems to be a taboo to tell openly about its flaws. Which is bad as well as the youth should know that they won’t find a mecca, but a scene which is much about casual sex. Not that I mind casual sex, but it’s not much substance for a subculture.

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  11. I’ve experienced the gay scene in a big town very differently when I was younger, because lots of political and cultural stuff was happening. It was just amazing. Obviously we didn’t get free skiing holidays though 😉
    For me the biggest problem was the phase in between when I was moving out but still too young to really make money and organize my life. That was very hard, and the gay subculture won’t help you with that. I think there is a common danger that kids get “lost” before they can settle down. For me it was certainly that way. Add the trans thing, and you have a very fragile, dangerous mixture.

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  12. Pingback: The dark times | Not Another Aiden

  13. I read your blog post and as a transgirl who is just started transitioning(2 months on hrt and 6 months rlt) I have to say that a lot of what you said is exactly what the back of my mind thinks. I know I’ll most likely be happier(and I am on the hormones, not suicidal and angst ridden as before), but there is this Dark Passenger(to quote Dexter Morgan) that is in the dark corners of my mind and is always saying “why bother?”

    A part of it is because of the thing I’ll never, as you aptly mentioned. I’ll never be a young girl and experience it because I am transitioning at 30 year old. I will never(unless science becomes mad with progress) experience what it is to give birth, to carry a child, and be a biological mother. These things tear at me from the inside and I weep.

    Before starting out I saw a microscopic scan of an egg during ovulation. How it came to be positioned and so on. I started to cry as I knew my body would never do that.

    For me I could never wish upon another person to be transgender. It is a hurtful existence, and those of us who still live are incredibly strong, but what I fear for myself(and most likely others do as well) is that this strength might erode with time.

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  14. I think accepting and dealing with chemical depression is something to which I can relate. And I think standing against oppressive ways of thinking or institutions by having people around you that don’t treat you as a biological curiosity is important. Our society deems ‘deviance’ as anything that is not the heterosexual marriage ideal. It sickens me most of the time when I hear ‘it’s a choice.’ Humanity is, by and large, very open to making everyone The Other and not giving a fuck. But I sincerely mean to keep on going despite our biased society. Some struggles are worth the attempt at survival.

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