Today, Jason on The Wild Hunt blog linked to my various posts here on Spirit Day. I’ve been seeing a lot more traffic here than usual, as a result, and several other folks have done so as well. I appreciate the implied approval of my efforts here!
However, in the comments on The Wild Hunt post above, I am taking a lot of heat about “missing the point” of all the Spirit Day, “It Gets Better,” and so forth projects and efforts. A lot of this critique is coming from gay men, who have also said disparaging things about me being closeted or using a pseudonym. I’ll leave that aside at present, and address the main issue that these critiques have raised (most of which, it seems to me, have probably not read my full entries on these topics, but instead have just read the excerpt given by Jason in his entry).
What these various critics have generally said is that the point of all these efforts is to give hope to those who are in danger, because hope is what will keep them alive. Hope is not a bad thing at all, and indeed through more situations in my life than I’d like to admit, living in hope has been about all I could do. But, hope isn’t enough.
Hope can be a false mistress. No matter how much one hopes certain things will change or get better or an outcome one seeks might arise, one can rarely be certain that it will turn out that way. Note that people who are successful and content in their lives don’t hope that their fifty job applications turn up an interview, or hope that the next paycheck will get them through bills and food the next month, they simply live in assurance that these things are taken care of. When such a person is hit with cancer, for example, they’ll then learn the value of hope; but if, like many, they find that their insurance won’t cover treatment, or won’t get them the best treatment available, they’ll hope until their last breath that there will be a way out…and they may not have their hopes fulfilled, unfortunately. Telling people in difficulty that they should hope more is horrible, especially when one might be able to help in more direct ways.
[Let's also ignore the fact, for the moment, that all of the Christians out there who are praying that all the LGBTQI people will see the error of their ways and convert to Christ are also using hope as a weapon against us. While this doesn't sour the overall usefulness or importance of hope for anyone/everyone else, nonetheless, let's keep this in perspective. They are carrying signs that say "God Hates Fags" in front of Iraqi soldier funerals because they have hope that we'll embrace their message and see the error of our ways.]
The “It Gets Better” campaign is a good thing, if it does give people the hope to carry on–do not get me wrong, I am not saying the program shouldn’t exist, or that it is a bad thing. I’m saying that it isn’t enough, there needs to be more alongside it, and that the complacency that many are having as a result of saying “Well, you’re just knocking these things down” really needs to be examined for the privilege and security that belies such viewpoints. If all that is sustaining someone is hope, as soon as that hope is broken or in any way compromised, then that person’s reason to carry on and continue trying despite difficulties is suddenly robbed of them, and they have nothing. Far too often, those who live on hope either die on hope or die in its absence. Hope isn’t enough.
Telling bullied LGBTQI kids that they need to have hope, and that in time things will change, is the equivalent of telling a caged and tortured slave “Keep hope alive–in a few years, you might be free like I am!” Meanwhile, the torture and forced labor and horrific conditions continue. And while I wish it were possible to, in this metaphor, free the enslaved now, it is sadly not possible. Thus, telling them in the meantime, “Well, keep hoping” just seems cruel. I’d like to give them a shield in the meantime so that the torture isn’t as damaging as it was; I’d like to give them a sword to rise up against their oppressors; and I’d like most of all to give them a key to unlock their own chains and fling open the doors of their own cages. I wish there were more options open to me to do this for them. So, in the meantime, I don’t want to just say “Keep hope alive!” and if you survive the next few years, you might be free; I want to say that there are ways to loosen those chains and make the whip sting less strongly, even if I can’t give those keys and shields and swords to them right now. Thus I offer what I’ve offered here.
So, the steady stream of hope that is coming from these various efforts is a good thing, and I would not ever suggest that it shouldn’t occur. But, I think we can’t stop there. I don’t ever want to tell someone who is drowning just to hope and pray (ironically enough!), I want to throw them a rope if I have one, or a life ring if I have one, even if I can’t come out in a boat and lift them into safety immediately. Those of us who are not drowning have a responsibility to do this, I think.