Zinnia Jones: It gets better!

Uploaded by ZJemptv on 07.10.2010

Dan Savage recently started the It Gets Better campaign as a way for gays and lesbians to
reach out to kids who are being bullied, harassed or discriminated against, and tell them that
life does get better. It's a really great idea, because kids who are gay or think they
might be gay don't always get much support from the people who are supposed to stand
up for them: their school, their community, their church, sometimes even their own family.
It's really difficult to grow up like that, and it's important for them to know that things
can improve, and there's a lot to look forward to. Someone said that I should make a message
for the project, but I wasn't really sure how helpful I could be. I mean, I dropped
out of school when I was 14. That's when most kids start high school! I was never bullied
that much, least of all for being gay. At that age, I still wasn't totally sure I was
gay, and it didn't seem like anyone else noticed. I haven't been to college, so I can't really
talk about the tolerant and liberal atmosphere of higher education that you can look forward
to. I haven't moved out of the conservative little suburb I grew up in and headed for
a more gay-friendly urban area. So, how exactly can I relate to these kids and tell them that
it'll get better? Well, I still made it through some tough times, and for me at least, it
did get better. Here's how it was for me. When I was really young, my school decided
that I should just skip first and second grade because I already knew most of it, and move
up to the third grade. So I was always in classes with kids who were a couple years
older than me. That made it kind of hard to get along with them. There wasn't any hostility
between us, they just didn't always see me as an equal, and treated me more like a curiosity
rather than someone to relate to. Meanwhile, me and the other kids my age could hardly
even understand each other, and we didn't have much in common. So I ended up not having
that many friends when I was growing up, and yet, nobody really gave me any trouble either.
It was more like there was a kind of unbridgeable gulf between us, and I was just entirely outside
of their social sphere. So I know what it's like to be left out and treated like you're
something fundamentally different from everyone else. Now, once I got to high school, things
started going downhill. I was only 12 years old, and everyone there was two, three, four,
five years older than me.
This is what I looked like in the 10th grade.
It was kind of overwhelming, and I don't think I was prepared for it. I was never really
that good at schoolwork, even though everyone seemed to think I would be. And while I was
struggling with that, my family was going through a really nasty divorce, and everything
going on at home made it almost impossible to focus on school. It's hard to care about
your work when you don't know if you're even going to be safe in your own home. So, even
if I wasn't harassed at school, I know what it's like to worry about your own safety every
day. It was an absolute nightmare. And things just got worse and worse. I failed a lot of
classes, I had to go to psychiatrists, some people in my family even accused me of being
on drugs. That really threw me for a loop. I mean, I can't even fail on my own? Everyone
around me seemed to be so personally and deeply wounded by me not doing well in school, and
the pressure that came from constantly disappointing all of them was just too much to bear. I had
headaches all the time from the stress, I was missing a lot of school, and eventually
things reached a breaking point. It was decided that I should just drop out, because this
definitely wasn't getting any better. So I left school when I was 14, right before junior
year. And almost immediately, it did get better! I stopped being stressed out all the time,
the divorce was finalized and we got away from my mom's ex, and I just felt unbelievably
better about everything. Maybe that's not how you're supposed to feel about dropping
out, but it really did help me. It was like hitting the eject button before you crash
into the ground. So after that, I just spent a few years hiding out from the world and
putting myself back together. And now that I had so much time on my hands, I could spend
all day learning everything I wanted to. It was wonderful, better than it ever was at
school. I practiced my writing, and gradually got better at it. I started to become the
person that I wanted to be, not the person everyone else wanted me to be. And at the
same time, I became more and more certain that I was gay. At that point, I didn't tell
anyone, because I didn't really know how, and I had no idea how they would react. It
would take a few more years before I was comfortable enough and brave enough to come out. When
I was 18, I got my GED, which was incredibly easy. Practically anyone can get a GED, it's
not difficult at all. Then when I was 19, I started making videos for the internet,
which I really love doing. It ended up being more successful than I expected, and it's
become kind of a full-time hobby for me. And then, in 2009, I finally came out to my family.
I was so worried about how it would go, and it was really scary to just tell them, but
thankfully, they were all totally accepting, and it was such a relief. I was so happy to
not have to hide it anymore. So, now that I'm out -- out of school, out of the closet,
and into a larger world -- I can tell you: There are lots of people out there who are
just like you, and they will accept you and appreciate you for who you are. And whoever
you are, there is a place for you -- a place where you belong. You just have to find it.
But in the meantime, if you're stuck in a terrible place full of awful people who don't
treat you right, here's what's going on. A lot of younger people have this issue where
they're not able to understand that other people are the same as them, that other people
have feelings like them, and that other people are actually real and don't deserve to be
hurt. They really can't see that there's something wrong with what they do to people. It's like
they're just missing a part of themselves. These people are either going to grow up and
feel really bad about how they treated others, or they won't, and they'll spend their entire
lives being miserable assholes who drive away everyone around them. You, however, are already
ahead of the game. As much as it hurts sometimes, at least you have the ability to feel. You
are something more than they are: More human. Some of those people will never be like you.
They may never be that human. The people who are abusing and mistreating you right now
are going to be the losers. They are going to be the foolish ones. There is no place
for them in the much-acclaimed "real world", where bigots and bullies are obsolete and
laughable. Nobody will want to be around them. These people amount to nothing. But people
like you are the ones who succeed. People who are tolerant, kind, sensitive and decent.
People who treat others well and just want to live in peace. That's a life worth living.
I can't guarantee that it will get better for you. I don't know that. But it will get
different, and it will change. You'll have more opportunities and fewer limitations.
You won't be forced into a building full of thousands of people every day to be harassed
by them with no recourse. If your family doesn't accept you, you can leave. If your church
doesn't respect you, you won't have to go. If where you live is full of terrible people,
you can move someplace better. You'll have choices, and you'll have the chance to become
whoever and whatever you want to be. As long as you make it through this. In all honesty,
I don't know what anyone could have said to me at that age to convince me that things
would get better. I don't think I would have believed them. And I don't want to be one
of those people who says, "oh, you'll understand when you're older", but I had to grow up and
see it for myself. And it *was* better. I could never have imagined how amazing my life
would be, and I'm so glad I'm around to see it. Everyone deserves that opportunity. Please,
don't throw it away. It does get better.