This week three different people have basically given similar for LGBT kids to avoid bullying: some UK teachers said LGBT kids should “act less gay”, Houston Chronicle columnist Kathleen McKinley said parents should closet their LGBT kids to keep them safe and openly gay The Kids in Hall performer Scott Thompson said that gay kids should “grow a pair” and “fight back.”
Largely, all three people have been lambasted for blaming the victims instead of the bullies or lazy school administrators… but could these three peeps have a point?
Hear us out: several creators of “It Gets Better” videos have said that LGBT kids should come out when they can safely do so. That is, if their parents are gonna disown them or their peers are gonna beat them to a pulp for living outside of the closet, LGBT kids should probably wait until a safer time to reveal their identity.
Should a gay boy queen out about their fabulous boyfriend and the latest Lady Gaga video when surrounded by drunk, angry homophobic meatheads? Probably not. And while the bullies rather than the gay boy should change their behavior, both the “come out when it’s safe” and “act less gay” groups would probably agree that it’s wiser and safer to let your rainbow fly in some situations than others.
But the difference between “come out when it’s safe” and “act less gay” lays in the wording and its implications. Coming out when it’s safe suggests that LGBTQ kids should carefully observe their social environments and wisely choose when and how to express their sexuality, whereas “act less gay” implies that there are certain gay behaviors which should be avoided (ie. wearing pink is gay, using a lisp is gay, enjoying literature is gay)—advice that merely reinforces gender stereotypes while making queer kids even more self-aware about everything they say and do.
Commenters on several blogs have criticized the UK teachers and McKinley by asking if black kids should avoid racial bullying by “acting less black” and attending school in white face, but that’s a faulty comparison. Skin color is a physical external attribute and some light-skinned blacks can pass for white—the same way that some LGBT kids can pass as a “normal” boy or girl.
Thompson’s advice differs in that he’s not telling kids to change their behavior at all but instead to expect bullying and defensively prepare themselves to fight back. Here’s his entire quote from Pride Source:
“When asked what advice he has for bullied youth, Thompson replies, “Grow a pair. Here’s the thing: The world is not kind to us; it never really will be. The gay male is always going to be at the bottom. I believe the things that happened to me as a child scarred me terribly, and I wish somebody would have helped me with some of the things that happened. But you have to fight back. So much of these bullying campaigns are part of the trend that we were just talking about – the recasting of gay men as eternal victims and it’s like, fight back! Fathers should start teaching the boys how to punch. He does that to you, here’s what you do: You fucking punch him in the face.”
Whether LGBT kids should all start learning jujitsu is a separate point. But let’s at least consider whether the unconventional advice of coming out when it’s safe, acting less gay and fighting back are worthwhile pieces of anti-bullying advice that may seem a heck of a lot more practical, immediate and empowering than merely telling kids to hope that “It Gets Better.”