Dan Savage, sex columnist extraordinaire, has embarked on a mission to give hope to lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered (LBGT) youth who are facing ridicule and bulling from their peers. Called the It Gets Better Project, the point is to talk about how good life can be once you leave the harsh high school environment. For more information, go here.
As I watched the accompanying video, I began considering how much the equivalent was needed for disabled teens who face similar potentially rough high school years. I can totally tell a bunch of kids that it does get better, right? Actually, not exactly.
Granted, my high school years were a kind of miserable that I haven't experienced since and I prefer now to then without question, but the issues I had back then with people's attitudes and behavior hasn't magically morphed into some idyllic world. I struggled with social isolation, people not understanding, and being underestimated as a teen. From my blog, you can tell that it hasn't particularly changed.
When an LBGT teen leaves high school and either enters the work force or goes off to college, they are suddenly endowed with freedom allowing them to pick their friends, environment, and activities. eventual financial independence strips away the last of the constraints on lifestyle choices. In modern times and with modern conveniences, Jane doesn't need Dick to survive and thrive.
As anyone with a physical disability can tell you, we need other people on a regular basis. It is as much a fact of life as the need for oxygen. This reliance on others places constraints on our lives – on our choices.
From buying groceries to reading annoying print mail, I rely upon people to do things small and large. If Jane wants to have dinner with Joan, she gets herself to the desired place, meets her friend, picks her meal from the menu options, pays her portion of the bill by glancing at the check and adding things up, then gets herself home. When I want to have dinner with a friend, I must figure out how I'm getting there, pick a place that can feed me, rely upon my companion to read the menu, ask someone to tell me how much my food cost, and arrange for a way home. It's a completely different reality full of limitations on my choices.
Savage's It Gets Better Project essentially tells LBGT youth that life will improve because they will have the ability to shape their lives. If I were to start an It Gets Better Project for disabled youth, I would have a different sort of message. In fact, my project would more accurately be called the You Get Better Project because while I face the same issues now, I feel radically different about myself and that makes all the difference in the world.