Beyond Visibility: It Really Does Get Better (And TV Helps)

Beyond Visibility is a column that explores the intersection of sexuality, politics, pop culture and faith.

2010 adopted a big gay slogan, surely it would be “It Gets Better.” And
if my email inbox is an accurate indicator, lesbian and bisexual women
really want to believe that. Almost every day I get a message
from an reader asking me if it really does get better.
And if yes, when? And if yes, how?

Those are big questions with
complicated answers. I think the answer to the main one — Does it really
get better? — is yes. And I think part of the answer to the last one —
How does it get better? — is, believe it or not, television.

Wait — hear me out.

couple of weeks ago my dad asked me for the bazillionth time how old I
was when I knew for sure I was gay. It’s something he worries about a
lot, I think, because he knew I was gay long before I knew I was gay on
account of he spent a lot of sleepless nights heating up milk for me
while I sat on the kitchen counter and sobbed about how my best friends
would rather spend time practicing blow jobs with their boyfriends than
braiding my hair. He worries about it because he is convinced I knew,
but wouldn’t come out; worried that he and my mom hadn’t created a safe environment
in which I could be myself — because, seriously, how could I not have

The only times I ever heard the words “gay” and “lesbian”
spoken aloud when I was growing up were when people were all, “Yeah, you
know those g-a-y-s, always burning in h-e-l-l.” Or, like, “My cousin
told me how lesbians dress in men’s clothes and then take turns brushing
each other’s mullets after their weekly kitten sacrificing ceremony.”

Funny, they don’t look like kitten sacrificers.

it wasn’t like I was ever thinking about sex, even as a teenager,
because I was Baptist and so I knew thinking about sex was the gateway
action to punching Jesus in the face. I wasn’t one of those closeted
gays sneaking peeks in locker rooms. Like every other evangelical
Christian teen I knew, I didn’t even want to see my own body
naked, so ashamed was I that it had rebelled against me and grown boobs
(the evil body part whose sole purpose was to cause my brothers in
Christ to stumble!).

I didn’t want to spend eternity in h-e-l-l
and I would never hurt a wittle kitten. Surely I wasn’t gay! Gay people,
in my mind, were social and sexual deviants. I didn’t know any gay
people. I’d never seen any gay people. And so I didn’t have any evidence
to contradict all the rumors.

But here’s what I did know: I was different.

On the first day of kindergarten an uneasy weight settled onto my chest because I just sensed that something about me wasn’t the same as all the other
kids, and I spent every single day of my life — even in college —
worried that someone was going to figure out what that difference was
before I could figure it out, and I was going to
be exposed as some kind of monster.

So I did the thing every
person does when she wants to keep people from knowing what’s really
inside her: I started my own self-propaganda campaign. I was tall and
quick, so I spun an entire persona out of being an athlete. It’s who
I was. It’s all I was. And if someone started digging deeper, I handed
out my backup propaganda pamphlet called: Also, I’m A Smartass. (The
backup backup was: And I Love The Lord Jesus To The Moon And Back.)

wish I could say I found the courage to search myself, to discover the
thing that made me not the same. But I didn’t. I spent so much of my
childhood feeling alone and helpless and hopeless and afraid, that I
couldn’t bear the thought of looking inside of me and finding something
that had the potential to isolate me even more.

Wait, aren’t they Christians? Why isn’t God smiting them?

I didn’t look
inside myself in middle school, in high school, in college, or even in
my early 20s. I played basketball and when I left my scholarship after
my sophomore year, I rewrote my self-propaganda and became a full-blown
Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are some great stories
there, stories of love and acceptance and miracles. And there are
stories of myopic, uninformed cow-herd bigotry like something out of a
dystopian novel. I continued not to think about how I was different
because my growing suspicion was that my difference was going to leave a
Heather-fist-shaped bruise on Jesus’ cheek, and I couldn’t bear the