Does it really “get better”? Advice to a queer teenager

In May of this year, I answered a Redeye advice question from a queer teen about the common refrain, “It gets better,” (coined by Dan Savage and his husband, and is also now an excellent youth support nonprofit).

Because the holidays are a struggle for a great many people, and especially queer people, I figured I’d post it again as a reminder to others and possibly even myself.

I’m 15, queer and hate my life. Does it really “get better” or is that just something people say?

It does get better. But in some ways, it doesn’t. Or it gets better, then worse, then better again. Then worse in a different way you couldn’t have imagined!

Your situation and circumstances and life will definitely change, but how they change is largely up to you — your perseverance, hope, ambitions, resources, relationships and grit. And most of all, how you choose to respond to things that happen to you.

Try reframing your life in terms other than “better” or “worse.” Fixate instead on everything going right in your life. Fixate on the person or people you love, on your body, with its wondrous and complex systems that keep you alive, on hot showers, on fresh food, on putting on sweatpants fresh from the dryer, on the warmth of the sun, on puppies, on sleeping in, on your favorite foods and books and music. Do this for five minutes a day for a week and see how you feel. It’s called practicing gratitude and it may feel cheesy at first, but lots and lots of studies show its numerous positive effects.

Remember also that you are worthy of love and respect, and that if things get really hard, you can reach out to someone — has a 24/7 hotline (1-866-488-7386), plus chat and text if talking on the phone’s not your thing.

Life is hard and messy and full of unspeakable horrors and the wildest, most ordinary joys. Choose to see the good. Choose to see the wonder of your own aliveness. Cherish it. That’s what makes it better.

I’ve gotten many emails in response to my answer, including the kindest, most keep-going letter I’ve ever received, from a stranger named Joan, who said:

It is sad–but so essential–that we all need to be constantly reminded of the power of the small and mundane moments, and the importance of love and life itself. In an increasingly scary world where so many of us wonder if it can possibly get better or only worse, your closing remarks rang powerfully true.

This “song” was a gift. I am sorry that these life-changing words were buried at the bottom of an advice column. I wish that they could be featured on the front page of every major print outlet and go viral on social media. I wish I could make this required reading for every person I know.

You are a writer with talent far beyond that required of an advice columnist (although I am sure that does require a unique kind of different talent) but you are also a wise and compassionate woman. Your words are on my gratitude list. Thank you.

May we all choose to see the good and cherish the wonder of our own aliveness in the coming days, weeks, years.

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