Dan Savage on the Magazine Article That Changed Everything for Gay People

Reading between the lines.
Oct. 5 2012 11:25 PM

The Magazine Article That Changed Everything for Gay People

The line from Merle Miller to It Gets Better.

(Continued from Page 1)

Anger motivated us to start the It Gets Better Project just as anger motivated Miller to write his groundbreaking essay. Gay people were coming out and demanding their rights in the wake of the Stonewall riots, which prompted an explosion of commentary, much of it as bigoted, misinformed, and vile as the insults that Billy Lucas had to face every day. Miller, in an explosive coming-out scene, announced to two colleagues that he was “sick and tired of reading and hearing such goddamn demeaning, degrading bullshit about me and my friends.”

Author Merle Miller.
Author Merle Miller.

Courtesy Penguin Group.

That exchange—that anger—led Miller to come out in the most public possible way. In that single sentence Miller captured the anger that has motivated LGBT activists from the Mattachine Society to the Stonewall riots to ACT UP to the It Gets Better Project. What are LGBT rights activists but people who grew sick and tired of reading and hearing such goddamn demeaning, degrading bullshit about themselves and their friends and decided to speak up and fight back?

Gay people of Miller’s generation knew that gay life, as described by the shrinks and the bigots, looked nothing like gay life as they lived it. Miller, in anger, came to the defense of himself and his friends and helped to change the world. Today, in anger, we come to the defense of LGBT kids we don’t know, gay kids growing up in parts of the country where goddamn demeaning, degrading bullshit is being screamed in the faces of LGBT youth.

Straight people who know they have LGBT family members, friends, and coworkers should also read this book, as should straight people whose LGBT family members, friends, and co-workers have yet to come out to them. By which I mean to say, all straight people should read On Being Different. Straight people should read it because the movement for LGBT equality is also the story of straight liberation. It’s a story about straight people being liberated from their prejudices and their fears; of straight people finally seeing through the goddamn demeaning, degrading bullshit; of straight people regaining the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender family members and friends that their prejudices cost them.

1210_SBR_BOOK_OnBeingDifferent

Writing in 1971—when homosexuality was still a crime in a majority of states—Miller observed, “I think social attitudes will change, are changing, quickly, too.”

When I came out in 1981, telling my Catholic parents I was gay meant I would never marry, never have children, and that I would certainly never be trusted alone with someone else’s child.

But there I was, just four short decades after Miller wrote On Being Different, just three short decades after I sat down with my mother and forced the words “I’m gay” out of my mouth. There I was, sitting on a beach next to my husband, while our teenage son dove through waves with his friends, two boys who were entrusted to our care by their straight parents.

Advertisement

Thank you, Mr. Miller, for telling your story, thank you for your anger, thank you for fighting back against the demeaning, degrading bullshit. We couldn’t have made it to that beach without you.

---

On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual by Merle Miller. Foreword by Dan Savage. Penguin Classics.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.