Three Words For Gay Teens: It Gets Better

Keith Miller and Trey Graham

hide captionBetter Looks Like This: Trey Graham (right) is an arts editor at NPR. He and his partner, Keith Miller, recently celebrated their sixth anniversary.

Craig Wilson

News about a recent string of suicides, all by gay teenagers who'd been tormented by their peers, has inspired a YouTube campaign called the It Gets Better Project, in which gay grown-ups speak directly to kids who might be going through the same thing. Trey Graham, an arts editor at NPR, wrote this script for his video.

I had glasses. I read a lot. I did theater. And sports, I wasn't so good at.

So yeah. School was rough, pretty much from the point that my genius classmates realized what "Trey" rhymed with. And that "Trey" was just one syllable away from "Tracy." I heard all that, and more.

I got picked on. I got mocked. I got a little scar on my chin when a bully turned my desk over in study hall, with me in it, and my face hit the floor. That was seventh grade.

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But you know what? It gets better.

It started getting better in my senior year of high school, when I met some friends who figured out that all that reading I had done had given me kind of a way with words — and that that could come in handy sometimes.

It got better faster when I went away to college. I was a music major; the plan was, I was going to be an opera singer. So I went to a school that had a great music program, and you know what? Lots of other music and theater geeks there. Lots of 'em were gay, too. I got into some trouble with some of them, frankly. Not too much, nothing life-altering. Just enough to learn a few good lessons.

A bull elephant in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park i i

hide captionNot To Be Missed: On Trey Graham's first safari, he snapped this picture of a bull elephant scraping the bark off of a tree in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park.

Trey Graham
A bull elephant in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park

Not To Be Missed: On Trey Graham's first safari, he snapped this picture of a bull elephant scraping the bark off of a tree in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park.

Trey Graham

And then I met my first real boyfriend, and we moved away from Augusta, Ga., to live in Washington, D.C., where I discovered that a guy who cared about the arts, and could write, could get a job writing about the arts. And so almost 20 years ago, I landed my first job as an arts journalist. It was for a gay weekly, but it was in the nation's capital, so it was kind of a shortcut to the big leagues. I'd been on the job less than a year when I interviewed Ian McKellen. That's right, high school bullies: I talked to Gandalf. Had tea with him at the Ritz, too.

By the time my 10-year high school reunion rolled around, I was writing about theater for a great alt-weekly, and by the end of that year I'd landed a gig as an editor at USA Today, the biggest newspaper in the country.  It didn't suck.

Another boyfriend and I lived in Zimbabwe for a while. We traveled all over southern Africa. He covered elections and wars. We met elephants in the wild. I saw a pride of lions bring down an antelope, and it was incredible.

My parents? It was ... a process. They're conservative, and church is big in their lives. When I came out, I heard, "Don't bring anybody home." But then a few years later, my dad asked if I was happy, and when I said yes, he sat there for a second, and then he said, "That's all that matters."

My sister likes my other half, Keith, better than she likes me some weeks. And when my mom sent out the invites for my brother's wedding a few years ago, Keith was on the list.

So yeah, what I want to tell you is this: It gets better. You just need to be here when it does.

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