Will “Better” Ever be Good Enough?

Guido Villalba Portel (Greensboro, NC)

Toward the end of my senior year of high school, my guidance counselor approached me and tried to get me involved in a video which passed on the famous “It Gets Better” message to inspire hope in LGBT youth. How dare he ask me to do that when I was still throat deep in the closet? Didn’t he know that if I participated everyone would end the rumors about me and crown me the queen I was too afraid to be? Sure, looking back at these questions now, it seems hella senseless that I cared so much regarding what people thought of me. Despite the inane importance of my “reputation,” I had copious doubts about it getting better. The more I thought about it, the more a question surfaced in my mind: How was I supposed to relay a message I didn’t know to be true?

I went on to ignore Mr. Wall; shortly thereafter I graduated high school. In turn, I began taking baby steps out of the closet by telling my closest friends, parents, and brother. Unsurprisingly, they rolled their eyes and sighed, “Tell me something I don’t know.” It took a couple years, but I began accepting the new life outside the captive glass closet I was accustomed to. I left Winston-Salem and traveled as far away from that closet as I could; confidence and pride worked themselves into my life after what seemed like eternity.

As an undocumented queer, my whole adolescence was lived through four separate perspectives. In one, I insisted in leading the quintessential heteronormative lifestyle, and in the next one, I secretly watched Project Runway and read my mom’s Elle magazines after the lights went out (huge shoutout to the September 2007 issue with SJP on the cover!). I also portrayed myself as an American without impediments due to a broken immigration system, and finally I was a proud Argentine with strong Latin-American roots y todo. Yes, I still struggle with this. Yes, the silly-ass shame I felt early in my life has shaped me into the person I am today. Minor psychological consequences and all, I wouldn’t change my experiences for the world.

In 2013, Greensboro (thirty minutes from aforementioned shattered closet remains) became my home and my closet afterlife commenced. Even with all the fratstars at the bars staring and casting shade at my sartorial choices or friends and family asking, “Guido, what the hell are you wearing,” I was ecstatic to perpetually fly my freak flag. I knew that if others saw how comfortable I was in my own skin, they would surely follow suit. There was no doubt that life got better with a capital B after all the suffering. If there’s rain, eventually the sun will come out, right? Makes sense. Suddenly, I began exploring the boundaries of my new queer life and sharing experiences with others which opened my eyes to the blatant homophobia, racism, classism, and misogyny that doesn’t just live in the south. Money, companionship, and all the trivial worries began to matter less as I processed my observations and began asking myself, “Is ‘better’ really good enough for me?” Most importantly, “Is ‘better’ good enough for anyone?”

No matter how satisfied we are on our journeys, we must fight. It is our duty to fight. We must educate everyone we cross paths with on LGBTQ+ literacy (and these terms keep evolving everyday, y’all, trust). Our comfortable, capitalist American society is and will always continue to erode minorities’ equality and liberation in order to reinforce their white supremacy mountain, whether it’s meant to be climbed or not. Without a doubt, most people mean no harm with society’s misogyny at the source of our homophobia, but it is damn near time to start challenging our conditioned beliefs. Silence is just as dangerous as consent.

Not too long ago, a Guatemalan, undocumented, trans woman was seeking asylum in an ICE detention center in Florence, Arizona where she hid from sexual and verbal abuse from all the male detainees and ICE staff. Not too long ago, a trans man committed suicide after winning prom king at UNCC and inheriting all the unsolicited harassment that came with it. Not too long ago, the state of Indiana signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which at its birth gave the right to deny someone business based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Today, many Republicans want the 2016 Presidential candidates’ promises to uphold the similar, controversial Religious Freedom Acts in certain states. Today, if you happen to go on Grindr or any other online forum with personal ads, you’ll see “Masc 4 Masc” or “No Femmes” posted all over. Today at work, I witnessed everyone pointing and making fun of a trans woman who only asked for a sweet tea and a turkey sandwich for lunch. Misogyny runs rampant in 2015, and what’s more ridiculous is that some halfwit came up with the word “Meninism.”

For the transgender population it doesn’t get better and their futures are just as bleak as their life expectancy. Too blunt? Not blunt enough. Just like “It Gets Better” wasn’t enough for Blake Brockington, Penny Proud, Lamia Beard, Ty Underwood, Yazmin Vash Payne, or Taja DeJesus to name a few of the 2015 casualties (all who just happen to be black or latina… what a coinckydink!). Let’s stop covering this up and try to raise that global life expectancy higher than twenty-three.* Black trans women, like Angel Elisha Walker, disappear everyday and the mass media doesn’t say a word. It’s funny to me how Jenner is still being talked about when the real issues aren’t, and people still don’t even try using our preferred pronouns. It doesn’t take much to do better than rock bottom, so why not stop the game of deception? Better doesn’t suffice; we need to bring these facts to light and into every space we sashay in.

It is our duty to free all trans women seeking asylum like Nicoll Hernandez-Polanco, to remember all of our fallen sisters and brothers, and to speak up and educate when we see discrimination of any kind. Especially if any of those targeted stand under our umbrella-term of a family. Our generation is opening doors left and right, but we cannot forget about those behind us. This is our movement and it is our duty to make all of our lifestyles part of the status quo. I hope this message resonates with you as you digest our content. It is our duty to act out.