sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

you don’t need to be that tough

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 26, 2010

Here’s a commercial that ran in Norway. The text at the end reads:

You don’t need to be that tough.
Helpline for gay youth / We guarantee we’ll answer.

In my opinion, this commercial, which the creator has said was developed as part of an advertising competition, sort of fails. Its target audience, gay youth, are supposed to feel affinity with that kid, right? But though the commercial attempts to convince us otherwise, the kid’s behavior isn’t brave–it’s kinda stupid. First of all, whether the other boy is straight or not, he’s clearly into the girl sitting next to him. Even if this is the Most Progressive School Dance in the History of Western Culture, asking someone to dance when he’s clearly into someone else is just begging for public rejection. And given the purpose of the commercial, we can assume this isn’t the Most Progressive School Dance in the History of Western Culture–it’s the kind of school dance we’re all familiar with, the kind at which asking someone of the same gender to dance is an act of extreme bravery, even if that kid isn’t already sitting with someone else.

And what makes this an act of extreme bravery? Well, the fact that it’s insanely risky to publicly present yourself as gay. And what makes it risky? The fact that, according to this commercial at least, straight kids are not to be trusted–they’re dangerous. And coming out to the straight kids is the stupid kind of bravery, at least according to this commercial.

So the messages of this commercial include:

  • If you’re a gay adolescent, coming out to your classmates is extremely brave but kind of stupid and also unnecessary.
  • If you’re a gay adolescent struggling with coming out, it’s better to talk about it privately with people who promise they won’t reject you than it is to talk about it openly with your (straight) classmates, who will probably reject you.
  • If you’re a gay adolescent, the straight kids you go to school with are dangerous for you.
  • Coming out is brave but also dangerous, and before you do something stupid you should talk to us about how to do it right.
  • If you’re a gay adolescent, your impulses about how to perform your orientation are probably wrong, and we can tell you how to perform your sexual orientation appropriately.

Imagine you’re a 12-year-old boy struggling with coming out. You see this commercial where a boy with whom you’re supposed to identify not only behaves really stupidly but then also gets his actions judged by the very people who say they want to help him. “You don’t have to be that tough”–translation: Call us–we can tell you the right way to come out.

Queer kids deal with enough judgment from their families, their friends, their classmates, their culture–they don’t need more people telling them how they should behave, and they certainly don’t need a support agency for gay youth telling them whether they’re behaving appropriately.

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