1.Barbara: Susan, I have been watching your web series and find it delightful. For those who aren't aware it is called Anyone But Me and follows six ethnically diverse, gay, and straight teens and the adults in their lives who struggle to understand and support them. Just this weekend my dear friend from high school told me that he is gay and has been waiting for twenty years to find the right moment to tell me. We spoke about his feelings of confusion and alienation in high school.
*What inspires you and Tina Cesa Ward to produce and write this series?
Susan: We’re both moved to tell stories about young people dealing with modern relationships and identity. Especially in a post 9/11 world. Along with the personal dynamics of our characters, we felt it was important to incorporate the effects of what’s going on in the world. I think our fans are most invested in our show because we are. We love capturing the mad ride that is teenage-hood.
2. Barbara: Sadly, researchers have found that both suicide and suicide attempts among gay and questioning youth are higher than among the straight population. Can you give us some insight into these sad statistics?
Susan: It’s such a vulnerable and intense time of life. Everyone’s on shaky ground. Fitting in and belonging takes on such importance that a young person who thinks she won’t be accepted or is carrying a secret she doesn’t know how to share without risking exclusion or torment can experience deep isolation. To feel unlovable or to be made to feel that way is devastating. It’s a terrible price to pay for being young and gay.
3.Barbara: I am aware that your series has been very popular. I find it lively and fun. What kind of feedback have you gotten about how it has touched lives?
Susan: People really connect to the show. And we hear from people all over the world:
“I wish there was something like this around when I was in high school. It may not have saved me from so much heartache, but it could have given me some courage when I needed it most.”
“I’ve finished watching the show yesterday, and a few minutes ago talking to my mom I told her I was gay. I was going to keep it a secret my whole life, but when I watch the show I just thought "if Vivian did it and her dad was cool, why not tell my mom? I was going to keep it a secret my whole life. And so I did and it went quite well. “
“I work with LGBTQ youth through PFLAG. I am always looking for positive media to turn them on to and Anyone But Me is one I always recommend. Not only are you all entertaining, but you are helping a large segment of the population who feel “less than.” Many are bullied at school and don't see any reason to live. Please know what a wonderful influence Anyone But Me is having on these kids' lives.”
“I just really wanted to say that I think this show's great, especially, because it plays with so many different levels of intimacy, identity, emotions. It's who you think you are, who you're afraid to be or who you want to become at any given moment.”
4. Barbara: What suggestions do you have for these teens that will help them negotiate their teen years more smoothly?
Susan: I’d like to gently say, “You’re not the only one.” With insecurity. With bad hair days. With no idea what you’ll be or who you’ll be with in the world. When you think the popular crowd has it better, just know every one of those kids has (or will have) something hard to deal with. Or, if you’re in the popular crowd struggling to keep up your status, just know there are people who will accept you for who you really are. It’s hard to be human. And it’s wonderful. Things do change. But, you have to stay around long enough to know you’re not the only one.
5. Barbara: Similarly, do you have any suggestions for the parents of these teens. I know from working with teens that they often tell their parents about their sexual identity issues during heated moments when they feel that they have nothing left to lose.
Susan: Just let your children know they won’t lose you.
6. Barbara: We've come a long way in terms of a national conversation about diversity. I believe that we still have a long way to go. Your thoughts?
Susan: Living in New York, I’m in the human swim. Difference is muted by the normalcy of difference. That’s what inspires me about this city. I think the best way we can contribute to and enlarge the conversation is by representing our diversity in literature, music, art, and public life - filling our senses with images and stories that reveal us to one another.
Anyone But Me