Scared to Misrepresent LGBTQ+: "I’m speaking on a panel at my school about being trans* and I’m scared I’ll misrepresent the community. Help?"
“So I was talking with a girl in my theatre class the other day, and she’s interested in starting a GSA (or something similar) at our school. She’s a senior and I’m a freshman. I’m totally interested, and I even know a teacher who I’m pretty sure would be willing to be involved. But A) we live in a fairly conservative rural community and B) I’m only out to a couple friends. Help?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Anna Livia Chen as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
Anna Livia Says:
I think in these types of situations, it’s really important to think about what your goals and vision are, and then proceed from there.
A lot of times, the activism community hammers in this idea that you have to go whole hog and completely revolutionize your school–or circle of friends or family or church or whatever group you are trying to impact. And while I think this is a powerful idea, it can be pretty hard to achieve, and, in my opinion, isn’t always the best way to go about things. It takes so much courage and gumption to take any kind of action in your situation (by the way, major, major props and snaps for that), I don’t want you to ever think that you aren’t doing enough by starting small.
All that being said, you don’t have to start small!! You can start at whatever scope you want to—but really take some time to think about what you want to accomplish or create through starting this club. Do you want to start a big, radical movement to make your campus the most progressive high school in the state and make it onto GLSEN’s front page? Do you want to form a club that acts as a support and community group that is a resource for people who feel marginalized by the heteronormativity of high school? Do you want to create a group that raises some queer issues to the greater campus community, but isn’t necessarily demanding systemic reforms like gender-neutral bathrooms and changes to curricula? This question about vision is the thing that I think is most important to contemplate and consider before moving forward.
But don’t forget!! Your answer doesn’t have to be fully formed or permanent. It, like everything, can be fluid. You can have one vision today and then change it in a year or a semester or a month or even a week. You can have a general inkling of what you want and begin to move forward on that, then further flesh out your vision once you start the actual process. You might want to start small but once you actually do start, you realize you want to achieve more. Or, you might have a huge vision but then realize it is too overwhelming to do all at once. Your goals and your vision can totally change over time, but it is important to think about them before and while you begin this process–and to keep checking in with them once your club is up and running.
Thinking about what you want your club to look like will help you with the other parts of your question. It sounds like you are a little nervous about involving yourself because you aren’t out to very many people and are afraid of what people will think of you and the club because of the conservative nature of your area. These concerns are totally valid and I think they will be very useful for helping you decide what you want your vision to be. In addition, if you don’t want starting this club to have a big impact on how others see you, you can get creative and think of some ways to circumvent that. FOR EXAMPLE:
1. You could enlist some other friends and embark on this club-making party together. That makes it a lot harder for you to be singled out—and some of the people in the group will probably be straight, meaning your personal identity won’t be automatically implicated by your involvement.
2. You can start a club that is more under the radar. Rather than making a huge deal out of it in the school bulletin or with posters around the school, tell some of your friends, have the information diffuse, and the people who want to be there will find their way to your meetings—the haters probably won’t actually know your name is connected to it, so they can’t hurt you that way. This would work better if you want your club to be a support/community group, but you could still use this strategy to get the ball rolling with an advocacy group, then make it more public as you start doing events and have some more people behind you.
3. You can always go the whole “DIVERSITY CLUB OF HAPPINESS” route. Maybe not that exact title… but the point is that you don’t have to advertise your safe space as a GAYGAYGAY-Straight Alliance. A lot of clubs, even in progressive areas, will use other names to diffuse the notion that you have to be gay to be in the club. You can do something gay/rainbow related (Spectrum, Prism, and Rainbow Club are some that I have heard), or you can make it even more broad/vague. The space is still serving the role of a GSA, but this frames it in a little more discrete for you—and for other people who may want to be members but are nervous about the title.
The last thing I want you to think about is to remember your resources. No matter where you live, you will always have some resources to use to your advantage in making your vision a reality. Whether it is a few supportive teachers that will advocate for you against hesitant administrators; some friends to help spread the word and attend meetings; or even your legal rights (WHICH ARE REALLY IMPORTANT, GUYS), don’t forget that you are not alone in this.
Click through to read more about Anna Livia and our other Second Opinions panelists!
"Every year I’m like ‘I should join the GSA!’ and every year I’m like ‘but there’s no point cramming it into my already nonstop busy schedule because they NEVER DO ANYTHING.’ What do I do?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
Join the GSA and do stuff… THAT WAS EASY.
But seriously you guys. At the very first meeting (usually the most popular) raise your hand and give them some suggestions. No one is gonna be mad at you for having good ideas. Literally sit there let them say all the stupid-boring-not-doin-anything-stuff they’re gonna say and raise your hand and say ‘i had some ideas for things that we could do this year, should i just say them now?’ and they’ll be like ‘uuhhh okay’ and then you give them this list:
1. Ice Cream Social
2. Bring Everyone is Gay here to do a school-wide event
4. Skate party
5. Pizza Party
6. Movie Nights
7. Everyone is Gay webcast marathons
8. School-wide GSA T-Shirt design contest
9. GSA Alum come back and talk about college experiences
10. Everyone High Five at the end of every meeting.
Oh snap SHE TOLD YOU.
Here’s a thing, y’all: Shit ain’t ever gonna get done if Y’ALL DON’T DO IT.
I get that you are busy, I know how jam-packed a schedule can get, and you certainly shouldn’t overload yourself to the point of exhaustion. However, if you want to join the GSA, and you are bummed because ‘they’ never do anything, then just like Dannielle said DO. SOMETHING.
See that list up there? Maybe you are too busy for nine out of ten of those items. Pick one. Literally just pick one. Say, “I would like to set a goal for us this year and I have decided that it will be _______________.” Work toward that goal with the others in the GSA, and work together so that you all have different tasks. Make a list. Check it twice. NOW YOU’RE SANTA. BOOM.
Seriously, everyone. Making change doesn’t have to mean you give forty hours a week to running a non-profit organization. It doesn’t have to mean that you spend ten hours a week organizing a community wide protest of Chik-Fil-A. It can literally mean that you help the others in your GSA gather around a list of things, and that you work toward having an ice cream social in June that raises funds for a charity. It can mean that you meet each week and tell each other a story of how you were kind to another student that week and why that kindness is important. It can mean that you decide to put up signs on the school bulletin boards that encourage people to volunteer.
Decide on it. Commit to it. Do it.
It’s that easy.
"my math teacher makes a lot of jokes about gay people and it makes me feel really uncomfortable. i want to approach the situation without drawing attention to myself though, help?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
If I were you, I’d leave an anonymous letter for your teacher. Either on your desk or go to the front office with the letter and say ‘can you get this to DOCTOR POOPS (your teacher)’ and they’ll stuff it in teacho’s mailbox.
I’m sure you’re not the only one affected by this and I’m sure everyone else feels the exact same way you feel. BUT we’re all so scared to stand up to our teachers for some reason. Which is why I suggest an anonymous letter. ORRR you can talk to a principal SLASH dean SLASH headmaster SLASH administrator SLASH WHATEVERMAHDOODLE about the situation and perhaps you can change your whole school for the better.
It’s just like… it sucks that you have to say something in the first place, you shouldn’t, this teacher should know better BUT… if you don’t say anything and no one else says anything, this teacher will forever think it is okay to talk that way and more and more students will be forever alienated. Which is not fair TO ANYONE.
This is when it becomes really important for you to have an ally of some kind who works at your school. If your science teacher from two years ago is someone who you know you can trust, that is who you should speak with first. Think about who has shown you and your classmates the most respect over the years – perhaps the teacher who heads the school’s GSA (if you have one), perhaps the English teacher who included gay history in his coverage of civil rights, perhaps the art teacher who has always been warm and welcoming to all of his students.
If you have someone like that, ask them if you can talk to them after class or after school one day. Explain what is happening in your math class, and that it makes you feel extremely uncomfortable, but that you don’t want for the school-at-large to know that you are the one complaining, so you’d like to remain anonymous. They will be able to help you take the next steps to make sure that this teacher knows that he is offending students.
Here’s the thing you guys. Teachers can be the most incredible, influential, inspiring people. They can also be the most ignorant, damaging, juvenile people. Just because someone is twenty years older than you doesn’t mean that you aren’t smart enough to make a difference, and certainly doesn’t mean that you should have to sit idly by as they hurt others. You most certainly are not the only one being hurt by this.
If you don’t have an ally anywhere in your school, email us and we will see if there’s any way that we can help: info [at] everyoneisgay [dot] com
"I’m in the LGBTQ club on campus and their whole mission is to give you a safe space where you don’t have to be labeled, but I still feel weird when I go to meetings. I like boys/girls/whatever, so I identify with both straight and queer cultures. But it sucks when I’m out in the general population and am judged for acting boyish but still have a crush on Joseph Gordon Levitt, and when I’m at meetings, everyone just assumes I’m a lesbian- no one even bothered to ask me about it. It’s frustrating. Help!"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
You know what JGL_LUVR_6969, I think you have an incredible opportunity to make people think again when judging someone. You’re obviously interested in being involved with the community, making change, being yourself and being a part of your school’s LGBTQ club AND THE ONLY THING THAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK IS THE CLUB ITSELF. Which is so interesting, bc like, you should go there and feel awesome about being who you are and fighting for the equality of every human being REGARDLESS of who they are or how they feel, yaknowwhatimean?!
I suggest the following:
Talk to the prezzie of the LGBTQ club and say ‘hey, I’d love to take five minutes at the next meeting to bring up an issue I’ve been thinking about lately’ and if this prezzie is a good prezzie then prezzie will be like ‘i’m the prezzie, that sounds great’ and during your five minutes you say “I submitted a question to the website everyoneisgay.com and while their answers were perfect and amazing (like always), I would really love to know what you guys think I should do” and then read your question.
People tend to react differently when you look them in the eye and ask them why they’re doing something that hurts your feelings. They’re usually like ‘oh snap, i am being a fartwad’ and they realize, much more than they would realize by simply reading an email or checking out a website. Ask them, ask them what you should do to be accepted by them as you are, no questions asked.
Hot damn this shit pisses me off. IT PISSES ME STRAIGHT OFF.
There is a huge tendency in so much of the queer community (and so many other communities) to admit those who ‘belong,’ and then seal the doors off to anyone who ‘they’ deem as ‘not a member.’ This happens between marginalized communities themselves and between those communities and those who may be ‘less marginalized’…whatever that means. As though the only people who can belong or work together for human equality are those who belong to a certain set of identities. DOES EVERYONE HEAR HOW SILLY THAT SOUNDS?!
Our identities are not static, unchanging things. We develop and grow and learn and meet others and explore and question and love and date and kiss and those experiences vary and change over the course of our lives. So many people who I speak with say, ‘It was difficult for me to come out because I didn’t know which label to choose…’ or ‘I don’t feel like I belong in any particular community because I wasn’t one thing or another.’ Those judgements and assumptions create divisions that make others (like you!) hesitant to work together for the things that we ALL believe in.
I love what Dannielle has suggested above. The absolute BEST thing that could come of the position that you are in is that you use it to open the minds of those who have made the assumptions. Don’t come out swinging, but approach the issue at a meeting and explain that it made you a bit uncomfortable, and that if you felt that way, there are likely others who felt similarly. In most cases, when we hear the experience of someone else, it is enough to help us understand how we have erred and to be more careful and attentive to them in the future.