What I learned after a month with an LGBTQ+ youth
I have always considered myself a liberal person, however, upon entering university and sitting in my first Women and Gender Studies class, I realized that I had a minimal and conservative view on what LGBTQ+ stood for. As a heterosexual white woman who hadn't had much exposure to that community, it was clear I needed to educate myself.
My curiosity lead me to volunteer with the LGBTQ+ club at a local junior high school in Halifax. This junior high school goes from grade seven to nine.
I went in the first day with excitement and nervousness as I was not sure what to expect from the kids I would be talking to. As I walked into the room, there were about 20 kids sitting on the couches eating their lunches. For a school of only about 200 kids I was surprised to see how many of them were there and were open to welcoming me into their space.
The first lunchtime session consisted of us talking and discussing issues unrolling in the school as well as in the news. I could not believe how much some of these kids knew and how well they were able to articulate to the rest of the group. One of them was extremely open and had begun transitioning from female to male over the past two years. He explained to me that at the age of five, his parents made him wear dresses and bought him Barbie dolls. He knew then that something about it felt wrong. Being as young as he was, he told me that he became violent and would self-harm because no one believed what he was saying.
Over the month that I worked with them, I watched this 13 year-old, who had been through more than any kid should go through, freely discuss how he faces the world. I also saw him interact with the all the kids at the school and was inspired by the work he put in to having them see him as himself.
It was incredible to see that many of his peers had gone on this journey with him. These kids knew him before he began to outwardly transition. He had learned how to make his peers feel comfortable and told me he always reassured them that if they had a question or didn't understand something, to go ahead and ask him.
By the end of it, I not only became further educated on terms and language used in the LGBTQ+ community, but I started to think of our society a little differently and what it means to be ourselves.
It seems now more than ever that we are a little more okay with being different and seeing the world differently. Society’s fear of the unknown has in a way loosened its grip on certain individuals. As I thought of this, I watched as this young person, who has been trying to understand his differences for the majority of his life, find a happiness greater than all the superficial pleasures in the world.
He has discovered that our task is not to make sense to one another, but to reveal ourselves to one another. That we will grow. This lets us laugh and talk together, because no matter how different we are, many of our mistakes are the same. We may not be the same kind of people, but we have all at some point felt pressured to be who we are not and have filtered ourselves to only let a tiny bit shine through.
I learned from this boy that, much of the time, the thing that is missing is usually us. We fail to live with all of ourselves. I may not have the same struggles that he will have, but just like him, we all have parts of us that are hiding or had been kept hidden.
I learned that to really live, we must be as much of ourselves as we can, and give those selves to as much of the world as we can. I leaned that “being yourself”, as it turns out, is stranger and trickier but more rewarding than we know. It is being all of you, not just some of you. That is the hardest but worthiest work of all.