How Chill?

After the Sturm und Drang of Middle School, Seth, a junior, and Owen, a freshman, both assure me that things are much, much better at the high school. People just let each other be, they tell me. “Mom,” says Seth definitively, “Things at the high school are chill.”

I’m sure the atmosphere has changed. Perhaps the two of them — straight as far as I know, white, middle class, loved, catered to and taken care of – have felt certain middle school-specific pressures lessen. Certainly, Seth no longer feels it necessary to purchase and wear clothing on which the names of the clothing companies are written so cunningly. Owen, well, Owen pretty much gets along wherever he lands, but there may be hidden Owen worries that have resolved themselves now that he’s a high schooler.

Once, at a high school soccer game, however, I overheard a bunch of female students talking about a truly terrifying incident that had happened to them the night before, where male students had followed them in a car and threatened them. Seth told me about being at a basketball game where his friends made homophobic remarks about one of the players. And yesterday I was told something in confidence about another student at the high school. Despite equal marriage, despite the groovy liberal vibe wafting over from the People’s Republic of Cambridge, despite our high school having one of the oldest GSAs in the state, this youth is in the closet, because “it’s just easier that way.”

Of course, I expect we can all imagine any number of situations where it’s easier to be in the closet, especially if coming out would put you in physical danger, and perhaps that’s the case with this student, although I don’t think so. I think more, it’s about not wanting to stick out, not wanting to be different, even in a “welcoming” community. Or perhaps especially in a “welcoming” community, where protests that “we understand” are so shrill. The kind of thing that makes the narrator in Openly Straight by Bill Koningsberg decide that he’s going back in the closet when he starts a new school. It’s just easier that way.

A colleague and I have been working together to widen areas of support for our local queer youth. Neither of us is paid for this, nor are we employees of any of the town organizations which should already be doing this work. Recently, we visited the high school GSA. We wanted to discuss with the members their thoughts and ideas about getting a queer youth center established here. Currently, as my colleague and I have been discovering, there is nothing other than the GSA at the high school, the GSA at the middle school, a homeschooler QSA and a monthly queer youth and allies social drop-in night at the library. And as pure information and not to brag, although I’m proud of this work, I had a large hand in instigating the last 3 items on that list. I also know that this list is much, much longer than the list of what’s available in so many other communities. But this is Massachusetts. Very close to Boston. Massachusetts has a Commission for LGBTQ Youth, we have a chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network, we have an amazing chapter of PFLAG, we have the Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth, we have the Massachusetts Trans Political Coalition. Our town should be so much further along than we are.

I believe the liberal suburbs pose a particular challenge to queer organizing. So many people — straight, certainly, but even queer — think that everything is fine.  Until their kid comes out or gets depressed or gets bullied or they’re the victim of a hate crime, as lesbian neighbors of mine recently were in the form of a nasty little note, slipped under the windshield wiper of their car as they were shopping at our neighborhood grocery store. Everything is fine only if you look at things in a very, very superficial and hopeful manner, and systemic oppression doesn’t go away just because your neighbors are polite to you.

Later today, I’m attending a meeting of a coalition made up of representatives of town organizations from the police to the schools to the local counseling center. The coalition is grant-funded, and was formed to pay attention to local youth health and safety issues, including things like suicide prevention, substance abuse education and dating safety. Until I started attending, as far as I can see, no one had anything at all to say about queer youth and their specific needs, about how to support this vulnerable population. I’ve been trying to get their attention, and below is the statement from the high school GSA that I’m going to read at the meeting today.

How chill is it, really, at the high school? I guess it depends on who you ask.

 

As the town’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, we would be in support of the creation of an LGBTQ youth center here, for our town and the surroundinåçg communities. We feel that this would fulfill a very present and as of yet unrecognized need in the town, for a place where the LGBTQ youth of this area could meet each other and form a community. It would also be an incredibly fun experience for all youth involved, and would provide a social platform currently unavailable to these youth. In addition, school GSAs are unable to meet these needs, as their membership and participation is limited to members of the school and therefore cannot operate on a wider field. Finally, as of now, there is no easy-to-access facility for health information for LGBTQ youth in these areas, so this youth center would fulfill an important need. Overall, an alliance of LGBTQ youth for the surrounding towns would be incredibly beneficial for everyone involved.

 

–Members of the GSA, March 2014

 

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Published in: on March 12, 2014 at 12:12 PM  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for being awesome enough to give up your time to fight for this, your town is very lucky to have you! *high five* On your point about staying in the closet being ‘easier’, I completely agree. From personal experience, the feeling of sticking out makes running away a very preferable option, especially in ‘welcoming’ towns where people are sometimes even more fixated on constantly recognising your differences. It’s an intersting paradox really, and probably one that can’t be solved until being queer is of no consequence in society- that’s likely >.< Anyway, you have my distant support and respect in setting up the youth centre, and I hope that things continue to improve for you all!

  2. Whew, thank you so much for your kind words and your understanding of this interesting organizing challenge… I just got back from that meeting and am still completely tense, still running through my mind what I *should* have said, etc. Scary, to be advocating for queer kids to all these straight or closeted professionals in the school and town systems because, basically, I’m telling them they’re not fully doing their job because these kids aren’t getting the support they need. I think it went ok, though, and it did give me a lot of ideas on how to answer FAQs…for next time! Thanks so much for stopping by! ttf

  3. That’s great! The thing to remember is that they’re not going to listen to the ‘children’ anyway, so you advocating on their behalf is enough, regardless of if you hit every single point ever- which I’m sure you did. Ah yes, the FAQs -.- There should seriously just be a queer FAQ resource distributed to everyone in power to clear the basic things up haha, it would save so much trouble! ~

  4. What’s your top FAQ? Hmm, mine is something to do with “treating you differently” — in fact, a blog post is percolating about that. Also, the neat trick of saying, as did a member of the school board at the above-mentioned meeting, “All our kids have been wanting a place to gather for a long time!” Um, yes, perhaps, but let me point out that the straight kids HAVE THE WHOLE WORLD to gather in! Which pointing out I will definitely do next time, since just then my brain was on overboil…. And yes, yes, yes, it’s the kids, advocating for them. That gives me strength and always helps me bounce back!

    Narnia, dear, I can’t seem to access your blog — is there somewhere I can read about your work? I love that you’re visiting ttf!

  5. Hi, thanks for speaking up for those kids! And for another inspiring read. You haven’t seen much from me of late because I was in a bad bike accident at the end of Feb. that threw me for a loop, to put it mildly (and clichéd-ly). Am recovering and definitely getting better, slowly. Something to write about. Guess it’s my turn!


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