Some Kids Are Gay (And You Should Know How to Handle It)

“…it would have helped my high school experience and it would have helped me as a human being.”

Before we even start, allow me to explain: I’m not a trained professional. The writing I’m providing you with is based on my personal experiences working with LGBTQ youth and by reaching out to friends and asking them to give their opinions. That being said, I felt someone (you) deserved to know what I’ve found.

Let’s proceed.

Kids are gay.

I use gay in this sentence and in the title of this posting as an umbrella term. I use it to describe someone that is not straight, or not heterosexual. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), gay is a term used to describe, “a person who is emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to members of the same gender.”

Here’s the thing some of you may not know: sex and gender are different things. Sex refers to your biological body parts. It’s what you’re born with. Gender is a social state of being. Usually, folks use gender to describe someone who appears more masculine or feminine.

I am a cisgender woman. My sex is female and I feel like a female and I refer to myself with the female pronouns of she/her/hers. Are you following me here?

I’m also a person that supports the rights of those that are not cisgender and/or not straight.

Now that we have these basic understandings from a non-professional, here’s the deal.

I’m an educator. I’m an educator, and a frustrated one. I’m continually baffled by the lack of training for educators when it comes to LGBTQ issues and how to handle students that confide in you about their identity. I wish there was a playbook, but like most things in life, there isn’t. I work off of only my own experiences, student and friend feedback, and the minimal training I’ve had to better understand my classroom and the students within it.

So many people don’t have that. So many people, educators that spend 40 hours a week or more with your children, don’t have that. They’ve maybe never encountered a child that identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. They don’t know what to do.

That issue is really what this writing is about. I’m not here to train you (have I mentioned I’m unqualified?) and I’m not here to tell you what to do or provide you with a rulebook. I’m here to start a conversation.

Gay rights are human rights. Everyone deserves to be treated equally and with respect. There needs to be more training and more awareness, especially in classrooms.

I love when people say things like, “It’s 2018! Kids are gay!” Newsflash, my friend: kids have been gay. People have been gay. People are gay. You’re just now hearing about it. So yeah. Kids are gay. They’re in our lives, at the grocery store, in front of you in line at Target, and they’re in our classrooms.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager that isn’t straight, isn’t cisgender, and goes by pronouns other than the “default.” I wanted to know. I wanted to get a better understanding. I wanted to learn.

I reached out.

I talked to 10 of my LGBTQ friends about their experiences. (LGBTQ standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer.) I asked the question, “If you could go back and teach your high school teachers one thing (in reference to your identity), what would it be and why?”  Here’s what I found.

1. A Discussion On Pronouns
“Some college kids can’t even define the word pronoun,” I was told. “I would teach them about pronouns. I would have them discuss in the classroom that it’s okay to identify as other genders and what a pronoun is.”

2. Pay Better Attention
Two people I spoke with, one my friend and the other his boyfriend, said very similar things. “I would have wanted them to be more vigilant and perceptive.” This statement is in reference to bullying. My friend continues, “Nine out of ten times, when one student just says they are, ‘horsing around,’ with another, the other is probably being bullied.” He gives specific steps to being aware with his next statement. “Assume the possibility of it being bullying and not just brush it off.”

3. Don’t Break Out the Lessons
When one student comes out to a teacher, the teacher has a tendency to immediately start doing lessons and having talks about LGBTQ inclusivity. “This makes the student feel singled out,” I was told, “Yes, perhaps inclusivity lessons are good, but perhaps wait a while. Just in general for a student that has recently come out, don’t do anything for them to feel singled out.”

4. Don’t Be Weird
“I would teach them not to give weird stares to queer couples in the hallways. I’d always hold hands with [my partner] and get weird stares and automatically let go.” The environment needs to be more inclusive. Don’t be weird or treat any student differently. “[When they stared] I was worried my teachers would find me disappointing or something.”

5. Be Yourself and Offer Support
“I wish I had teachers that were themselves, because in turn that’s how you teach, by using your skills.” The man continued, “I chose the teachers who I loved and showed my true colors to based on what they did. They were the ones who were crazy (in a good way).” He goes on to explain that subject area has nothing to do with it, it’s all about trust. “No matter the subject they may be teaching, the main objective is for them to make a connection with their students. But realistically, it’s not the teachers that’s the problem.” Describing where the issue stems, he goes on. “It’s society.”

“Even though we [the gay community] are pushing for equal rights and achieving so much, it’s not there yet. Kids will still be picked on for being different. The teachers are the ones we go to for shelter and to get away from it.”

Describing his own experience of being gay, my friend explains, “…You hide it from your family and yourself because you just wish it wasn’t happening and you could just be ‘normal.’ Through my final year of being ‘straight’ I knew people knew but I still hid it for my sake. I hid it because I wasn’t ready. Everything you go through is really hard for someone who is 13-18. So the teachers are the ones I sought out to get refuge from it all. It became my support system to be who I wanted to be and do what I wanted. That’s what I needed and they gave it to me.”

6. Be More Openly Inclusive and Accepting
One of my friends, a secondary teacher himself, described his own experience at a private religious school. “I loved many [of my] teachers in high school but I would never turn to them about my struggle of figuring out who I am. I was definitely nervous that if I told them they would think less of me because it was a subject that was never really brought up.” He goes on to describe that while the school beliefs and climate definitely played a part in his feelings, he didn’t feel his teachers helped much. “Yes, people in the LGBT+ community are humans too and don’t treat them like crap, but that’s as far as it really went.”

When asked how the teachers could’ve changed his experience, he was adamant about creating the sometimes controversial “safe space” in a classroom. “I really think they could’ve done a better job at making more theoretical safe spaces…so I could be myself and not some facade I thought they wanted me to be.”

Getting more specific, he goes on. “I think my high school teachers could have done a better job at being like, ‘these feelings are normal and you’re not less of a human just because you feel this way.’ It’s not a bad thing to be gay and I feel if I would have felt that from at least one teacher it would have helped my high school experience and it would have helped me as a human being.”

7. Let Them Express Themselves and Their Gender
While most of the friends I talked to were coming into their own view of themselves and starting to understand in high school, one friend was different. “I was out as queer in school for as long as people talked about who they liked. For the most part, my queerness wasn’t an issue.” That doesn’t mean the experience came without struggles, however. “…in middle and high school, I had a lot of teachers reach out to me in love and try to talk to me about how I appeared to lack self-esteem. They seemed really fixated on the fact that I dressed in a comfortable, more masculine way.”

The woman, identifying as, “a dyke,” goes on to tell me what she wished someone had done for her high school teachers.  “I wish someone would have told them that female masculinity isn’t indicative of low self-esteem. I felt like I couldn’t be taken seriously as a girl more comfortable in boy clothes. It pushed me into an adolescence and very early adulthood of actual insecurity, trying to figure out how feminine I needed to be to be taken seriously, but not so feminine that I felt inauthentic in my own skin.”

She concludes with, “If my gender expression had been affirmed in my young age, it would have saved me a lot of grief.”

8. Don’t Say Nothing
“The hardest part of coming out, or starting to come out,” my close friend, a self-identifying lesbian, described, “was when I would just want someone to know and they thought by saying nothing, they were doing the right thing. They weren’t.” The woman continued, “I told a teacher, and she said, ‘okay,’ and that was the end of the conversation. She felt like she was accepting me, but I felt pushed off. She was only the second person I had told, after my best friend. I felt like everything inside of me and about me was changing, and she just said, ‘okay,’ as if I told her I had my homework. It was horrible.”

9. Don’t Call it “Gay Marriage”
“The smallest thing can feel like an attack, or an unacceptance,” one friend told me. “when you say something like, ‘same-sex marriage’ or ‘same-sex partner,’ it can be really demeaning and off-putting. It’s marriage. It’s a boyfriend, a girl friend, a partner. At times, I’ve heard my teachers say things like, ‘same-sex partner,’ when the couple was married. That isn’t their same-sex partner, it’s their wife or husband. If they are non-binary, it’s their spouse.”

10. Saying “I Don’t Understand It” or “It’s Your Choice” is Not Helpful.
“I hate, hate, hate, when I come out to someone, or they find out and they say something idiotic,” a friend immediately responded to my question. “My teachers did that all the time. Sometimes, people still do it. I’m better about it, now, but as a 15-year-old talking to someone in power, and idol, like a teacher… it was one of the worst responses.” He took a sip of his drink, quiet in thought for a moment, before he continued. “Saying ‘I don’t understand it,’ or ‘it’s a personal choice,’ is not helpful. By saying you don’t understand it, you’re saying you aren’t hearing me. I know you don’t understand it, especially if you’re straight,” he laughed, “I’m not asking you to understand it. I’m asking you to take my word for it.”

“I think, though, I hate ‘it’s a personal choice’ even more. I hear it more often, too. I know this is controversial, so maybe you don’t want to include it, but… it’s not a choice. I didn’t choose to be bisexual. I just am. Saying that it’s my personal choice is not accepting of me. It’s not supportive. It’s making something that’s such a part of who I am into a preference like medium-well steak or well-done. It’s not a choice.”

I am not blind to statistics and how to do research. Obviously, a group of 10 of my closest friends does not provide an accurate representation of a community. My only hope is that you use what I’ve written to continue your research. Ask questions. Wonder. Read. Learn. Adapt.

We can only continue to grow and be better.

A big thank you to my friends, that listed their identities as: pan(sexual), transgender man, gay AF, dyke, bisexual, lesbian, and gay.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: