While working my shift at the Fresno LGBT Community Center, over just a two week period of time, I received several phone calls regarding bullying in our local schools. All were from parents or those hoping to help a younger person who was facing this terrible danger. We hear daily about bullying stories from across the country, but it’s also happening here in our own backyard.
One of the stories was about a Clovis teacher who was very blunt to her students about how dangerous SB 48 was (The Fair Education Act, which is now law and will bring about the teaching of the historical contributions of LGBT individuals into our classrooms). She even urged them to get their parents to work against it by providing the specific website to do so. (The signature gathering campaign against SB 48 failed shortly afterward).
Another was the mother of a student at a charter school who is an out lesbian and had to be pulled out of regular classes due to bullying threats. Independent study did not protect this young girl, however, and an altercation did occur between her and the bullying crowd. The parent is very frustrated since no anti bullying program is in place to protect her daughter. I connected her with the local ACLU and GSA and the story is ongoing.
Yet another concerned a 12 year old boy who is questioning his gender and after being bullied himself, was finding himself becoming a bully. Elementary and high school clearly are still a very powerful force in our lives, particularly for the LGBT Community. I’m thankful that Fresno now has an LGBT Community Center which can direct people to the help they need, and I’m proud every time I get one of those calls that as a board member of Gay Central Valley, I helped to make it happen.
Like so many of us, no matter how far removed I get from my high school experience, it’s easy to recall. The sights and smells are wrapped around the isolation, the friendship, the joy and the fear. There are times that I once again feel like my younger self, an innocent, passionate and confused American boy. The reason high school is such a topic is because it’s often the most delicious and the most vile time of anyone’s life. There’s nothing like it. And when you fall into a category such as L, B, G or T…the light and shadows of school take on a much deeper dimension.
I didn’t know exactly what I was from the beginning, but I knew I was different. That “difference” has a multitude of layers, even within the exclusive LGBT group. I knew, from as early as the age of 4, that I was not the same as those around me. Time went on, and I came to understand that my difference was complicated, but was primarily driven by the fact that I was a gay male. Add to that my sarcasm and flair for drama, whether a product of my sexuality or an entity on its own, and fitting in was complicated and dangerous. The thing about our strengths as LGBT people is that it may never be certain to any of us if we are born with these gifts, or if we develop them through the course of pain and suffering.
One of my strengths was acting. I found it early on and excelled at it starting in the ninth grade. The drama department was integral in my finding my way through the mud. Anyone in high school needs to find whatever it is that allows them to excel at what they’re good at. While it’s virtually everyone’s goal in high school to be popular and liked, the salvation of the most awkward period of life (and it is, nothing is worse than high school) is finding a place where your voice can be heard. It doesn’t take away the pain and the isolation, but it helps.
While high school seems to be a vivid and important experience to everyone, it’s important to recognize the uniqueness of it. High school is nothing more than a passage, something to get through on the way to life. Survival is the goal. In order to get to a better life, you have to survive high school.
I remember, just as clearly as when I was 17, that feeling that the high school part of my life was the most alive I’d ever feel, the most curious and excited I’d ever be, and in some ways, that’s true. But it’s true because we’re young, our bodies and brains are still developing. We have no honest concept of the real world because we’re not living in it. We’re living in a controlled environment in which the last thing we typically feel is any sense of control.
It’s normal to believe, while you’re in it, that who you are, what you feel and what you experience in high school will remain that way forever. It’s a period filled with so many first times that it carries with it a significant emotional toll. High school is merely the very beginning of the long path of life, nothing more. Programs like Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better”, which uses personal video to relay a message of survival to high school teens is revolutionary. When I was in high school there weren’t any adult LGBT voices to let me in on what life would be like after high school or even that it would be different. This is why the “It Gets Better” message is so important. It’s important for the adult LGBT community to send the message to those struggling students trapped in the very false environment of high school, that a wonderful life is waiting just on the other side.
So survive high school. Give up the idea that those are the most important years of your life. They may be the most dramatic, but they are far from the most important. In fact, they are often considered, by those who survive, to be the most ridiculous. Pass through the childishness of prejudice and prescribed identity and bloom into adulthood. Adulthood is where you have power. Adulthood is where you become yourself.
You can contribute your voice in this effort by visiting It Gets Better