By Kelly Huegel
This book should be in every school and public library in America. Scratch that. In the world.
From the dedication (so sweet!)
“…And for queer kids everywhere. You are my heroes.”to the final lines that tell every reader to "enjoy yourself and your life. You deserve it."
Kelly gets the tone just right: informative, clear, helpful, encouraging, patient and warm.
I read this guide cover to cover, and while that's certainly not the only way to read it, it was packed with great information and advice.
Pheonix Schneider (The Trevor Project's Program Director) wrote a beautiful foreword – stirring and honest, about how the journey to be authentic is really what it’s all about. Sexual orientation, gender identity, whether you fall into an easily identifiable category or not – each of us are on the adventure to “feel most comfortable being who you were born to be: your unique, beautiful self.”
As Kelly writes, “The journey from being a confused, scared teen to the out and proud person I am today was a road traveled not by big leaps, but instead by many small steps.”
And this guide walks us through our own steps.
“The purpose of this book is not to make you choose a label, but to help you get to know yourself and be more comfortable with who you are.”
The Chapters are:
Life at School
Dating and Relationships
Sex and Sexuality
Religion and Culture
Work, College and Beyond
(and there's a glossary, resources, selected bibliography and index at the end.)
In 11 chapters there's so much Kelly covers, and all of it with common (or perhaps we need to acknowledge that it's uncommon) sense!
Moments in the guide I have to tell you about:
"Reparative therapy and transformational ministries can be very destructive to queer people’s self-esteem because the goal is to convince those who are GLBTQ that their thoughts and feelings are wrong and unnatural. If you need help coming to terms with being GLBTQ, or if you just want someone to talk to, seeking therapy or counseling to discuss these issues is a good idea. But talk to someone who won’t try to make you feel like it’s wrong to be who you are. You don’t need to try to fix who you are, because nothing is wrong with you in the first place." (pg. 14)
And from the section, "Your Personal Geography: Exploring Who You Are
"What it all boils down to is that it doesn’t really matter what the “experts” say. The only person who is a true expert when it comes to you is you, so what matters is what you say. You’re the only person who can make a definitive statement about who you are — or you can decide not to make a definitive statement. While you can’t control whether you’re GLBTQ, you can shape how you feel about yourself. You have the power to improve your self-esteem." (pg. 15)
There are amazing statistics, like this one:
In his book The New Gay Teenager, Savin-Williams asserts that, based on his own study of teens, “it is safe to conclude that at least 15 percent and maybe as high as 20 percent of all adolescents have some degree of a same-sex orientation.” (pg. 15)
WOW - 15 to 20%?
According to GLSEN’s “2009 National School Climate Survey,” 53 percent of students reported having been victims of cyberbullying.
And the changes in one generation:
A Gallup poll conducted in May of each year asks Americans about their attitudes toward homosexuality. In 2008, 57 percent of all Americans surveyed said they found homosexuality to be an acceptable lifestyle, compared with only 34 percent in 1982. Acceptance of GLBTQ people is even higher among younger generations—75 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 surveyed said they feel homosexuality is acceptable.
According to the “2009 National School Climate Survey” conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), nearly 60 percent of students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third felt unsafe because of their gender identity or gender expression. In addition, 40 percent of GLBTQ students surveyed reported experiencing physical harassment (such as being blocked from walking down the hall), and nearly 19 percent reported being physically assaulted (punched, kicked, etc.) at school in the last year because of their sexual orientation.
One of the great things about this guide is that throughout there are quotes from teens and youth about the topics being discussed. "Been There" quotes hit not just "that was my experience" but also "here's what I did." One of my favorites:
“I was just doing my thing at my locker when one of a group of girls looked at me and said, ‘You’re a dyke.’ I looked back at her and smiled and said, ‘You say that like it’s a bad thing.’ She was stunned. She just looked at me for a minute, then turned and walked away.” Anna, 17 — pg. 38
And while sharing some of the challenges of being queer (like haters existing in the world) the guide never lets us lose sight of hope... like this moment, talking about one response to anti-gay protestors, from pg. 38
The protestors later went to Montgomery Blair High School to demonstrate against the school's gay-straight alliance (GSA). A local open congregation launched a fundraiser in response, encouraging churchgoers to donate money for every minute the Kansas group protested the school. The church donated the money to a local gay rights organization.
The guide tackles myths, something that's so important to address:
Myth #2: Gay men are attracted to all men, lesbians are attracted to all women, and bisexuals are attracted to just plain everyone. The truth: Just like straight people, queer people have personal tastes in what they like, whether it’s food, cars, or people they’re attracted to. Because the stereotype is so common, some people may be uncomfortable when they first meet a GLBTQ person. (“Oh, he’s gay. . . . He must be checking me out.”) But coming out to someone is not the same thing as coming on to the person. The more people are exposed to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, the more they come to understand that. (pg. 19)
So important to talk about!
Myth #9: Queer people recruit. The truth: This myth is rooted in a misunderstanding that GLBTQ people choose to be who they are, and so therefore they can talk or turn someone else into being queer. An especially vicious aspect of this myth is the accusation that GLBTQ people “recruit” young people. In fact, this book has been banned from a few libraries because some people allege that the information in it is designed to “turn” young people GLBTQ. Being gay isn’t like buying a car — a skilled salesperson can’t just talk you into it. Personal identity and attraction are highly individual and can’t be dictated by someone else. (pg. 22-23)
The guide is full of great resources, like:
ACLU Youth & Schools
The American Civil Liberties Union advocates for equality for all people, and this site offers tools that can be helpful for promoting tolerance in schools, including those in rural areas.
Centerlink serves as an online directory for GLBTQ centers.
The National Youth Advocacy Coalition, through a partnership with The Trevor Project, also provides info on state and local organizations working with GLBTQ teens.
A great offering were some ideas of how to respond to homophobic remarks, (pg. 40) like:
“What’s with the hate?”
The chapter GLBTQ Friends, ‘We Are Family,’ shares the message that the GLBTQ community has room for you just as you are – and that’s so important and so true.
And of course, I appreciated the shout out on pg. 87:
Speaking of Books . . . Finding Yourself in Literature
Just as it's important to connect with other GLBTQ people in real life, it's also great to see yourself represented in books. Being able to read about people (real or fictional) who are like you or who have had similar experiences is important to feeling "normal." Writer and blogger Lee Wind operates an award-winning site (www.leewind.org) for which he reviews and catalogs many books with GLBTQ character and themes.
Making Connections: The section on GLBTQ Online Communities included a discussion on internet safety which was good stuff!
“The key is to be true to yourself and honest with the person you’re spending time with.”
Such good advice!
I really appreciated this guide's very real take "On dating and pda" (public displays of affection)
Assessing the Situation
Homophobes aren’t lurking in every shadow, but they are out there—including some who are dangerous. Unless you’re on extremely familiar or otherwise safe turf, like a GLBTQ establishment or event, before leaning in for a peck, do a quick check of your surroundings.
• Are a lot of people close by?
• What’s the feeling you get from them by looking at them?
• What are your instincts telling you?
• Are people minding their own business, or do they seem a little too interested in yours?
• Are you in a place that’s open or easily accessible, or are you in a confined space where it would be tough to leave quickly?
Good stuff to consider.
Tips from recovering from a breakup – recognizing that love lost can be more difficult for GLBTQ teens because they might not have the support for being themselves that straight teens have by default.
Another thing I love about this guide (as on page 101, in the advice for dealing with breakups section) are the examples of insensitive comments others might make with suggestions of what your responses might be:
“Good – you can go back to dating girls now.”
“If you and Dad split up, would you start dating women?
“It’s not like it was a real relationship anyway.”
“It hurts when you belittle how I feel. Whether you approved of the relationship isn’t the issue. This isn’t about you, it’s about me.”
Dating violence – something rarely if ever mentioned in the straight community, is addressed, with measured advice:
Dating violence for GLBTQ young people is very similar to abuse and violence in straight teen relationships, but queer teens may face additional challenges. They may have to deal with homophobia and ignorance about GLBTQ relationships. Abusive partners also might threaten to out the person being abused.
GLBTQ teens might struggle with ideas of what relationships should be like because relatively few positive queer role models are available. This can make abuse harder to recognize because victims don’t expect it or see it addressed in GLBTQ relationships. No matter who you’re dating, you have the right to be treated with respect by your partner.
• Abuse is about control and power, not love.
And then, beautifully, Kelly flips the lens and in a sidebar asks:
What If It’s You?
What if you're worried that you are the one treating your partner disrespectfully or abusively? Recognizing this is a very important step. Consider these questions:
Is this the type of person you want to be?
Is this the kind of relationship you want to have, instead of one built on mutual respect and trust?
There can be a lot of reasons why you're treating your partner abusively. Maybe this is the kind of relationship your parents or other family members have. You might need to get support for emotional issues you're dealing with. It's not too late to get help. You, too, can call any of the resources listed in this chapter to talk to a trusted adult. Do it not just for your partner, but also for yourself.
Such important words to share.
In the chapter on Sex and Sexuality, there was a great section on tools to make choices about sex
According to the CDC’s “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, 2009,” 46 percent of high school students had engaged in sexual intercourse. So although it might seem like it, not everyone is having sex. If you decide you’re not ready or you’re not interested, you’ll have a lot of company (54 percent of your peers, to be precise).
Researchers have also found that some teens who tell their peers they’ve had sex are stretching the truth. With all the pressure to have sex, it’s understandable that some teens feel the need to lie about their experiences. Some tell stories to get attention, to feel more mature, or to get people to quit asking if they’re having sex. Knowing that they could be lying gives you another reason not to base your decisions on what your friends might or might not be doing.
(that was from page 114) and this awesome “been there” quote:
“Don’t straight people know they’re heterosexual before they’ve had sex?”
There were great resources on sex info (pg 123) and solid, conservative advice on safer (as opposed to “safe” sex.)
The Staying Healthy chapter included more surprising stats - on depression, and a section talking about five great ways to beat the blues. It was wonderful advice, and I was so happy to see the journaling suggestion. Works for me…
And the "A deal for life" contract (pg. 139) was poignant. I'm so glad the Trevor Project lifeline (866-4-U-TREVOR, 866-488-7386) is there for teens who don’t have someone to take that pledge with, because by calling, everyone one of them has someone to talk to. You – we - are all important. Every one of us. That means you, too.
This section also included more stunning statistics, like this, from page 138:
While overall use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco has declined somewhat for teens in the last several years, overall substance abuse rates are still much higher for GLBTQ teens than for their straight peers. A 2008 article published in the journal Addiction, which analyzed data from 18 different studies conducted between 1994 and 2006, reported that GLBTQ teens are 190 percent more likely than heterosexual teens to use drugs or alcohol. The numbers are even higher among subgroups. For example, bisexual teens are 340 percent more likely to use drugs or alcohol than straight peers, and lesbians are 400 percent more likely.
Why are these numbers so high? Dr. Michael Marshal, a researcher from the University of Pittsburgh and the main author of the study, said, “Homophobia, discrimination, and victimization are largely responsible for these substance use disparities in young gay people.” Still, he noted, “It is important to remember that the vast majority of gay youth are happy and healthy, despite the stressors of living in a...homophobic society.”
The guide covers alcohol, cigarettes, and drug use, drawing the connections between those behaviors and stress and depressed feelings.
Some of the quotes from teens in this chapter made me tear up, like this one:
“I started doing drugs when I was nine. I tried to fit in with that crowd and hide my ‘secret identity.’ By the time I was 13, I was put in drug rehab… My rehab counselor told me I wasn’t going to be able to stop using unless I was true to myself. I went home and thought about what he said. The next day I started coming out to friends.” - Sam, 15 (pr. 145)
No matter what anyone tells you or how badly you might sometimes feel, you have the potential to make anything you want of your life. You can do amazing things. If you need help getting through a rough spot, reach out for it. It’s there and it’s never too late.
It's a topic that is so nicely handled.
Issues like homophobia and ignorance about gender identity are things that you sometimes have little or no control over. Focusing on things you can control, such as adopting positive and healthy behaviors, goes a long way toward creating a happier and more fulfilling life for yourself.(pg. 149)
I loved Chapter 9 – on religion and culture - as well. The discussion of the influences of different religions and cultures and how they intersect with being GLBTQ was an excellent beginning to dealing with and exploring the issues.
I also loved learning about these resources for LGBTQ Teens of Color (pg. 164):
Ambiente Joven (www.ambientejoven.org).
This Spanish-language site for queer Latino teens includes information on religion, sexuality and safe sex, as well as resources throughout the United States and South America and links to other sites of interest.
AQU25A, a program of the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, is for GLBTQ young adults ages 25 and under. Their site includes information and referrals, as well as activities in the San Francisco area.
Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride (www.apifamilypride.org).
Their mission is to foster acceptance of sexual and gender diversity among API families. The site includes links to API-specific resources, including books and videos.
Trikone is a nonprofit organization for GLBTQ people of South Asian descent (including people from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Tibet.) Its goals are to bring people of South Asian heritage together, help people affirm South Asian identity as well as their sexual orientation and gender identity, and fight discrimination.
Zuna Institute (www.zunainstitute.org).
Zuna Institute explores issues related to being a black lesbian in today's society and advocates for civil rights. Their website includes information and resources, advocacy opportunities, and links to many other organizations and sites for black lesbians.
Really, this guide is a goldmine!
I really enjoyed the wrap up of this chapter:
Being a Whole Person: Integrating All Parts of Yourself
If you’re having a hard time reconciling your culture, religion, disability, and so on with being GLBTQ, you could be feeling alone, confused, or rejected. Figuring out where you fit in your culture as a queer person and how you can integrate your culture into your life can be a long process. It can help to remember that there are GLBTQ members of every race, religion, ethnicity, and cultural group. No matter who you are, you’re not alone. (pg. 166)
The Transgender Teens chapter starts with these words: “Sex is what’s between your legs. Gender is what’s between your ears.” (pg. 167)
This chapter continued the ride of great information, and even included these Historical gems as a sidebar:
You GO Girls Challenging Gender Roles in History:
In early 18th-century Germany, a woman named Catharina Margaretha Linck dressed as a man, served in the army, and then went to work as a cotton dyer. Catharina even married a woman (although the bond technically wouldn't have been legal.)
During the Revolutionary War, Deborah Sampson dressed as a man and joined the Continental Army. Deborah was also known to have had romantic relationships with other women.
Kelly gives the guide's readers clarity and a reassuring tone that it’s a journey, and that even if you don’t have all the answers right now, “as long as you understand that whoever you are is okay at any stage of your life, that’s a good thing.” (pg. 176)
The Transgender Teen chapter also had resources, like Gender Spectrum, and Camp Aranu’tiq (a weeklong, tuition-free overnight summer camp held in Southern New England for transgender and gender variant young people ages 8-15.)
Transgender people can face difficult issues, but many live very meaningful, fulfilled, and happy lives. The most important thing you can do is accept yourself for the wonderful person you are. (pg. 188)YES!
The guide also includes information on finding a GLBTQ friendly college, with resources like “the online Campus Climate Index (www.campusclimateindex.org). This site is operated by Campus Pride, a national non-profit group for student leaders and campus groups that works to create more GLBTQ-friendly environments at colleges and universities. The Campus Climate Index includes reviews and ratings of colleges, ranking how GLBTQ-friendly they are. It also includes information on size, degree offerings, tuition, and financial aid resources for GLBTQ students.” (pg. 195-196 .)
It's good advice for any student, really… but especially for GLBTQ queer students.
And I was so happy to learn about:
The Lambda 10 Project is a group for GLBTQ Greek organizations and addresses a variety of issues that can be part of being Greek and queer. Its website (www.lambda10.org) also features news and resources and hosts a bulletin board and chat room for GLBTQ Greeks.
Most of all, in every chapter, "GLBTQ: The Survival Guide For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens" offers smart and sage advice.
Okay, I can't say it enough. Every school and public library should have a copy of this guide. And if I won the lottery tomorrow, I'd help them buy it.
Thank you, Kelly, for writing this. Finding a guide like this would have changed my entire life as a teenager - and for the better. And I know that it will change lives now.