I’ll be damned, this is my 100th blog-thing. Technically, it’s 101, but my previous was a reblogging of that truly lovely Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism.
So this is me, making my 100th flourish across the cyberdancefloor.
For this blog-thing, I want to focus on something that I feel particularly passionate about at the moment.
I was recently involved in a panel discussion about how to support LGBT young people (I’m in the south west of England, by the way, but all this is relevant anywhere), and the discussion very quickly gravitated towards the education system and schools, and how they’re still really letting down the LGBT young people – and of course, as usual, the discussion gravitated also towards talk of homophobia and sexuality, and abandoned the T in LGBT.
I was “the trans person” on the panel, but was very happy to be invited, as the organisers had told me they appreciate my very inclusive approach to talking about gender diversity, and I wanted the chance to represent on behalf of as wide a community of trans* folk as possible. When I got my chance to speak, about 45 minutes into the allotted hour, I first of all said that trans* young people are very marginalised by society – but also within the LGBT arena, and I drew our collective attention to how the discussion had revolved around only LGB pretty much from the start. I also called out our most famous panellist (Peter Tatchell, a very valuable non-partisan ambassador for all gender/sexuality minorities) for repeatedly saying “…whether you’re LGBT, or straight…” since obviously some trans* people are straight. He took it well :).
But then I found myself pointing something else out that’s been building up in me for a while now, and I’m going to expand on it here now.
It is very right, proper, and vital for us as a society (and us, as a gender/sexuality minorities community) to make constant and strenuous efforts to stem the flow of bullying and undermining coming at LGBT young people from their peers – and even from some teachers, and from many corners of society too – and to educate these bullies and underminers beyond their phobic and prejudiced conditioning. But it’s not enough.
These LGBT young people, from the day they’re old enough to understand what’s going on around them, have been soaked in a constant flow of toxic nastiness and prejudice from the culture around them, perhaps even from their own families. They are poisoned. So many of these young people with nonconforming gender or sexual identities have terrible problems with low self-worth, with feelings of being damaged goods, feeling dismissed and scorned by the society they’re growing up in the middle of, with fear that their families and friends will treat them that way too (or with the reality of that).
So no, it’s not enough to just slow down the flow of toxic effluent still coursing towards them, vital though it is to do that. What we also need to be doing is directly and constantly affirming, encouraging, loving these young people out loud and to their faces, as an antitoxin. We need to be constantly telling them that they are as valuable and beautiful and worthy as everyone else, that they are not less normal, merely less common. We need to be encouraging them to love themselves, because bloody hell, they need all the encouragement they can get.
The more encouraged, and affirmed, and loved they are, the more happy they’ll be – but also the more confident and assertive they’ll become – and the more they are all that, the less they’ll get bullied, because bullies do not gravitate towards the confident and assertive, the rich in love.
If we only work on the external toxic forces, and yet do little to feed these young people from inside themselves, it’s like having an allotment where you’ve planted all kinds of beautiful plants, and you put lots of effort into weeding it and removing pests… but you forget to water the plants, and so they still all shrivel and die.
So many LGBT young people contemplate, or even attempt or succeed in suicide. They need an antidote that they can learn to brew themselves, and keep strengthening, if they’re to grow up strong and healthy and loving in this dubious environment, and to make it ultimately less dubious through their continued loving presence.
I’d like to see many more resources devoted towards their very direct support and encouragement, in as many ways as possible. Youth groups, counselling, buddying, mentoring, befriending… and all that other good stuff that’s already being done too, more of all of it.
There. That’s my say.
Why In the garden! ? As a kid, I read The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It’s a pretty weird book, and there’s a lot about it that’s dubious, in terms of reinforcing gender and class stereotypes. But the central message is very much bound up with what I’ve been writing about here. The wounded father who cannot bear his son, because he reminds him of his lost wife, condemns that son to illness and bitterness. The son is finally rescued by friendship and a garden to cultivate – partly in the hope of winning his father’s love, but partly just for the love of creation and nurture (and learning in the process to bring this about in himself too).
Near the end of the book, the father is abroad on holiday, when he has a dream in which he hears his lost wife calling to him… “In the garden, in the garden!” He goes home, and finds his son well and strong and happy, the garden restored, and his own loss and bitterness break down and let go into love in the face of this.
As a story, it either gets to you or it doesn’t. For me, there has always been something magical, incantation-like about this In the garden! – yes, you can do all this urban renewal and education, but you have to go to people’s source, their root, and water and feed it with love and appreciation. We each need to learn to do this for ourselves, but it’s that much harder if those around us when we’re growing do not show us how by their very direct example of demonstrating love for us. So anything that we can each do to help anyone learn this for themselves, no matter how young or old they are, is a gift – but the younger people are when they receive this gift, the more they can make it their own, and then cultivate it and share it.
One more thing to add: I was reading a document sent to me by one of the other panellists, the one I got on with best, which was about the prevalence of mental health issues among young people in this country. There was a term in this document I hadn’t heard before: looked after children. This is apparently what has replaced the older term children in care, to describe children who are looked after by the state, in children’s homes or placed with foster families, rather than living with their own family. And reading some of the facts and figures about these children (and what happens to many of them when they grow up), it was obvious to me that everything I’ve said above applies equally to these children – as it does also to adopted children. They, as well as LGBT children (and some of them are both, of course) all suffer from a deeply ingrained message that they’re not as valuable as other people, and we need to counter that with a constant nourishing diet of love.
Thanks for listening. 100. Bloody hell. Sorry, I lack middle gears.