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LGBTQI+ teens and those end of summer blues
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I think a lot of teens would agree that going back to school and the end of summer break sucks! Back to school means: back to bedtimes, back to early morning wake-ups, not as much time doing your own thing like sports, video games, or time with friends, and sometimes, back to a place where you’re not as free to be you. When we’re at home, kids or adults, we might feel we have a little more control over what we’re exposed to. Hopefully home doesn’t have bullies, home doesn’t have difficult to understand rules or expectations, and home is a safe space with access to things that help us to chill out when we’re stressed or need a break from the rest of the world.
As the end of summer approaches, you may notice you (or your teen) have an increase in anxiety or depression. Most of us tend to get nervous about changes and starting something new. LGBTQI teens have some additional thoughts that might start creeping in. So, if you’re a teen reading this, I’m adding in some helpful tips that may help alleviate some of the stress you’re experiencing. If you’re a parent/ally and you’re noticing some changes in your kiddo, hopefully this will give you some insight into what you may be noticing and why.
This is a big one. Role calls in every class have the potential to mean use of your dead name and having to provide your preferred pronouns over and over. If you go to a school that requires uniforms, maybe you have to wear clothes that don’t allow you to express your authentic self. Bathrooms, don’t even get me started. Locker rooms to change out for gym class can be a completely traumatizing experience.
Hopefully at home, you don’t have signs on your bathroom door dictating gender assignments meaning you don’t have to make that uncomfortable decision and fit into a box. I truly hope your home is welcoming and accepting and you are addressed how you’d like meaning you don’t have to constantly explain yourself and try to predict responses (good or bad). Summer time often means relaxed rules around what you can/can’t wear that align with your preferred expression of self meaning you just get to chill and be beautiful you. And then, back to school comes around aka all the bs mentioned above.
So what can we do?!
Positive talk: Tell yourself, out loud, that your body does not define your gender.
Affirm your identity: do big or small things like wearing a small accessory that is affirmative for you or re-styling your hair
Talk to someone who understands: this can be a friend who experiences dysphoria, reaching out to your therapist, or calling the
Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860
MORE positive talk (I love positive self-talk, can you tell?): Don’t forget to be easy on yourself. Diversity exists in all bodies and this doesn’t make yours any less amazing. So think on ALL the things you love about you; your body in general, what you’re good at, and what others have told you they love about you.
Damn, bullies suck too. They’re so in our faces that we’ve even identified two types: covert and overt. Overt is probably what immediately comes to mind: name calling (this includes slurs and jokes), pushing, shoving, threats, etc. Covert bullying is usually what adults aren’t seeing: spreading rumors, social media bullying, gossiping, purposefully misgendering, and exclusion. Bullying isn’t exclusive to LBTGQI teens. However, the CDC’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance revealed that “43% of transgender youth have been bullied on school property”. In keeping with trends from 2015 and 2017, “LGBTQ students are more likely to experience victimization, violence and suicidality”. Read more about the results of the study on the Human Rights Campaign’s page.
How Can We Help?
I wish there was an easy solution to stopping bullying. Unfortunately, it’s pervasive across all different settings in life. The number 1 thing I want you to keep in mind, Teen, is that you’re not alone! If you have a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), please reach out to them. One of the best things we can do is to have people around us that support us and stand strong next to us. Peopling isn’t your thing? That’s ok, there are tons of online affirming groups! Check out my resource page for a good start on places to look (hint: more to come soon). Also, remembering that knowledge is power. All schools have an anti-bullying policy. Know what it is, so you know what you don’t have to accept. The school has steps it can take to fix the problem so that you, as the kid, don’t have to be the one that takes charge and figures it out.
Ally’s, the best thing you can do is to be that ear for your kiddo. Please, please, please don’t minimize your child’s experience. We know that having at least one supportive parent at home is huge for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression associated with bullying (and really any childhood issues). According to this great article on bullying by My Kid Is Gay, “Things that make it worse for children include telling them not to tattle, telling them to solve the problem on their own, telling them to change their behavior, and ignoring the problem”. If your teen suddenly starts dressing differently, please don’t ignore this development either. This could be a good indicator that something’s off and they’re feeling the need to conform for survival. Just check in with your kiddo, don’t be scared (I know teens can be scary sometimes, but get in there and show them what bravery looks like!). Teens, I know you may feel like parents just won’t get it if you tell them, but let’s give them the chance. Hell, chances are they experienced bullying too and have some good words of wisdom or, at the very least, a hug and a cup of hot cocoa (cocoa for the win on so many things).
While I would love if we lived in a magical world where all teachers were these gold mines of support for our youth, the fact of the matter is that, unfortunately, not all of them are. At the end of the day, teachers are human beings too. And not all human beings are nice ones. And not all human beings are going to agree with our preferences, appearances, beliefs, and experiences. And that’s fine, until it’s not. Like in situations where the teacher becomes the bully. They are not exempt from purposefully misgendering, yelling, ridiculing, or purposefully ignoring very real and dangerous issues in a classroom. I say none of this to knock teachers! I know and love some really great ones and they have special places in my heart. I say this to be realistic because this can be a real fear for LGBTQI+ teens in returning to school. Feeling you can’t trust not only the students, but also the staff that we encourage kids to turn to while at school can be disheartening.
Love a school that has a Gay Straight Alliance/Gender & Sexuality Alliance or GSA. Adolescence is all about trying to figure out your place in the world and how you fit. How amazing to have this ready-made group that has the potential to say, “Come join us here, we’re your tribe and we get it!”. Typically, a GSA has a faculty member that helps to facilitate and make sure things run smoothly. This means your teen can easily identify the adult at school that’s safe. So now not only do you have a tribe, you also have an adult knight in shining armor to run to if things get tough. Maybe your school doesn’t have a GSA. Parents, you can always talk to faculty and put that bug in their ear. Teachers, you have the right to start a chess club, which means you have a right to start a GSA! Teens, I know it can be a little scary to put yourself out there, but you also have the right to propose this to faculty and staff. Not sure where to start, check out the GSA Networks 10 steps to getting started.
Warning, I’m about to encourage more positive self-talk
I love summer; I love the heat, the bugs, the smell of sun block, the sound of the ocean…I could go on and on. So, I get the end of summer blues for sure. And while I’m not an LGBTQI+ teen returning to school, there’s still the potential to struggle with summer turning into fall. My last words of wisdom are to remind yourself of all the good things to come in fall and winter. I remind myself that I absolutely LOVE Halloween. And I’m super basic, so, duh, I love pumpkins. And I love the sound of the leaves crunching, and the smell of cinnamon, the feeling of a snowball being thrown hard af at my face by one of my kids. So when I start to get bummed out, I pep myself up for the good things to come. (Bonus tip: I even start planning them now, so I have something good to look forward to). Science tells us that when we only focus on negative, we see more negative. But the great thing is the opposite is true and we notice more positive things when we try to focus on those instead. So tell me some positive things you’re looking forward to in going back to school: New clothes, seeing your fave teachers, sports, return of new fall shows, getting to see friends that have been gone alllll summer? What did I miss?