Today I had my training for volunteer work with sexual minority youth. It’s the second such training I’ve had – the first being in 2009. No matter how basic the information we learn is, I feel like there is always some new information to take in, or some new perspective to look at something from. I was glad to be there and to have the opportunity to learn more or to refresh information that I’d already known.
The age ranges that I’ll be interacting with are around the ages of 12-24ish and often times are youth at risk. The training lasted for four hours and was, for the most part, gut-wrenching. We first learned what at-risk youth were. Examples could be at risk for: poverty, isolation, stds, self-harm, pregnancy, and homelessness. For all of the categories we listed, GLBTQ youth were more likely to be at risk. The woman leading the training noted that we don’t know a single area in which GLBTQ aren’t more at risk.
There was so much to take in, but one really special thing about GSA (gay straight alliance) or QRC (queer resource centers) is being able to be in a space where you can begin to feel comfortable expressing your identity safely. For some people they may not be able to come out, express their gender, or be open and honest about their fears or sense-of-self anywhere else. Places like this haven’t always existed. Kids are coming out and talking about these things much younger now than they used to.
At the beginning of this (and my last) training session we talked about gender specific pronouns. In my college courses we’ve started introducing ourselves with our pronoun preferences. For instance, during roll, I would say “My name is Lorelei and I go by female pronouns” or “My name is Lorelei and I go by she and her.”
Pronouns are something really important to know because you can really alienate someone if you call them “he” when they identify as “she.” It’s also hard because we do have those snap judgements and want to quickly categorize someone in our minds. We may be curious to ask how someone identifies if we can’t quickly snap judge them into a category. Someone who is trans* or gender queer or androgynous, for instance, may not be as easy to “read” in a traditional sense. We talked about what that means and how people may use gender to identify themselves. We talked about how you can ask someone how they identify, if you are unsure of how to refer to them in conversation.
Preference varies – so we were told that generally it’s safe to call people by their name or go the gender neutral route by using “they.” This is an intentional act of being respectful of someone. Of course you don’t know what someone has gone through or how sensitive they are going to be. We came to the conclusion that it is okay to ask someone what gender pronoun they prefer, if it’s appropriate for the conversation. Instead of saying “are you a guy or a girl?” you could introduce yourself first “My name is Lorelei and I go by female pronouns, what’s your name?” This allows you to say “This is who I am so you don’t misread me, who are you so I don’t misread you?” Some people may prefer to be pulled aside. You also have to keep in mind that not everyone is “out” and so a gender pronoun that they prefer in a safe space might not be what they use at home or around family. There is a lot of variance and everyone is different.
Being respectful and listening to people talk and trying not to make too many assumptions is a great way to go.
If anyone has anything to add – please do.