Going Back to High School: Pizza and queer kids

I went back to my high school, today, and luckily it wasn’t the nightmare that I often have involving semi-nudity and forgetting my locker combination.  I was there to co-facilitate a Pizza Klatch group for the first time and I was hyped up and nervous.

There are two lunches, so two Pizza Klatch meetings.  Pizza Klatch is an organization that supplies facilitators and pizza for lunch time gatherings of LGBTQQA kids (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Queer Questioning and Allies) at local high schools.  I met the pizza delivery guy while my co-facilitator prepped the room.  We had a chance to chat and quickly talk about what we needed to cover in terms of procedures, things like mandatory reporting, protocols for respectful discussion, and other ‘norms’ for Pizza Klatch.  Our first lunch group was smaller, a confident group, well spoken and relaxed.   We went around the room and did introductions, then shared high and low points for the week.  Group one enjoyed their Thanksgiving vacation time, had very little to report for lows.   Two of the girls in that group are very involved in the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance), one is the vice president.  Overall, a group of upbeat, positive, involved achieving kids.

We had a 20 minute break between lunches and then the second group came in.  The room filled up, we got more chairs.  This group was different, rougher, tougher, but less confident, less smoothly articulate.  When we talked about highs and lows, this group had some severe lows:  drunk step-fathers interfering with holiday activities, violent fights with step-brothers in defense of younger siblings, conflicts with conservative religious relatives over sexual preference.  There was one girl who was making a concerted effort to be small and unseen.  She wore a stocking cap with ear flaps covered by a hoodie, covering all her hair, zipped up to her chin.  Only her face showed and she sat low in her seat, close to my co-facilitator.  She said very little, but I kept noticing her looking at me when I was looking the other way.

I was really focusing on body language, trying to pick up on what wasn’t being said, seeing what I could learn about friendships and alliances within the group.  Something interesting happened in both sessions when I told them that I identified as genderqueer.  The moment that word hit the air, a little ripple went through each group:  eyes cutting quickly back and forth between various members of the group, a little shudder almost.  It was over in a millisecond, but it was unmistakable.  So, now I wonder what they were reacting to.  Is it that the word ‘queer’ is not often heard spoken with such pride and affirmation?  Given what I know about the demographic feeding into this high school, that wouldn’t surprise me.  Were they reacting to the whole word, genderqueer, and if so, is it a new word?  Is it something they have a preconceived notion about?  I’m hoping I find out eventually.  Even if I don’t, it’s clear these kids need to have someone in their lives who can claim such an identity without shame or fear.

I’m looking forward to the coming weeks and building a community with these kids.  I have as much to learn from them as they have to learn from me, that’s for sure.

Ok.. I have to add this, some feedback from my co-facilitator:

I enjoyed having you as a co-facilitator today. You were relaxed and connected with the kids immediately. While you were out taking your phone call before second lunch several of the kids asked “who’s the person that graduated from Backwater?” They were excited to have one of their own back.”

 

I wrote this a while back, when I first met with the GSA advisor at my high school:

I took a five minute walk from work to my alma mater to meet with the Gay Straight Alliance advisor, R, at the high school I graduated from 28 years ago.  We only had about 20 minutes to chat, but in that time, we established a rapport and shared stories.  R’s about my age, maybe slightly older, and started student teaching there 25 years ago.  He’s been out as bisexual since those early days and could relate to my experiences as a high schooler.  The current principal is the first one who hasn’t given R the ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ brush-off upon finding out.  The GSA has been in existence about 3 years, before that there were a couple of diversity related groups but nothing specific to LGBT issues.

I told him about my experience as a student there, back in the early 80s.  I’d been one in a small group of girls, lesbians and bisexuals who grouped together for sex, friendship and protection.  We knew who the adult queers were.  All the female PE teachers, one of the coaches and the flaming French teacher.  We also knew better than to try to approach them for advice or encouragement.  Adult queers were very good at acting like they didn’t know we were like them.   This was before PFLAG, before Ellen and Melissa and kd lang.  Adults couldn’t connect with us on queerness because they feared the repercussions.  There wasn’t Stonewall youth or GSA’s or anything like that to facilitate queer youth finding adult role models, mentors and support.  We were on our own.

Some of us got out alright, others spent years in alcoholism and failed relationships.  I lost track of most of them for years, escaping to college and trying to put my school days behind me.  I was hoping that I’d discover things had changed for the better, and they have, but not as much as they should have in 28 years.  I forgot to ask him how many kids participated in the GSA, but I’ll bet good money it’s not all the kids who could benefit.  A lot of them won’t admit it to themselves, or don’t want their parents or teammates to find out they attended.

One of R’s goals is to get the school to schedule an in-service day around sexuality and gender diversity.  That would make attendance by the staff and faculty mandatory.  His idea is to get a panel of speakers to talk about their experiences and speak to the need for better education, advocacy and support.  He asked if I’d be interested in being on a speaker panel and I definitely would be.  I’ll be on panels, facilitate groups, speak to teachers and faculty — whatever I can do to improve things.  It’s been 28 years since I walked out of these halls with a high school diploma and a vow to leave and never look back.  The atmosphere for queer kids should have improved a lot since then, but it hasn’t.  Change has been slow in coming to my alma mater, and I’ll do everything in my power to press on the accelerator.

 

 

 

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