Do you remember the advice you were given when you were a teenager? I do. Lots of adults – whether they were parents, teachers, or family friends – all shared similar words of wisdom, most of which began with the word “don’t”: Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t do drugs. Don’t have sex (or don’t have sex without protection). Looking back, it seems that most of the advice I was given was about what not to do. On the rare occasion that the advice was meant to encourage me to do something, it was usually practical things like working hard and choosing a good, stable career with a decent salary and benefits. You know, the kind of stuff that really appeals to teenagers.
All the advice, whether it be do’s or don’ts, always came with a disclaimer. It was something along the lines of “I want what’s best for you,” which is both lovely and condescending because it doesn’t always take into account what young persons want for themselves. It was all about achieving success, which seemed to have a very narrow definition involving home ownership, a white picket fence, and a sensible sedan. Again, all of which is very appealing to teenagers.
The trouble with this kind of advice is that it always seems to circle back to compromise. Take the things you love and try to translate them into a career. If we follow this advice and lean towards the practical side of life, we soon find that we’ve diluted everything that makes us special and unique. We become like everyone else and lose ourselves in the process.
I bring all this up because I think this is especially difficult for young people in our community. Many of us were raised to compromise, to hide parts of ourselves and only show what we think others want to see. I, for one, looked forward to life after high school because I knew that was when I would be able to live openly as myself. Later, when I had the opportunity to be myself, I realized that I wasn’t sure how to do it. After all, I never had a chance to fully practice during my adolescent years.
Our teenage years are such an important time in our lives. We begin to learn who we are, who we want to be, and how to form relationships with others. We aren’t able to do that if we’re hiding parts of ourselves because relationships, both with ourselves and others, require honesty. When we learn to disguise ourselves, we build a weak foundation for the rest of our lives. What starts as a good, temporary coping strategy can quickly become a recipe for disaster if we don’t learn to be open with ourselves and others.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve been working hard behind the scenes with Hagerstown Hopes. We’re developing a youth group and we’re throwing our first ever LGBTQIA prom because we want to create safe spaces for young people to figure out who they are, form friendships, and know that they’re ok as they are, without compromises or disguises. Times have changed and many LGBTQ youth are finding more support than we in older generations, but many of the problems remain the same. There will always be bullies, there will always be those who want us to compromise ourselves so that they feel comfortable. And that’s why LGBTQ proms are important. We need to help our young people build a strong foundation not just so they can survive high school, but also be successful and happy in their lives. Prom may only last one night, but that one night can be an oasis in a desert of high school disguise, a chance to live one’s truth, to be seen, and to learn how to love oneself and others. It’s a foundation worth building. Let’s get to work.
- Brian George Hose has been an advocate for LGBTQ persons and issues all his adult life. He holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Shepherd University and looks forward to pursuing a Master's of Social Work with a focus in mental health. A former musician, Brian served as minister of music for New Light MCC for several years and incorporates music into social work practice. He lives in rural Western Maryland where he has amassed a sinful number of books, yarn, and books about yarn. He has been writing for Baltimore Out Loud since February 2016.