Like many of you, I was in shock the morning after the election. How could this be happening? I entered the day and stepped into a rearranged landscape with so much trepidation and yes, fear. This is a landscape that I had prevented myself from imagining. But here we are. In a new reality. And I am thinking of you, the younger generation, who has so much to do now and such a heavy lift ahead of you.
There is only one thing to do now — resist the pull to believe that the world is a hateful place where no one cares for one another. We have to prove that it is otherwise — through our actions. We will all have to be strong and stand up for what we believe and we may even be asked to put our very selves on the line to prove it.
For me, the real battle (for now) is within myself — a part of me wants to give up, to cave, to crawl into a hole, to admit defeat, but then another part of me is fired up and ready to prove that though the electorate has gone ahead and done something irrevocably wrongheaded, I will not be swayed in my belief that we are a decent people with huge hearts and unlimited potential. If they take that away from me, I have nothing, really. Then they’ve won.
I am heartened to remember that as LGBTQ people we have a long history of struggle and resistance to prove our worth in this country — and we have a track record that includes a lot of winning. As an elder in this ongoing struggle, I want to pass along some helpful hints to help you along the way, a few suggestions that we have suggested to Trevor Lifeline callers for almost eighteen years.
1) Be Yourself. Here’s the thing: They will call you names. They will try to negate your feelings. They’ll say you have no rights, and it would be better for everyone if you did not exist as you are. They will troll you, trample you, and try to harm you. They’ll say it’s a choice — and then tell you that you made the wrong choice. They’ll do everything in their power to keep you from being yourself. But the fact is — being yourself is the one thing you are really good at. You’re a total expert in this department, and to be any less than who you are (or anyone else) would be a lie. Discovering the truth of who you are takes a whole lifetime, so be patient with yourself as you become that person, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad in the process. It is the most important work of your life, and only you know the right way forward.
2) Be Safe. Our number-one priority is your safety. Standing up for who you are, expressing your true self and fighting for your rights takes a lot of determination and often even more courage. But it’s especially important that you make sure at all times that you are doing so in a way that doesn’t compromise your safety. We don’t want you to get hurt or hurt yourself. We need you around for a long time. So when you are assessing a situation, whether it’s coming out, protesting, standing up to bullies, speaking truth to power or just being yourself in a new surrounding, ask yourself — is this safe? You might even assign your safety a number from one to ten; one being totally safe and ten being not safe at all. If you go above a five, you might want to consider alternatives, like asking for help or gathering your tribe around you. You might even pause and take a deep breath. Who you are is precious; nothing and no one should mess with that — not even you.
3) Ask For Help. Few people like to admit this, least of all adults, but the truth is, everyone needs help at some time during their life, and often more than once. Each of us needs help in the hard work of becoming. So don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to reach out beyond yourself and ask for help. You are not expected to know everything. No one is. And our pool of knowledge becomes an ocean when we share what we know and when we seek solutions together. Also, when you ask for help, you allow someone else the opportunity to share their wisdom and experience, which in turn expands their ability to care. It’s win-win.
4) Find Your Tribe. You possess an inner compass, something that will always tell you what’s up, where to go and who to avoid. Trust that. Listen to where that compass might be leading you, and steer clear of people who don’t get who you are, or have a problem with the real you or criticize the way you are naturally. Look for those people who genuinely like you and who feel you have something to say. If you can let your guard down and be a mess around these people then they will most likely have your back when the going gets tough. These are your people and when gathered together they make up your tribe. Keep them close and listen to their council when you are in need.
5) Talk About Your Feelings. Your feelings matter. Stuffing them down, insisting that you’re fine or acting out as a way of not feeling your feelings will only create confusion for you and everyone around you. Talk about your feelings with those you trust. Learning to articulate what’s going on with you takes practice, but it also requires a good listener. Find someone who is non-judgmental and who wants the best for you. Sometimes you don’t need advice; just the need to hear for yourself what’s on your mind or in your heart. And P.S. if a good listener isn’t handy, then call The Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386. There’s always someone there for you.
6) Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes. We all do it. A lot. Welcome to the human race. But the best among us learn from those mistakes, and then hopefully we don’t make the same ones over and over.
7) Write it down. Keep a journal so you can record your feelings, reflections and experiences. Just the act of sitting down with yourself and writing about what’s going on with you can sometimes clarify what’s going on with you. You don’t have to be a “writer.” Just try to be someone who occasionally writes with honesty and compassion for yourself and others. You may surprise yourself. Your words might even find their way into the world one day and become the cause for change.
8) Caring for Yourself. At The Trevor Project, we call this self care, and we always have to remind one another to take a moment, to breathe, to do something that’s fun or relaxing, something that you consider worth doing. For some it’s listening to music, for others it’s going for a walk or watching a favorite TV show or visiting a friend. Basically, it’s anything that leaves you feeling more yourself. Just do it. This is especially important when things get tough. No matter how crazy life gets (and it can get pretty crazy) it’s always a good idea to let yourself have some fun.
9) Read. There is a rich and inspiring history of LGBTQ people in the world. You only have to read a few books and you will begin to find your brothers and sisters who have come before you. You are not alone. Their words and their actions are living proof that what you’re feeling has always been around. For thousands of years, we’ve been declaring who we are, how we love and why we deserve to belong here. Reading about the struggles of our gay and trans compatriots, our fellow resisters of what others consider normal and our heroes who have gone before you will fortify you and educate you. We owe them so much, and they deserve to be known.
10) Be Yourself. I know I said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Be Yourself, Be Yourself, Be Yourself, because as someone once said, everybody else is already taken.
Co-founder of The Trevor Project