“When I was a teenager, I didn’t realise that one in 10 kids around me were also queer. Now I do, and it’s pretty powerful.”
BY TAZ RASUL, IMAGE VIA SHUTTERSTOCK
As a teenager in the early 2000s, I had just three main questions: When could I come out? Would the word “pansexual” ever be acceptable to use? What is a “pretended family relationship”? The answers turned out to be: soon; getting there; and don’t worry, they’ll repeal it in 2003.
And the questions that my classmates and friends had? No idea. There was never a right time in school to open up that discussion.
Returning to schools nowadays with the charity Just Like Us, I’m a secret agent for my younger self. Section 28 is out. One of our most recent Education Secretaries is out. And LGBTQI-inclusive education is making its way in. I get to chat about gender and sexuality with thousands of young people a year – LGBTQI+ and otherwise. It’s as wonderful and as terrible as you’re picturing it to be, and I love it.
What do kids today want to know about the LGBTQI community? I’d say there’s five broad things.
They want to wrap their heads around it.
- Is gay the same as lesbian?
- Are trans women people who were assigned female or male at birth?
- Can you switch sexual orientation?
I field loads of questions from kids who have never thought about this before, or have never had the opportunity to ask. Times haven’t changed that much – you might still give your parents a heart attack if you ask them at the dinner table. Usually I try not to be the “well, technically” person in the room. I might give a quick factual reply and then lean into some key messages: people are diverse, gender and sexuality are fluid, and treat people as you want to be treated. What I love is the curiosity, and the satisfaction of knowing that a real LGBTQI person responded rather than an online troll or transphobe.
They want to know how we feel.
- Why is it hard to come out?
- How can I let my friend know I support them?
- What do I do if I get someone’s pronouns wrong?
These are real questions, asked by real sweethearts. Were kids at my own school really thinking so considerately about me? Who knows, but they are now. When Just Like Us visits schools and colleges, we share our own stories of growing up LGBTQI, and we say how we feel. I let young people know how time froze when I was about to come out, and how my friends’ carefree attitude to my sexuality actually meant everything to me.
They try to fathom how I can be brown too.
- Can you be LGBTQI and a Muslim woman?
- Have you told your family?
- Why are LGBTQI women always white?
Yes, yes, and that’s only how it seems. The last question goes round my brain like ticker tape too. It shows that families, religions and cultures are still a huge part of understanding the LGBTQI community, for Asian Muslim kids like me, and for our siblings who need to “get” us. I try to point kids to women who would have been role models for me, like Janet Mock, Desiree Akhavan and Jameela Jamil. Hot too, but I tend not to mention that.
They want to know why we’re ruining everything.
- What about Straight Pride?
- Are you trying to make us LGBTQI too?
- It’s disgusting that gay people made their own poppy for Remembrance Day.
If I could chart the journey of these questions, they seem to start in the brains of newspaper editors, cause panic and outrage in adults, are overheard by kids and are blurted out in schools. They could have made a 12-year old me cry, but I can’t wait to overturn it all as an adult. It’s lucky we’re there, really.
They want to know that we see them.
- How should I come out to my family?
- Will I need to switch schools if I come out as another gender?
- I’m like you.
When I was a teenager, I didn’t realise that one in 10 kids around me were also queer. Now I do, and it’s pretty powerful. Every time I’m in a school, the young LGBTQI people in the room want to know that queer women were queer kids once, and that they’re not alone, and that we see them. 18 years ago, knowing that would have been a gift. Now I get to give that gift.
I feel privileged going undercover for the 12-year old me, and for the 12-year old you. Other kids aren’t all scary. In fact, the questions we get on the reg show that schools can be a great corrective for misinformation, pretty much all kids are receptive to learning about us and validation is as important for queer young women today as it was for me and you. Just Like Us gives that gift.
Taz Rasul is Director of Programmes at Just Like Us, the UK’s leading charity for LGBT+ young people. Primary and secondary schools and colleges around the country are invited to take part in School Diversity Week during 22 – 26 June, in school or online. Queer women are visible here, and all young people will be able to join an audience with Linda Riley, Lady Phyll and a host of other LGBTQI experts and activities to celebrate LGBTQI equality in education.
Learn more and get your school or college signed up: www.justlikeus.org/sdw.
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