Friday, June 10, 2011
To Gay and Transgender Teens
A short list of things I'd like to say to gay and transgender kids, in no particular order. The cultural left (as much as we owe them our very lives) doesn't put a high priority on these ideas. The cultural right does, but their message receives little respect among sexual minorities, being contaminated, of course, by their desire that sexual minorities not even exist, and their single-minded obsession with transforming us into heterosexuals.
That leaves a gaping hole in gay and transgender kids' exposure to useful, traditional ideas growing up--a hole big enough to fall through and fail in, if not die in.
1. Sex outside a loving relationship is overrated, and promiscuity increases your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Generation after generation rediscovers this. Does your generation have to prove it again, too? Why learn from experience when you don't have to?
2. Religion is important for keeping your balance in life, even if you don't believe in God. Having daily or weekly spiritual practices, or meeting like-minded people regularly, in which the point is to think about and discuss the larger issues of life, people's place in the world, mortality, and so on, is a human need, like eating and sleeping, and often has constructive benefits that flow into other areas of your life. Everyone can find something beneficial in centuries-old or millenia-old wisdom. However, under no circumstances should you even make contact with a church that doesn't accept your sexuality or gender identity.
3. Drugs, alcohol, and tobacco damage your health, damage your appearance, and can lead you to make poor choices that have lifelong negative consequences. They ultimately compound stress, and make permanent (in the form of physical damage to your body) what was only temporary (the stress you felt, from say, an encounter with discrimination). The best stress reliever--far and away better than any substance--is having good relationships with sympathetic family members, friends, or people in pro-sexual minority organizations. Listening to music, reading Buddhist or Christian scripture, eating comfort foods such as dark chocolate, and exercising are also good stress relievers.
4. Working hard, studying hard, and saving your money are underrated. Without being a jerk about it, you can become more tenacious, thriftier, harder-working, and a better student. If you only study one or two hours a day, try adding ten minutes to your study time. When you get comfortable with that, add ten more. At some point down the road, you'll have doubled or tripled your studying time, and you may get a very pleasant surprise in the form of a report card that reflects all your hard work.
5. Blindly questioning authority is as foolish as blindly following authority. The bulk of civic life is per se non-ideological (e.g., the administration of parks or hospitals, compliance with traffic laws, taking out the garbage on a certain day, to name just a few areas). To the extent that civic life is ideological, it's usually around the edges, not at the heart. Respect for authority smooths the arrangements and concessions we make to live in the world comfortably with other people. Also, when it is necessary to speak out, the quiet voices of those who respect authority echo louder and longer in other people's minds than the loud voices of those who have made attacking authority a way of life.
6. Don't buy into popular culture (and all its outrageousness, straight or gay). Both the cultural right and the cultural left perpetuate stereotypes and expectations about sexual minorities. You're as much entitled to your individual self as heterosexual people are. Being transgender or gay is not about a particular way of talking, or a particular style of clothes. It's not about a particular taste in art or music or books. You don't have to like Andy Warhol. You don't have to like rainbows. You don't have to be "sassy" or rude. And you don't have to like the color pink, if it doesn't suit you. You aren't your sexuality (or what people associate with your sexuality), anymore than a straight person is--and you shouldn't let popular culture define you that way, even when it's trying to be "pro gay" or "pro transgender".
Posted by Jane at 9:28 PM