Building Over Our Blocks

4 Barriers LGBTQ+ Youth Experience and How To Help Them Overcome

An Improv Acting teacher once explained “blocking” to me as the rejection of an idea. When two actors are on stage with no script, one actor presents an idea and the other actor has a choice to either continue the idea or block it by rejecting it completely. They may block the scene out of nervousness, spite, or simply because they don’t know where to take it, but whatever their reason the scene is halted. The objective of the class was to condition and equip us as students to not block ideas so that progress could always be made when we were on stage. It’s a lesson that served my classmates and me well in acting, and has carried over into my daily life. Being aware of and equipped to avoid blocking has helped me investigate, explore, learn, and observe the world around me, rather than rejecting an idea just because it’s uncomfortable, scary, in opposition to “trends,” or something that has never occurred to me before.

As an LGBT+ youth I often encountered blocks in my life growing up. Sometimes the blocks were laid out of hatred, sometimes out of fear, and other times simply out of ignorance, but regardless of the reasoning, they were an enormous obstacle to me personally — and remain the biggest obstacle to progress for our world as a whole.

The young LGBTQ+ community has felt a rejection from society, their peers, and even at home, and often this is because no one has taken the time to try to understand; instead they have blocked the “scene.” Often these reactions can feel like literal blocks dropped in the path, leaving some of our youth feeling rejected by a barrier that they don’t know how to overcome. As adults, it’s our job to help avoid and remove these blocks, and most importantly learn to stop saying no to progress.

Conceived in Pre-Conception

One barrier LGBTQ+ youth face from birth is a preconceived idea of how biological gender and identity intersect. From birth we have pink baby showers and blue baby showers, based on biological anatomy. We have “boy” toy aisles and “girl” toy aisles, that told me only to play with action gear, guns, or sports related things simply because of my anatomy. The idea that an individual has to fit a certain role based on their body is restrictive. One of the beautiful things about being gay or transgender is the idea that you don’t have to fit a mold. Realizing that even with my facial hair I could enjoy Disney musicals was an amazing moment. Although it seems simple, it opened a world of possibilities, creating a domino effect that removed many unnecessary pressures. 

Since a large majority of LGBTQ+ youth come from cis-gendered (that is, not trans or non-binary) heterosexual parents, it is often a parent’s instinct to apply these “rules” to their children, whether it be pressuring a daughter to like dance or expecting a son to play football, simply because this fits their pre-conceived ideas. What’s important to realize and celebrate about a gay or trans child is that they don’t have to have any pressure on them to be anything other than who they want to be. The idea of rejecting socially-constructed gender pressures is something that can apply to any child, but it’s especially important to realize that the fact that a gay or transgender child is already operating outside of the societal “norms” makes them more aware of their freedom and more sensitive to being stifled by rules that don’t apply to them.

Mean Meanings They Didn’t Mean

Another barrier that faces LGBTQ+ young people is the way someone can often speak poorly of them, to them, without realizing it’s about them. Before I came out it was common for me to have relatives make anti-gay comments, or to be told I couldn’t watch a certain movie because there was a gay character portrayed briefly. If I brought any of those scenarios up now, aside from the truly hateful people, most of the responses would include the phrase, “I didn’t mean that about YOU.” It’s important to realize that discrimination is discrimination, no matter who you’re saying it to, or whether or not your intention was to discriminate. Whether I had come out or not should not have changed the fact that the judgement (i.e. blocking) that was being spoken or promoted was not right. 

It would make a huge contribution to a young person’s life if we would all simply make an effort to communicate to everyone around us that intolerance is not acceptable behavior. This could mean telling an Aunt not to say negative things about transgender people, or telling a store employee not to tell your child where the “men’s” section is when they’re buying “woman’s” clothing. It’s often the small shows of support that go a long way in a young person’s life. Words have deep meanings that can stay with us forever. I can personally say with confidence that I would have felt comfortable being myself a lot sooner if I had known adults willing to speak against discrimination instead of promoting it or remaining silent when I was a child.

Educate and Celebrate

There is a problem when society is learning everything they know about the LGBTQ+ community from TV shows that are designed primarily to make money. Often these shows prey on stereotypes and dramatic representations are exaggerated to boost ratings. This leads to a lot of unanswered questions in the minds of non-queer individuals; questions that will eventually be asked of our LGBTQ+ youth. I never take offense to being asked questions about coming out or growing up in the closet, and have even had my own questions, but it is tremendously helpful to our young people when we take the initiative to educate ourselves so that we can successfully celebrate with them. Often young members of our community are still trying to figure things out themselves, and it makes a huge difference when the adults around them have voluntarily taken the time to understand some of the history of the LGBTQ+ community and current research that’s being done about their experiences.

The queer community is rich with history from the drag queens at Stonewall, to the San Francisco riots, and even dating back to the Roman Empire or older. Instead of basing your knowledge of Drag Queens on Ru Paul’s races, take some time to really look into the history and significance behind it. Attend festivals, go to a drag show, read books regarding by LGBTQ+ authors. It’s hard to emphasize the difference it would make to our youth enough. To grow up strong and confident they need more adults who can comfortably talk about the amazing history of people like them and celebrate it with us.

Reject “Norms” not Normalcy

One of the biggest barriers that LGBTQ+ youth face is the idea of not living a “normal” life. Close to when I was going to come out, I remember one of my main struggles being the idea that I would never be able to be considered “traditional” or “normal.” We get so caught up in either hating it, fearing it, being fascinated by it, or promoting it, that sometimes we forget that LGBTQ+ people are just that: people. It would speak volumes if we treated them as a human first and foremost.Especially for young people who are struggling to find their identity in a society that has been built on excluding them. A son wanting to put makeup on does not have to be cause for anger or celebration; it can just be him. A daughter that wants her hair cut short or wants to be called “him” does not have to send anyone into a panic or cause gossip throughout the neighborhood; he could just be him.

“Normal” is a social construct meant to indicate a majority of the population’s consensus on what most people agree is common – but normal changes. In some cultures, it is considered normal to have size ‘0’ models and in other cultures it’s a sign of prosperity to be as big as possible. When I say normal I don’t mean “norms” because those can change in the blink of an eye. “Normal” is accepting things as they are or people for who they are. When I told people that I was gay, I didn’t want them to react in excitement, alarm, or the all too common indifference of “I already knew that.” I just wanted people to hear me verbalize who I was and understand my personhood that much more. Treating people as people, with respect and acceptance, goes a long way in telling a young person who you are in the same way they want to tell you who they are.
I attended a Pride Festival recently and one of the main joys throughout my time was seeing the young people who were able to express themselves as their correct gender, as their correct sexuality, and wear what they wanted and do what they wanted without barriers of rejection that face them in their day-to-day life. Within the community you can feel comfortable that you have at least some people around you who do not have pre-conceived ideas, who will not say hurtful things, who know the importance and history, and who will treat you as a person without regard to social “norms.” There, the same blocks do not exist.

I couldn’t help the thought crossing my mind that some of the young people who most likely still live at home were in the only place they could be themselves and would eventually have to go home to a family that would continue to block who they are — or may not even know who they are — because that young LGBTQ+ individual does not know how to break the barriers in their way.

I understand that not all adults place barriers on LGBTQ+ lives out of hatred. Some are afraid of their child not having a normal life, or selfishly ashamed of telling their adult peers that their child is outside of society’s unrealistic expectations of “normal.” Some might not even be aware the barriers exist at all, or have a number of other reasons to block the idea of being LGBTQ+. Whatever the reason for the barrier, it’s important to recognize it, understand it, and attempt to find a way through it.

When an actor blocks a scene, it’s thought of as an escape or “easy way out” for that actor, but it’s also considered “burning” your partner because you’ve left them with their idea gone and nowhere else to go. Rejecting an idea is a fearful reaction; a true hero will take the idea and lift it into something even greater.

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