Friday, March 25, 2011

The Other Q: Questioning

When we let our acronyms go wild, sometimes you'll see LGBTQQI: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex.

Yes, it's a bit cumbersome to write and say, but it calls out a very important population that does not usually get much air time...questioning people. These could be people who have had a same-sex experience and trying to figure out what it means for their identity, or someone who has a hunch that they might not want to occupy either a "he" or "she" box, or someone in crisis because they are in love with someone of their own gender, but acting on their feelings would mean rejection from family, friends or a religious community. What is common across many questioning people's experiences is that they don't know who to talk to.

I was a questioning student myself, wondering throughout my first few years of college if I was bisexual or lesbian, but was not sure. The common narrative for gay folks is "I always knew" but I was 18 and had only just started to wonder. For a while I assumed that meant I was definitely not gay, but as the years went on, more and more questions and emotions started to surface, and I was stuck. I felt like if I talked to friends or family about it and was not sure, I would be brushed aside or branded as a certifiable lesbo, neither of which sounded like good options. And in fact, the first person I told that I was having some questions said, "Well, everyone feels like that sometimes, it's not a big deal. You're probably not a lesbian."

In many ways, it makes sense that questioning people are on the fringe of the fringe. Out LGBT people are looking to find other out LGBT people, and many LGBT programs are looking to provide programming and services that meet the needs of the community that they know about. Yet questioning students can be some of the most at-risk students. Without a support system or anyone to relate to, mental health stability suffers, irrational (and rational) fears develop and there are many missed opportunities to develop community and connections to learn more about others' experiences.

In the past week, I've been talking to a lot of really active LGBT service providers--campus LGBT Center directors and employees, designated LGBT residence hall advisors and education students--and they all say "ooh, yes, do!" when I say "I'm most interested in figuring out how to reach questioning students on campus". Because this is the next major step that Centers and service providers need to take in order to full support the range of identities that our big beautiful acronym encompasses. I've already learned some strategies administrators have used to bring questioning and straight ally students (we'll get into them later...) into LGBT Centers (shoutout to UPenn staff for sharing most of these):

  • Provide free printing
  • Have vocal straight allies promoting events and groups
  • Show up where you're not expected (e.g. at a residence hall dinner)
  • Allow students to engage online
  • Have a confidential mentor program
  • Have a central hub for services that is open to all students (e.g. any student group can sign out the space for meetings)
  • Provide all different types of activities: social, activist, etc.
In your experience with campus LGBT Centers, what have been the shortcomings and the strengths in bringing in the questioning or straight ally students? Would be curious to hear others' experiences.

No comments:

Post a Comment