Lions and Stories
I am not sure what the Collective Noun of a group of young people is. A rabble. A gang. A storm. A herd. I am not sure what it is, but I know what it should be…
The children gathered. Not children but teenagers. I feel old here. I sat around in a circle with a group of LGBTQ teens from local highschools. It was my job to help them tell their stories. An honour that I do not take lightly. Story is everything. It is who we once were, who we are now, who we are becoming.
As you could well imagine, their stories held a weight too heavy. Names that were thrown hostile and missile. Words that hurt more than sticks and stones ever could. It was the many who do not understand them, the many who do not even try.
Sexuality is a jigsaw for those in a majority mindset. For these young people, it was a jigsaw tossed wild into a hurricane, flung firm into the storm. Grasping hands, not knowing which piece fits. A swirling circle. At least, with a jigsaw, you get to see the end product on the lid of the box. The destination is clear. These guys and girls and in-betweens felt exactly as that word implies, in-between. Not this, nor that. The constant itch that you aren’t right. Broken. Wrong. Confused. The taping down of breasts to escape them. The parents who shut them out. The everyday fight for some sense of normalcy. Jigsaw pieces that do not come together in the way we are told they are meant to.
Pride. It is not just the name of a march. It is the self-expression of dignity. The owning of oneself. It is also the grouping together of the kings of the jungle. I stood circle with these lions. They roared their story through trembling lip and tears falling and shaking hands. We listened to the girl who renamed herself storm, declaring stretch marks as lightning upon her skin. We listened to the one raped at twelve swear to the world that she was larger than what had been done to her, that it was time to not let it define her. We listened to their words. To their stories.
There is not much you can do in these moments, aside let the tears fall. I have always affirmed the power of story. One of the boys told me after the day had ended that his life would never be the same. I agreed.
This is what I get to do. This is my life. Pride. It is not just a march, nor just self-expression, nor a herd of lions, it is the beat of my heart toward this group of phenomenal young people. And I tell them this. And I want them to know this in the deepest parts of their selves. When nothing seems to fit together, I want them to still be proud. The audacity of daring to be oneself. Pride.
And I tell you now what each and every story had in common. Not just with these students but with nearly every young person whom I get to work with. One word. Abandonment.
A man named Chap spent six months in a high school in the States and came to the same conclusion. He said that, ‘THE defining feature of young people in todays world is one of abandonment.’
And how I see it in their faces.
Abandoned by their elders who are too busy chasing the dream. Keeping up with the Joneses when the Joneses are richer than they have ever been. Every kid that I teach in school is taught more by the media than any parent or teacher, its the screens who tell them what to value, who is normal, its the schism created by advertising telling them they are too fat, too ugly, not pretty, not cool, not masculine enough, not feminine enough, not hetero enough. And we wonder why they hate themselves, cut themselves, starve themselves, just trying to fit the moulds, when the moulds are not reality. They need me. They need you. They need to be shown that they matter, that their story counts, that they are not alone. It takes a pride to build pride in the cubs of our tribe.
If you are old enough to listen, to just listen to the story of young person, this is my challenge. Stop chasing the dream and start listening. Your life will be SO much more meaningful. Trust me.
One of the students wrote these words…
“Gender is an insomniac. Thought patterns that keep me awake. The deep rooted fear of, ‘will anyone love me’. Because how could you love me, when I’m teetering on the edge of nothing and everything. When my hands are grasping at something that’s not ready to be found. When love is a something I can’t even say to myself. My gender is black ink spilt onto beautiful artwork. Unrecognisable now that you can’t remember where it started, or how you got here, or how many titles you have given yourself, or how many people have laughed at your pain, or how many times you’ve tried to explain…”
I am not sure what the Collective Noun of a group of young people is. But I know what it should be…
This blog was originally published as 'A Pride of LGBTQ Kids' by Joel McKerrow.
Joel McKerrow is a writer, speaker, educator, community arts worker and one of Australia’s most successful internationally touring performance poets. He has represented Australia at the Individual World Poetry Slam Championships, is the Artist Ambassador for TEAR Australia and fronts the band Joel McKerrow & The Mysterious Few. Visit his website here.