Empowering sexual minority youth
Pride is a time of year when cities in the UK and around the world host events and entertainment that aim to celebrate LGBTQ+ people.
In the bigger cities you will usually find a loud and colourful parade, parties in the street, with different kinds of music and entertainment. It will hopefully provide a safe, open and inclusive space where all members of the queer community are encouraged to express and enjoy themselves.
But what more can be done to help people really feel proud of who they are?
This is a question that I have been wrestling with as part of my PhD, where I’ve dedicated the last three years to focusing on ways that LGBTQ+ youth empower themselves in the face of relentless adversity and everyday prejudice, such as negative comments, remarks in day-to-day life, micro-aggressions or bullying.
I particularly wanted my research to focus on trans and non-binary youth, since every day there seems to be some news article or story that invalidates their lives – potentially shaming and imposing unwarranted guilt on people for simply existing. The absolute opposite of pride.
As I plough through my early thirties, I reflect a lot on all the ways I take pride in who I am, and what contributed positively to my sense of self. It’s certainly been a long and tough journey.
For at least half of my life as a confused queer kid, I repeatedly experienced being metaphorically shoved into the small box of being ‘male’ without having any actual investment in representations of masculinity in films, TV or people around me.
Increasingly it became apparent that I was far more invested in what people around me considered to be female and feminine. That was a box I much rather wanted to step into.
Unfortunately in the 1980s and 90s, it was very clearly communicated to me – time and time again – that what I did and who I was, was ‘wrong’ in everyone else’s eyes. It led to an unhealthy dose of guilt for just being me. Sad times right?
A collective voice
But what I didn’t have during those formative years – from childhood into adolescence – was social media. For trans, non-binary, queer and questioning youth growing up, sometimes just scrolling through their social media feed can mean an onslaught of hateful and depressing messages regarding trans lives, and the uphill struggle for rights to a decent, just and safe life. I mean, it depresses me and I’m double their age!
However, these negative messages can be extinguished by positive ones. Rather than simply having to harvest VHS copies of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or plaster posters of Ginger Spice and Britney Spears all over your bedroom walls as means of inspiration and empowerment, there can now be instant connection to an overwhelming number of positive and empowering messages, memes, blogs, videos and role models.
For better or worse, everyone has a voice on social media and my PhD research, resulting in QueerViBE!, aims to seek out the voices worth paying attention to – those of trans and non-binary youth with important stories and experiences.
I’ve developed online video tutorials that use the voices of trans male/trans masculine and non-binary youth as positive and inspiring voices. They share how we can collectively combat the daily onslaught of everyday prejudice and validate queer identities in the face of adversity.
In addition to this, through QueerViBE! I have created opportunities for trans male and non-binary youth to share their voice about how to inform, educate and empower others on issues that matter to them.
QueerViBE! believes that real and positive change is inspired through listening and responding empathically to the voices that matter. Maybe this way, we can all help those young people navigating a frequently hostile terrain, both online and outside, feel proud of who they truly are.
Sam Martin is a PhD student and Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University.
QueerViBE! Is currently recruiting trans male and non-binary youth (aged 16-21). Visit www.qvibe.org to find out more.
Published in June 2018 to mark Pride Month.