By THOMAS NEWKIRK
This post was written for Cindy Shearer's CIA 7712: MFA Project. In these blogs, students are sharing their discoveries, reflections and learning as they enter the process of creating a body of art work and culminate their degrees.
Adolescence is a time when people start to develop their own identity, part of which is a sexual identity. This process includes learning how to manage sexual feelings, arousal and attraction, developing new forms of intimacy, and learning to avoid undesirable sexual behavior. While this can be a challenging process for all adolescents, many fail to realize the extra strain put on lesbian, gay, or bisexual youth. Now that I am older I often look back and reflect on my childhood. I wonder if I would have been able to make healthier choices if was given advice and assurance that I was not alone; that there was a support system there for me to lean on in difficult times. So I composed a letter to my younger self, providing the kind of advice and support I would have benefited from as I grew up as a gay adolescent.
“I know it is impossible to portray to someone who hasn’t experienced the damaging effects of feeling like you have to lie your way through each and every day in order to avoid harassment and violence. Figuring out that one is gay, and actually being able to take ownership of that in a positive way, doesn’t always happen together. This will take time. But when you do, you will view your orientation as just one more part of your overall identity.”
While I did write the letter to myself, it is important for me to be aware that this letter is not meant solely for me. I see it as a product for today’s gay adolescents and as a universal coping tool for gay youth that are struggling with loneliness, isolation, rejection, feeling unloved, and a sense of loss, which can be overwhelming and sadly lead to suicides. This makes me think about the recent gay teen suicides that have been happening over the past couple of years or so. I wonder if things would have been different if they received a letter like mine from their parents, friends, teachers, or others. Just knowing that someone cares makes all the difference when you are extremely vulnerable and prone to abusive and traumatic situations.
“So find happiness in every direction your paths take you. Never lose that sense of wonder you have always had, and hold on to the sense of humor you use to brighten the lives of everyone who knows you. Go beyond the ordinary steps and discover extraordinary results. Don’t forget how wonderful you are. Aim to be rewarded with the type of friendships that get better and better ~ and the kind of love that graces your life for eternity.”
I was lucky enough to use my mother as a resource for this letter as well. Through a conversation on the phone, I had her tell me things that she wished she told me when I was growing up. Not pertaining to anything she regretted, but to things she felt would have been beneficial for me to know as her son. It was an interesting conversation and it gave me a better insight on our relationship when I was younger. Having a meaningful relationship with my mother came much later in my life and that is something I am very grateful for.
“Thomas, you are not broken. You are whole and beautiful. You are capable and compassionate. Remember to always love yourself and know that just by doing that you are creating a revolution and inspiring others to love themselves.”
My goal for my MFA project is to use this letter along with other arts-based activities to create a workshop series to be facilitated with at-risk gay youth that promote community, support, healthy choices, and self-confidence. I aim to be a mentor figure in their community who is successful, respectable, openly gay, and who will definitely have some tips in getting through potentially tough years as a gay adolescent. With that being said, I am also aware that while any advice and guidance I give will be valid, everyone’s development of their own sexual identity is different. To be fully ready to accept one’s sexual orientation should be at one’s own pace and I don’t intend to push anyone “out of the closet.”
Resources for LGBTQ youth in the SF Bay Area:
The Pacific Center
The Pacific Center offers extensive LGBTQ youth programming, including free drop-in groups, counseling and opportunities for activism. The Pacific Center also offers HIV counseling and information about testing sites.
2712 Telegraph Avenue Berkeley, CA 94705
The Ark of Refuge
The Ark of Refuge runs a 15 person transitional living facility specifically targeting LGBTQ young adults in San Francisco.
1025 Howard Street San Francisco, CA 94103
Fax: (415) 861-6103
Center for Young Women's Development
CYWD provides on-going opportunities to young low- income lesbians of color who are involved in the juvenile justice system and who have lived and worked on the streets of San Francisco.
832 Folsom Street, Suite #700 San Francisco, CA 94107
Fax: (415) 703-8818
Larkin Street Youth Services
With 25 comprehensive youth service programs located throughout San Francisco in over 13 sites, Larkin Street Youth Services is now an internationally recognized model successfully integrating street outreach and emergency shelter, primary medical care, transitional housing, and job training and scholarship assistance to get homeless and at risk kids off the streets.
701 Sutter Street, Suite 2 San Francisco, CA 94109
Fax: (415) 749-3838