Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Young People & Relationships

I get quite preachy a lot of the time, but what I'm not necessarily very good at is practising it! From ranting about how units should be treating new leaders, to picking apart safe campfire practice, I have an opinion on pretty much everything, and everyone knows that treatment of homosexuality (especially in Guiding) is a pet topic of mine!

Earlier today, I received a message from a young person I work with (I think this is safe enough to disclose, without giving away her identity! I work with enough young people!).

"Hi TJ, can't make the meeting on xxx. It's my girlfriend's birthday and I promised we'd do something romantic. Sorry!"

Before I even stopped to think, I'd replied with, "Don't worry. Thanks for letting me know and you two have a wonderful time!"

As soon as I had hit "send", I started to doubt that response. Am I supposed to offer support, ask if she needs to chat? Why has she disclosed to me, is she asking for something else? Is it a cry for help?

Then I stopped.

First, I asked myself, "When I was that age, what response would I have wanted?"

That didn't get me anywhere either. Because, to be honest, everyone's different and I was the world's biggest screw-up at that age. What I wanted / needed might have been far from what this young woman needs or wants.

But the second question that occurred to me was a lot more relevant.

"What would your response have been if she had said 'boyfriend' instead of 'girlfriend'?"

And the answer was, as you can imagine, exactly what I sent!

I would never have considered before that I would treat any young person in a homosexual relationship any differently to anyone else. After all, I was in the same position back then. But it's easy to get caught up in memories of the pressure and alienation of being a teenager in a homosexual relationship. It's easy to focus on the idea of supporting them, letting them know you're there and "acknowledging" it as an acceptable relationship.

But by taking that step, you're also acknowledging it as "different", "abnormal" and all those other negatives. And it made me realise that the best thing for me growing up, would have been for someone just to say, "fine, have fun, see you later". If people had accepted it as the same, I would have felt valued, that my feelings and relationships mattered. In some ways, the attitude of, "Oh, you're a lesbian? That's cool" (or other variants) is as frustrating as people saying it's "wrong". Because they are still marking you out as different, or not the norm.

So how do you react when a young person discloses a homosexual relationship? Exactly the same as if it were a heterosexual one. It's the same warning bells with regard to age of consent and other disclosures. We shouldn't be treating it any differently. 

And, in accepting the relationship without comment, you've shown the young person that you won't judge, that you'll discuss. You don't need to spell it out; your actions speak volumes!

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