Content/Trigger Warning: Suicide Mention
Earlier this week, I got a text from my cousin. “Can you bring my Secret Santa gift? I left it on the counter.” I know she hated to ask, but I love to help. These are the kinds of favors you don’t get to fulfill when you live 2,000 miles away.
She instructed me to come around the side of the building closest to her class so she could step out. My cousin is a math teacher and couldn’t just leave the kids behind, so she invited all of them to meet me at the door. From across the parking lot, I saw her wave. I drove around and opened the window to hand off her oh-so-thoughtful Secret Santa gift – a kit to make a snow globe for a teacher who really loves crafts.
My cousin is the most thoughtful gift giver, but also the best teacher. The kind that really notices and sees kids. Recently, she shared that there’s a kid who is trying to figure out who they are in her class. A kid that might be just like me. She told them that her cousin is non-binary. It just so happened that the stars aligned and this kiddo was in her class during my drop off.
It turns out, I’m famous to queer kids in Selma, NC. All of her students were crowded at the door waving to me like I was some celebrity, but this student in particular had the biggest smile on their face. “Say hi,” my cousin said. They did, beaming with pride. Admiration.
I’ve seen this look before, but only from kids standing out in some of the same ways I do. Shorter, often colorful hair. Features that make people assume their gender. But the eyes, the look I get from them? They are so much different than the ones filled with hate. That look I described that tries to drain the kindness from my eyes.
I know these kids don’t see a lot of people that look like me. I don’t see them either. But I do catch the kids doing a double take, but not for the same reason their parents often do. These kids look twice because I am confirmation. An exception to the rules they have been told about being out in this world. By standing out? I am proof to these kids that you can grow up to be queer.
The odds are against them and I’m reminded of that every time I give a presentation about pronouns and belonging. There’s a stat I share to convey that the impact of these conversations goes so far beyond enhancing company culture. It’s a scary stat from the Trevor Project – that every 45 seconds an LGBT kid between the ages of 13 and 24 will attempt suicide. It’s a reminder that in the one hour we spend learning together, over 60 kids will ask the hardest questions anyone of any background can: does it even matter if I’m here?
I can say this because I’ve stared in the mirror asking that question. Asking myself if I was asking people I love and God for too much – too much understanding, compassion, and consideration. Questioning if all this questioning was worth talking about out loud. Today, I do it every day – that living out loud thing. It’s even part of my job.
But I couldn’t imagine that life when I was their age. I have been there. I know why these queer kids ask and attempt suicide at higher rates than others as I drive down the North Carolina highways. I see the subtle cues that tell me to hate myself, too. The bumper stickers mocking pronouns. The billboards about God. Describing these cues as subtle is somewhat of an exaggeration considering the feeling they leave me with. A sensation I barely survived in my teenage years as I relied on people to put a roof over my head who thought being gay was a sin.
Today, I don’t walk around a school and community wondering if I fit in, but I know why those kids stare with awe. Because somehow my path is a promise that someday it will be ok. As the first queer, first non-binary, or first person who is kind to them after knowing who they are – it leaves a mark and helps them see that there’s a new road to walk on. One that isn’t filled with hate disguised as love, but rather joy. Love. Success beyond their wildest imagination.
So when I see those kids staring, I shoot them a smile and say hello. I tell them my story. I feel something life-altering. I feel like it matters that I am here. That I can help queer kids like me that went through their entire life wondering.
The excited eyes and intentional questions are a reminder that living out loud has a powerful impact on this world. That being the first changes the way we travel for life. That maybe by standing out, I fit in just perfectly on these country roads as a symbol to these kids who want to know who they are.
More Like This:
- A Parent’s Question Can Save Queer Kids
- The Decision To Stop Fitting In
- A Mother, So Proud During Pride
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Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.