Introductory Note: The intent of this focus group was to hear young people who self-identified as non-heterosexual about the dynamics of being gay in a rural community, as it related to their migration decision. An agency in Middletown that provided service to LGBTQ people arranged with a group of youth 16 to 18 years of age who met regularly to participate in a focused discussion in lieu of their usual agenda. The facilitator did not think the young people were necessarily from rural communities, but we agreed to relax that criterion. Six young people and their group facilitator participated.
The discussion was direct scribed as much as possible, but in an increasingly animated exchange, many contributions were imperfectly captured. This transcript has been edited to increase its comprehensibility. Parentheses indicate an explanation, square parentheses indicate additions or paraphrases, or changes to protect anonymity. My input was least scribed, so I have recreated what I think I said, as needed for clarity.
Group members filled in the same information form as individual participants. It asks for name, address, contact information, birthdate, gender (M, F, LGBTQ), county of origin, and four questions: Do you consider yourself a member of First Nations? A visible minority? Do you have health issues now or in the past, including difficulty with mental health and/or substance use? And are you currently parenting? I share some of these details and my observations of appearance to contextualize the dialogue somewhat.
The names have been changed to protect the anonymity of the participants.
Danny was lanky lad who checked male and LGBTQ on his form, described himself as a visible minority because of his blue-dyed Mohawk hairdo, and that he is ‘addicted and insane – jk’ (which I think means ‘just kidding’).
Alicia, was a small person with androgynous body and dress and a shaved head; she checked female on the form and self-describes as having ‘major depression’.
Betty checked female and LGBTQ on the form and self-described as suffering from depression, anxiety and BPD (Bipolar Disorder).
Elaine was small person who checked female, LGBTQ and cuddled with Zena throughout the session.
Zena was a curvy, coiffed, well put together person who checked the female and LGBTQ boxes on the form but identifies herself as a strong ally and responded to the parenting question with, “Not yet!!!”
Cole checked only the LGBTQ box and had an androgynous body and dress with cut scars evident on their arms and described ‘many things’ as health issues.
Alison was the group facilitator.
The meeting took place in the room in which this group regularly met, furnished with sofas and easy chairs. Food and drink was available throughout. Youth completed the information form and consents and received their $40 prior to the discussion.
FM: Alicia, you indicated you were raised rurally, am I right?
Alicia: You know when you are going through the country and it's not really labelled? That's where I lived.
FM: Is anybody else raised not in the city? Oh, look, lots of you. Wonderful! Can you describe more, please?
Danny: I lived in [a community 30 km outside Middletown], the outskirts.
Zena: I live in [a village 20 km outside Middletown].
Elaine: [A town two hours’ drive east in farming country].
Cole: I’ve moved 39 times, but mostly I lived in rural areas, tiny towns where your neighbour is five miles away from you. I’ve been in Ontario 3 years, and here I’ve lived in Toronto, the GTA, and Middletown.
Betty: I lived between settlements [20 km or so east of Middletown].
FM: Excellent! You are very well positioned to help with this research. Our primary focus is about how young people raised rurally think about and manage the decision to stay where they were raised, or to go urban. Or to go and come back again. It’s a process, not a one-off event, and it seems to have two elements. One is whether the young person feels they have a real choice, and the second is whether they have the resources to implement the choice. Part of feeling you have a choice is having a full enough understanding of where you were raised, enough that you can imagine an alternative. And then there’s imagining what the alternatives might be and choosing to implement one. Some participants have said they felt like they didn't have a choice at all, that they knew what they wanted to do, but couldn't really do it because they didn’t have the wherewithal, or perhaps lacked family support. How did your families consider your choice to come here to Middletown?
Zena: I still live in [my home town].
FM: So two of you live in in Middletown and the rest are in ‘the boonies’?
Betty: I live in North Bay. My family is in Middletown and I’m back for Easter weekend. I’m in North Bay for school.
FM: Let me ask: do you consider the city of Middletown urban or rural? How do you define urban?
Cole: Middletown is not urban; Toronto [is urban]. The traffic here is light. All the people who are driving their cars clearly don't look like city folk. I watch all the ladies in their cars and what they are like even here. There is one movie theatre. There is an airport that doesn't really count as an airport.
FM: So a city is how people drive, whether it has movie theatres, an airport?
Zena: City has skyscrapers.
Cole: The tallest here is probably that little thing on the Cineplex.
Elaine: Compared to where I grew up, this is definitely [urban].
Zena: I was always really close to here so my trips to the city were Toronto. I'm actually planning to move to BC.
Elaine: [I’m] at school and school is here at Middletown.
Danny: Have you left home, then? I live with my grandparents now, since I’ve been in high school. Home wasn't so good.
Cole: I live in a group home, a CAS group home. I’ve been involved almost three years with CAS. It [started] a little bit after I came to Ontario.
Betty: I go to school in North Bay. So I left home in September [to go to school].
Zena: Looks like I’m the only one who hasn't left home. I have plans to leave.
FM: Okay, so let me set up my question for you. So, in the 48 interviews we did in the first phase of this research, a lot of young people were in what I’m going to call ‘controversial conditions’, by which I mean they were from ‘bad’ families, families that didn't operate very well, they were engaged in ‘bad behavior’, maybe they had other kinds of stigmatizing conditions, maybe physical [conditions] that made them look different. In some cases some people thought that their skin colour made them look different. Four of those kids identified as LGBTQ as the thing that made them look or feel different.
Generally the youth felt there was an expectation that if you are rural, you will leave. To get jobs, to go to school, to find a partner. They found there were not many mechanisms to help them leave. And if they didn't do it successfully, then it's a failure every which way. It's not good for the person, their family, the community. It’s bad news all around. Therefore it seems sensible that we should do what we can do to make it a good decision whether you decide to stay or go. One of the issues that the young people that were in what we are calling controversial conditions identified was that they [felt exposed]. If you lived rurally, everybody knew your business.
Alicia: Yeah, that's true. My grandma is an example of that. She’s always saying, 'Guess who did this?' I don't even know the person. And [I should] guess what she did?
FM: Not only do they know you, but they know your whole family.
Alicia: Not anymore. Now I'm a ninja. I changed my name on Facebook to my drag name. Some made up name. I used to have really long hair and make up and stuff and now (notes shaven head) they think I'm my grandma's grandson. And the reason I did this (shave my head) is because when I go home to visit my family, I want to visit them, not all the people who discriminate and gossip.
FM: So basically you reinvented yourself to give yourself some privacy?
Alicia: Sometimes I say I'm under witness protection, just for fun.
FM: There are advantages and disadvantages to being known. Sometimes youth said when they went to the cities, nobody knew who they were, nobody gave a damn, and that was difficult.
Alicia: But when I go [home], I'm just a tourist. Nobody knows me. Sometimes I'm with my grandmother and they say Who is this grandson? I just tell them to say I'm [whatever], my cousin who lives in Ottawa.
She (grandmother) doesn't like me to do that. I do love myself for who I am, but I want to protect myself. Not protecting myself, so much, but avoiding any negative stuff. I come here and everybody knows my name. They know what program I'm in, what I do with [my spare time]. [In my home town], nobody knows anything. They may want to know but they don't want to come up and talk to me. If they don't know someone, they don't talk to you.
FM: Are you saying you’ve become a stranger to them?
Alicia: Yes, and I like it.
FM: Is this ringing a bell with other people?
Danny: Yeah. Well, like at school, I was always bullied and stuff. Now I dress like this [note: unusual, dramatic] and wear tons of makeup and contacts and stuff and now everybody is scared of me. So they don't want to talk to me and they keep their space. It just happens and it’s pretty good.
FM: So space and privacy is important?
Zena: In [my home town], everybody knows everybody. It’s like one big backyard, everybody knows everybody who is in the neighborhood. They all party together. I used to be really self-conscious about myself. I used to get bullied a lot. When I was coming in to high school [in Middletown] I was like Screw this. I made myself really confident and got involved with things in a way so that people wouldn't make those comments and stuff like that.
FM: You responded to bullying by being tougher?
Zena: Not in a negative way. I worked on myself; I did a lot of mental health [work]. I made myself more confident.
Danny: That's what I was saying, as well.
Alicia: Uh huh, me too.
Elaine: Um, well being from [my home town], it used to be that everyone knew each other, [but now], because it is expanding so much, with so many people moving in, there is [more] acceptance for who you are. It’s a very churchy town; there is maybe like 30 churches in this town. It’s a very Catholic place. The high school that I went to, I wasn't really, like, out to everyone. They all just kind of assumed later on. I’d get Facebooked and they are like, Well, are you? If they just out and say Are you gay or something? I’d say Or something. I've hung out with kids who were in younger grades in high school because I was able to connect better. I hung out a lot in the special needs room. I helped out in that room, because in a way they are different too. I was able to connect with them. The normal kids would judge you [so] I just avoided them.
Cole: I just don't know what I did. I just, kinda, somehow it was like everyone knew me, everyone was great with me, [and then] all of a sudden everyone hated me. And then I changed and everyone ignored me. And I'm ok with that.
FM: And what age were you [when that happened]?
Cole: It was probably like grade 6 or 7.
FM: You were one way and people liked you. You changed and then -
Cole: it was like I was a totally different person during the end of public school. Before that I was this cute little kid who everyone loved and was happy with. As I started to get older and voice my opinions a little more, everyone was like No let’s not do that. As my change further happened, a lot more happened in terms of my own head and I just started to isolate myself.
FM: So are you saying when you became the real you, you began to be rejected and you basically said Screw you.
Cole: I don't really know who the real me is. I'm not there yet.
FM: I’m hearing there are two ways to be isolated. Hiding out, like Elaine in the special needs room, and keeping people away by a screw you attitude.
Cole: No, I pretty much hid in corners too. If you come near my corner, then I’d make you go away.
Betty: I find I do the opposite. There was a time when I was like 12 or so when I was filled with a lot of self-hatred and internalized homophobia. And I was trying to convince myself I was straight. I kinda embraced it [being gay] and now I use it more. I'll inform people about it. Even at school, people will ask me just about any question and I will answer it. I use it as an educational moment.
FM: Okay, I’m hearing taking control by becoming an educator and a resource.
FM: And that started when you were 16?
FM: Talk to me about when was the toughest time.
Danny: Elementary school. It was better by grade 10. But all of elementary school, I was bullied. I was one of those kids that were always on the meds. They always diagnosed me with weird shit. Like all different stuff. I was told because of that my brain couldn't function so I would have spastic anger fits. So that's why, like, by grade 10 it kinda levelled down because I was off of them.
Elaine: Grade 9 and 10 were the worst for me. You are considered the lower class. You are fighting to get to the point where you are being accepted just as a human being. That's when I was starting to admit to myself that I was a lesbian. It's hard to accept yourself [as that] having gone through a Catholic school.
Zena: You go from the very top of years to the very bottom [when you go from public to high school].
Elaine: Being in grade 9, it is kinda terrible, to think that all the [new] kids that would come in, the kids in older grades would just come shove you against the lockers and just write the number 9 all over you. You can't fight them back when you have like 8 people on your back. If that's what they think of you just for being in grade 9, how would they think about you if you fully came out that you were gay? In the end, I just didn't care. Once you have a good support system behind you it's a lot easier.
Zena: Grade 7 and 8 were really bad for me. I got made fun of because I had big boobs. Grade 9 and 10 is when I started to admit to myself and started experimenting. That was a really hard time for me.
Betty: It was grade 6 to 8 for me.
Zena: Once you hit grade 9, nobody cares about that kind of thing anymore. Big boobs are okay. They are the preferred.
Elaine: For me, complete acceptance wasn't until college. Being in high school everyone is following the Catholic faith. You have to do prayer every morning: I absolutely hated it. Once you hit college you get people coming from all different kinds of schools. Their schools may have had an acceptance program or a public school with people of all faiths, personalities. As soon as I hit college I just didn't even bother trying to hide myself. To myself I was out in grade 10, but really the first person that I told was my brother in grade 11. But I've only been out to my parents for about half a year. Just because…
Elaine: My grandparents don't know yet. I'm broaching that topic this weekend. Happy Easter everyone (holds her arms out as if she were on the cross). I'm hoping they will be pretty cool with it. They are a lot more accepting it seems than the other half of the family. My dad’s side doesn't really bring it up that much.
FM: People who have practice at accepting differences may make it safer, easier, for people to be different. But if they are conservative, if they think that the world should be the same as themselves, that’s more difficult. Is this a statement that is true? Because rural communities or small communities tend to be more similar than different, they are therefore less safe to come out with sexual identity differences?
Alicia: Or even race differences. Like in [my home town], there was one black guy. He was the coolest guy I ever met. They are great people, but they don't really have that many friends except for the people who are open.
Cole: I lived in New Brunswick. Another girl saw on the bus an Asian person. It was the first Asian person she had ever seen. She made it a point to stand up and point out Hey, look, it's an Asian. I was taken aback. It was shocking. No one accepts anything in small towns. Our town is all white; too small for difference.
Alison: Being known is a double edged sword: Even though it can feel really confining to have everyone know who you are, it can also feel really good.
Alicia: But that’s only if you are similar.
Alison: It also may depend on what the difference is.
FM: In the interviews to date, the ones who valued being known were the ones who had gone to the big city where nobody gave a damn about them; they concluded it was better to be known and criticized than not to be known at all. Not everyone was there, but some realized that in small communities you could use other parts of who you are to get folks to know you in your new persona. For example: at certain stages they go Oh my god, I think Susie is gay, and the gayness is the really important thing. But after a while they might remember that Susie is a good singer or a skilled athlete or something of that sort. But if you didn't have that sort of smaller community, nobody would have reason to know you in that [larger] context. I think it does go both ways.
Alicia: At the same time, because you said you were going away [to feel] safe, maybe you come back and you feel safe because you know who you are?
FM: it could work that way; it could work in a number of ways. [With] anonymity, is it safer to come out? If it is, you can kind of integrate that and bring that comfort home with you. If it doesn't work so well, well, I don't know. Like this guy, he came home to be safe and give it another go. Some of the other kids came home but they didn't talk about being gay. They were just so tired of it being an issue.
Cole: That's the general rule in my family. I don't talk about it; I don't mention it; I don't look at anybody’s bums or any body part. They don't like talking about it. I either get the silence reaction or I get the in-your-face-yelling-in-the-mall public reaction.
Alicia: I'm not with my girlfriend because [of her physical body]. If I'm with somebody [it’s because] I connect with [her] emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, not because she has a vagina. She happens to have a vagina.
FM: Two of the youth who gave narratives identified themselves as - pan-gendered was one of the phrases, I forget the other -
Alicia: Yeah, pan-sexual. I have a friend who is pan-sexual. Attracted to a personality and not a body or a body part. I guess that's more me. I have better relationships with women. Because of the relationships I grew up with. Like with my grandmother. My grandmother and me are very close. She is a very loving gentle woman and that is what attracts me in a partner. I think that is more of an influence than biology. I think there is a sort of biological aspect to it but I don't really get hung up on that.
FM: But the outside world does.
Cole: In terms of like my parents accepting it, the crazy thing about my family is, before I came out they told me they accepted all of it. Until I came out. Which was kinda harsh. Bridging that, I kinda stay strict about being called [by my chosen name]. I'm really strict about that when my parents call me my legal name. They flip out a lot, but I've also noticed that they have even started to do it accidentally. I see them flustered. My little brother has even started. I kinda just stayed unchanging in my thought process and being, like, I'm not just going to bend over and be who you want me to be.
FM: So for you, what is important is a naming that included who you are.
Cole: I call myself gender fluid.
FM: In order to bridge with the straight world the language becomes really important and it gets complicated.
Alicia: But why do we have to bridge with the straight world?
Cole: Why can't we just be all part of the same world?
(General discussion about gender as a social construction vs sex as a biological designation, with guidance from Alison.)
Alicia: Straight people define sexual orientation as sexual behaviour.
Alison: (Sexual behaviour is) the wild card; it's whatever you like.
FM: Sexuality is like a whole bunch of other things; it’s a whole spectrum. There is comfort in sort of putting someone on that spectrum, but also the politics of where you get placed. (draws parallel with politics of colour). The outside also wants to place you on a spectrum in some kind of way. Is there some acceptance that [gender] is a spectrum and you can be where you want to be? I'm confusing myself now [between gender and sex].
Alison: According to our social norms, if you fill out any form, you’re one thing or the other: male or female. We, in this room, have a unique perspective on that. Looking from the outside, others may insist, are you male or female? They would base that on your biological sex.
Alicia: (in reference to why bridging should happen) Well, because you are our family members. But why should they bridge if they don't want to?
Betty: If people don't like you and are going to exclude you, why should I fight to become part of their world if they are just going to hate against me?
Alicia: Yeah, why don't you just do your own thing and be happy with who you are?
Danny: I think there should be an education part to it. For the people who hate you. Educate them to a -
Alicia: Like with positive space training. I'm the diversity student rep at [my college]. We run facilitated discussions about the entire spectrum of sexual orientation, including definitions, how gay people see things. People sign up for it.
Alison: But they already have a vested interest in it. [You’re not reaching the people who most need to be educated.]
Alicia: But than some classes at [college] are making it mandatory to take it.
Zena: Yeah, in my program - I'm a child and youth worker - it’s mandatory to do positive space training.
Alicia: This [approach] has more a focus on LGBTQ issues and gender and everything tied in with that.
FM: Is it a curricular thing or extra?
Alicia: It's both. We do it at tech school as a training program. Professional development for faculty and also for students. They get a certificate and everything. It could be extra curricular if it is not mandatory for your program.
FM: Okay, what do you think about affirmative action?
(Explanation and discussion.)
Alicia: It’s positive, because I know women who are, like, the whole glass ceiling effect...where women are completely trained and have the experience, but men are put in those positions based on stereotypes. Issues where somebody may get a job just because they are a woman. Even if a man may have more experience and training. They put a woman in there just to say Look, we have a woman. I'm kind of - I think it’s a good idea to do it because, I think its a good idea to say it, because [then] they will actually do it. But I think they should choose somebody who is worthy of the position.
FM: But even if they do –
Alicia: But that's what the human rights code is for.
FM: It may be a legal thing, but it doesn't exactly work at the local level, the personal level. People say what they say. For example, they [government] just decided that all schools should have a gay straight alliance. One of the kids in the research said attending GSA is tantamount to coming out.
Alicia: In the catholic school you have no protection from any faculty. Isn't there this like a code about Catholic schools, you have to be a practicing Catholic to teach there. They didn't protect anybody from bullying of any kind.
Elaine: (Agreeing). The teachers. Obviously they teach a different –
Cole: Not only teachers, but they are different boards. They have totally different rules.
Elaine: They deal with their students differently.
Alicia: But the law says they have to have it (GSA) if a student or a faculty member requests it.
Unknown: You would have to be really strong because even –
Elaine: Yeah, mentally sound and prepared to actually fight for that. You will have a lot of people fighting back. One of them is going to fight you hard on it and try and bring the school down on you.
Zena: I think maybe instead or as well as GSA's, there should be mandatory training for everyone. Not just, if you want to come and talk at a GSA, come and talk. [Like an all-school assembly or something.]
Betty: But as soon as people figure out what the assembly is about, they skip it.
Cole: Yeah, they go to the bathroom with all of their belongings.
Alison:: I won't do those anymore. I get called in to do a one-off assembly. To me it was tokenism. But what I found is that it was actually – there are statistics to show this -- it was more of a detriment to those who are LGBTQ. If there were kids identifying with what I was saying, they would hear the responses of the people around them and conclude “Wow, I don't have a chance in hell”. Or if someone would want to answer the questions, just the fact that you’re interested, may out you. [The talk] didn't reach those who were bullying or who had discriminatory views; they would just stop listening. When someone doesn't want to hear about something they just stop listening. I found what was better was to go right into classrooms and spend time there and be the person who supported the GSA. You have to have continuity [to make it safe]. And most schools don’t make that investment. [One school board], they have at least one staff person at each school assigned to GSA. They have made a really big commitment.
Danny: They don't now. Because of the [school] strike.
Alison:: [The support] has to come from the board level down to the schools. Policies are only as strong as the administrations that support them. Changes from that level are how we can reach more rural kids.
FM: Whose job is it to [build this] bridge?
Alison: It needs to be [everywhere], people who inform public policy, people involved in education: the bigger structure needs to shift. We can do as much as possible at a grassroots levels, but there still needs to be initiatives at the larger level.
FM: It is hard work and dangerous for the individual if there isn't that larger context.
What about Mercer Report, where he did that rant?
Alicia: Yeah, it was in reaction to a teen suicide.
FM: And he really threw down the gauntlet, saying gay people in positions of authority or with high profile had an obligation to come out.
Cole: I disagree. I think authorities should step in, but not just because they are gay.
Alison: The people who can make change on a bigger spectrum.
Cole: A lot of them are kinda stuck too. Every authority figure, not just the gay ones, should use their authority. Everyone should be a support, and if you are not going to be supportive, I think you should stay silent. I think there are a lot of straight people who are in an alliance and it shouldn't just be those who are gay.
Zena: I agree with him (Mercer) in a way. I think if you can make that change you should. It gives people who are thinking about coming out say Well, if he can do it, I can do it.
Elaine: Yeah, I agree. It helps to have an [authority] figure that is supportive. Like in my high school, one teacher was kinda, like, after we discussed it in class, she came to me afterwards. Because some of the comments being made weren't really respectful or appropriate. So the next day she brought it up in the class, said she was shutting those words down. Saying, you never know who is listening, so have some respect. I came out to the teacher and I knew I had an authority support and it helped a lot. I was in my final year at school, the last few months, so I didn't really give a crap.
Alicia: I think what Rick’s thing is is right. Shelley Wright - she was a country music star and she lost her career [when she came out]. She felt a need to do it because she knows there is some kid in a small town like her and that she can be a role model for that person. If they have a role model like that, they can tell their parents This person is gay and it doesn't make you a bad person.
Alison:: If you are funny and you are gay, you are good to go. I better work on my routine.
FM: If you were spectacular - a good singer, a good athlete – I’ll bet you some of the really elite athletes are gay.
Alison: Because of the overall structure of sports and the inherent masculinity, those gay athletes can't come out or feel they can't come out. It would put them in physical danger or cost them their place on the team. I'm sure many of them wonder “Should I come out? How much influence would I have for that kid in that small town or where ever.”
Alicia: Sean Avery supports gay marriage and he actually came out and said If there is a gay player in the change room and he was picked on, I would stand up for him.
FM: So, high profile supporters: are they useful?
Alicia: Yeah, they are, but you will lose your career basically.
FM: What was that movement called [that sparked Rick’s rant]?
Betty: It Gets Better. All of these celebrity figures, these people who are supposed to be [important], you look up to them. They are saying it gets better. But they are also celebrities who are mostly straight and haven't had to go through this. It shouldn't get better; it should be better.
Alison: It basically says, 'Just suck it up. It'll get better.' It was trying to give them perspective, but if you are in that moment of pain… It gives a lot of power to people who bully. It didn't say stop being a jerk; it says if you are different, hang in there.
Danny: I think it said both.
Alison: It got really popular. There was an RCMP one that was really good.
Danny: I guess I only saw the good ones. I only saw the [ones with] people who were actually gay.
Cole: I really remember Anne Hathaway.
Betty: It told you to suck it up and deal with the bullies and eventually things are going to get better for you, but right now –
Cole: It also was a bit empowering. I know a lot of people who were it’s never going to get better. Well, at least at some point it will.
FM: What if the slogan had been Make It Better?
Alison: The people that it resonated the most with were actually white men in their forties. That's the demographic that were most reached by that campaign. Probably because they wish that someone had been there for them as a mentor when they were younger.
FM: Most issues that are front and centre when you are young are less important when you are older?
Alison: Anyway, it’s good to hear that some people did get good stuff from it.
Betty: As one of the kids who felt like it was never getting better, having all of those people say that same slogan, it lost a lot of meaning and just became very annoying and brought me down.
FM: Okay, so here’s my favourite question: what does good look like?
Betty: I feel like there is a lot of things that have to change.
Danny: It wouldn't look like anything.
Betty: I should be able to walk down the street without being whistled at. I should be able to walk alone without fear. I shouldn't be called – I shouldn't have words yelled at me if I'm walking down the street holding a girl’s hand.
FM: Do you think that sexuality, period, is a really problematic area in our society?
Zena: Have you ever watched the movie called Sexed Up Kids? It’s really good. It's about how kids start with princess dolls, and dressing up, and how that escalates. There is also the talk about the boys who watch porn, but they watch it without context. Because adults don't educate people properly about sex, they take it (porn) the wrong way.
FM: What is the relationship between the kind of general mess of sexuality and gayness: that whole spectrum? We are kinda fucked up generally about how we think about sex. Maybe what is required is that the whole thing be looked at.
Alison: I want to blow gender up. I think that is where so much of it starts. The roots of homo-negativity are in how we have our pre-described gender. And what Betty is saying, the fact that just walking down the street makes you open for comment. In general it feels like women are just without [rights?], that people are allowed to make comments. We have the gender issue and we have this inherent shame around sexuality. Especially for younger women who are expected to be desirable but not allowed to own their own desire.
Alicia: You are a slut or a tease.
Alison: The pit or the pedestal, still alive and well and there are so many conflicting messages.
Elaine: My dad, when I was young, was like “You are not allowed to date guys until you are 20”
Zena: One of my friends constantly calls me Sweetie. I tell him all the time not to say that, but he just says Well, I don't mean it.
Danny: But I feel like it’s kinda like evolution. All the hateful things that people say to you about your difference make you stronger. We are in a transition. It's accepted somewhere, but not somewhere else. Just be so out there that we don't get hurt. Eventually it'll just be normal. I think we need what's happening.
FM: There is no easy way?
Danny: It would be better if we were just accepted, but it's not like that. It sucks right now, but just remember our kids or next generations will have [it better]. So just fight.
FM: I would say the same thing about feminism generally.
Alison: There is always push back. It’s really subtle, but women are being expected even more so, like around their appearance. We are actually harming ourselves in our forward movement. When I think back to gender, that division, you [as a female] have to be pretty and smart. You have to do this and that. Girls are destroying themselves [by feeling] I'm not perfect enough, I have to be everything.
Danny: I think guys are doing it just as much. We just don't say it.
Alicia: It’s about, you know, they want to have big muscles.
Betty: In the genders class that I'm taking, I read a study about Clinique and about how they have all their products for women and they made this new line for men. They've had to change all the things they have to do; it can be the same product, but they have to advertise it differently.
Alison: [This] division of gender feels greater. As we push further towards equality, there is another push. Let's figure out other ways to [be] separate.
Cole: In terms of evolution, I honestly think it has gotten a lot better. We have had a lot of change. Although gay marriage isn't legal all over the world, and there are a lot of non-action things, [?opposition? comes from people who] are in their 50s and 60s, [so it] was some time ago when they were in high school. I still feel like, although it is slow and subtle, there has definitely been change. It’s not all the progress that everyone wants.
Alison: To come back to the issue of rural, let’s bring it back to that conversation. I'm thinking it is also so [important], it comes back to where you are. The movement isn't consistent, isn’t one way. It could feel very different if you are in a very small environment, maybe you don't have a computer, maybe you don't have access to an outside society. Geography plays a really big part in that context of how much better it is.
Betty: When I came out I was fully prepared to be disowned by my family. I was 16. I had found a teacher at school who I had come out to first and I knew she supported me. When I came out to my mom I was prepared to be kicked out. It took her a while. There is still that fear there that you will not be accepted.
Alicia: There are different resources in rural and urban [situation]. Urban is more – there are more people, more diverse resources. Even in Middletown we have [this support resource]. [My home town] doesn't have any AIDS resource at all. Even though I know at least ten people there living with [HIV].
Alison: Even if you bring the resource [to the rural area], you have to be careful what kind of resource. [Taking advantage of it may be] too much risk. Even if the resource is right there, they may not access it. [And it may not be enough.] Even if someone goes to a two hour meeting once a week, it’s not going to change their home life and actually may jeopardize it.
FM: Do you think there is a place for gay youth in rural Canada?
3 or 4: No.
Elaine: Everyone is afraid of change in a way. [So] they marginalize you. Until someone eventually comes and reaches their hand out. A lot of the older people go to a smaller town [because] it is less hectic for them. Whereas in a big city, no matter what, you feel you are on a clock. You don't have as much leeway in your life.
Cole: I feel like the internet is not necessarily the greatest thing for rural kids. You are so susceptible. Anyone who accepts you or pretends to accept you, in terms of the poor [isolated] rural kids, they end up talking to someone on line. They are more vulnerable to anyone who can do things to them. There are lot of lies on the internet.
Betty: But I've also made friends on the internet and they have saved my life. You have to weave through the people who aren't. I think the internet is a good place.
FM: Do you think you have to have a certain skill set in order to be safe there?
Danny: I think so, yeah.
Betty: When I was younger I know I got into trouble on the internet.
Cole: So did I.
FM: But in internet relationships, body doesn't matter. You can almost be more yourself. You can be who you choose to be. What about that?
Elaine: Have you heard of Brad Paisley's cooler on line? The orientation is different on line than it is in person.
Alison: If your main social network has been people you've met on the internet, does that become a barrier for you to actually make friends or have those social skills that are really necessary for you to tell what is going on with someone? Does it increase your vulnerability when you start to come face to face with people?
FM: Can I ask here a question I asked in the individual interviews? What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not that younger self would take the advice, that would make your journey easier or lead to a better outcome?
Elaine: Keep your head up. Don't let people walk all over you. Just keep your head up and know that eventually you will find people out there who will accept you for who you are. Your life is going to get better.
Cole: You are not alone. I know it’s really cliche, but it’s really true.
Zena: I think a big one for me would be to believe in myself and not hide from myself. That's a big one.
Betty: To not get addicted to sharp things.
Danny: Yeah, me too.
Cole: I would have told myself to find another way. Any other way.
Danny: And drugs too.
Cole: Me too.
Zena: Find a healthier way.
Alison: I think we don't teach people how to cope.
Cole: We learn just as much about the bad ways.
Betty: Because they are always saying Don't do this. Not only does it not work, it just becomes more appealing.
Cole: No one praises the good. They just gossip about the bad.
Alison: It (bad coping) gets romanticized.
Danny: Adults were kids once too. Why don't they know this stuff? One thing I don't get is why girls are so embarrassed about their periods.
Alison: That is going to come back to shame. Shame about our bodies.
Elaine: You get teased for it.
Betty: I figure I can bleed for a straight week and not die, so.
Alison: I think it is partly because we don't have a space [for talking about it], it feels like it’s something we are not supposed to share.