Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.
Hello. I’m a student at an all girls secondary school in England – I graduate next year and thus am one of the oldest in the school. A couple of years below me is a student greatly suspected by everyone to be gay and/or trans – they are one of the few who don’t wear a skirt with the school’s uniform, they have short hair, and I’ve heard the rumours being said about them, and almost none of them are kind. I suspect this possibly queer human to be thirteen, maybe fourteen? I’m seventeen and I’ve already gone through my queer angst – and it kills me to see this kid alone almost all the time, they always look miserable and it reminds me of me a couple of years ago. My question is, how do I approach talking to them? I’m completely out, but I doubt they know of my existence, as the two final years of secondary school are greatly separated from the lower ones. I only know of them because of the rumours, and because I’ve seen them in the hallways. I’d love to help them, I just don’t know how. My school isn’t exactly known for being open minded either, despite it being in London and the (older, at least) students being great.
First of all, friend, I want you to know that you’re a really good person and you should be aware of this. Not everyone wants to reach outside of their comfort zone and help a person who looks like they need a shoulder hug or two, even within the queer community, where we’re supposed to be super-accepting and loving and daisy-chain-wearing 100% of the time. Sometimes it’s a shitty preteen popularity contest in here, too, but it’s always really lovely to know that there are folks like you who recognize someone in need and want to help out. Please keep being this brand of compassionate and caring, because the world, especially the queer portion of the world, needs folks like you.
So, this is what you know about this person: They might be queer* because of rumors that are told about them, and because of the way they dress. They are alone most of the time, and look as if they are not happy. They remind you of yourself in your own young period of “queer angst” — which is a thing, totally, yes — and you believe that were you to reach out to them, it could help.
This is hard. Helping people should be easy, but it’s not. It’s not easy for one million reasons, and some of those reasons involve the subject of the helping itself. See, we don’t know where this person is coming from. We don’t know what’s going on in their home, and we don’t know if their personal life is complicated for reasons outside of their supposed gender identity or sexuality. We don’t know how they relate to people, if social encounters are triggering and upsetting, or if they’re even looking for a friend at all. Maybe friends have been a bad thing for them, and they’re determined to go it alone. Maybe they’ve got awful social anxiety, and the prospect of even talking to a person is terrifying.
Here’s what I think: Yes, there are a lot of maybes, but you should still reach out, regardless of the reason this person needs your help.
Because maybe they’re not actually queer*, but they are being bullied and the rumors are isolating them. That means they need a friend regardless of whether or not they need a queer mentor, and you reaching out counts for something. Sometimes just smiling and saying hello is enough for that person to realize that you’re on their side, and sometimes you need to start a conversation. Maybe it seems weird to walk up to someone and say hello, and maybe it is, but it’s the best thing I can think of. I remember being an unpopular preteen weirdo with lots of queer feelings, and if an older out queer person had reached out to me back in the day, I probably would have reacted awkwardly because awkward was the only way I knew how to exist, but on the inside I’d be FREAKING THE FUCK OUT. I’d be ecstatic that someone wanted to give me a hand, or say hello to me, or make me feel like I wasn’t a total doofus for having these feelings. Sometimes we just want to know that we have the option of a friend, even if the actual friendship part is anxiety-creating or scary or near impossible to our anxious little brains.
You have to acknowledge the possibility that it won’t go as you’d like. Maybe this person won’t react well. Maybe they’ll be aggressive and dismissive, and you’ve got to accept that this is a thing they have the right to do, and it could be coming from any variety of experiences and situations that we have to respect. If they don’t react well to your introduction, give them space. Respect whatever boundaries they’re putting up. It’s okay if they don’t want a friend, or if they don’t actually need help. They have the right to feel that way, and it doesn’t make you any less of a good person. You tried, and that’s great! At least give them the chance to accept your help, because they might need it, even if you’re scared of being pushed away. Take a deep breath and smile at them. Say hello. Find something you might both relate to – do they have a teacher you used to have? Are they taking a class you used to take? Are they in similar clubs or organizations? Or maybe they wear a lot of purple and hey, you like purple. Tell them they look nice in those socks. Ask them how they like Mrs. Winters as a teacher. If you’re cheesy and bad at people like I am, you can “accidentally” bump into them and try to start a conversation that way, so it’s less of a cold open. You can do it! You’re awesome and this person is probably really great. They need your awesome and you need to have a chat with their great. I believe in you, friend.