My proposed project for this class is “Ask a Queer” a program where queer students from UCSB go to local high schools to outreach and inform high school students about events that the UCSB queer community have planned with high school students in mind. In the past these events have included Queer Prom, Pride, and Beyond the Basics. This program has not been utilized before as it arose out of prior year’s high school outreach in which me and a few other queer students went to local high schools to promote events and found that the students were equally (if not more) interested in our lives as queer college students.
The theoretical background for this project arose from applying concepts I have learned throughout my time in college to my experience as a queer high school student. Thinking back to my time in high school, I remembered not really having any queer role models, especially not radical queers. This lack of queer role models affected me as I took it as a societal lesson on how to survive. I took the lack of positive representation of queer and gender non-conforming people as a message that these identities were undesirable and so at the time I resounded to closeting myself, hiding my sexuality, and lying to myself and others. While I did survive it wasn’t pleasurable, it wasn’t fun, and while I survived I developed anxiety as well as a drinking problem.
Later as I became more comfortable with social transgression and more familiar with feminist, queer, and critical race theory, I learned that my experience wasn’t all that odd for a young queer person. I also learned about a concept that helped describe some of the factors that contributed to my troubles: Patricia Hill Collin’s concept of controlling images. Controlling images are created when the media represents a certain identity as being only one way, and that way is almost always very stereotypical, flat, and limiting. This functions to create authentic and less authentic ways of being for these certain identities which are almost always marginalized or less privileged. So in high school I was only exposed to a very limiting way of being queer and I did not feel comfortable inhabiting this role. Yet my queerness, my difference, and my very queer desires were not changed or placated, these parts of me were only silenced, painfully and unhealthily.
As I previously stated this type of experience is not uncommon for young queer people in America, as many of my peers as well as many queer scholars have articulated similar stories and experiences. Therefore the solution that I have found is the “Ask a Queer” Program in which queer people can go to local high schools and be role models. Now this may seem similar to the “It Gets Better” Campaign which also targets queer youth but has been critiqued many times for lying to queer young people through promoting a progress narrative. While this campaign has a specific message of life getting better as queers get older, our message is different. We don’t tell anyone how their lives will be. Instead we talk about our own, our own lives and our own experience and we do so without generalizing, because this is the only truth we can tell them. We aren’t role models because we have a message for them, we are role models because we are like them, and the truths we bring are our own. This means being honest with them, not simply saying that it will all get better. Yet honesty is not an inherently depressing process because while it does require recognizing a great deal of pain, suffering, corruption, and oppression it also can be a means for resistance and empowerment. By gathering and sending a diverse group of students, headed by radical queers we can give them tools of resistance and empowerment if they are interested, because after all the program is centered around the high school students being able to ask us. We can communicate that it doesn’t always get better but you can get stronger, more informed, more empowered. We can communicate the truths of our lives, ideas like the personal is political and survival is resistance, the same things I learned early on here that really changed my thinking. Furthermore this also serves as an opportunity to encourage higher education (as well as troubling that discourse) and as a means of outreaching, allowing queer commission to invite these students to events and build and create a stronger local queer community.
Just as the theoretical background for this project was developed and thought of in advanced, some of the work to get this project done has already been undertaken. I have emailed the schools, gotten into contact with the GSA advisers and they have agreed to let us come and put on “Ask a Queer”. Further an interest list has been circulated and I have contacted queers at UCSB to set up a date when they are available to put on the program. For the future of this project I must be sure to get a quick response from the UCSB queers who are interested in order to solidify the date ahead of time with the GSA advisers. Once both of these have been completed we simply need to gather on the day we select, do some preparation (probably just by talking to one another and trying to think of questions we may be asked), and head to the high school. We plan on doing this program twice, once at Dos Pueblos High School and once at San Marcos High School. Ideally we can learn and grow from our first time doing the program, figuring out what worked and what could be improved, so that we can perfect our second time. Further goals beyond merely putting the program on will be, improving the program for the future while trying to keep it going through establishing it in the A.S. Queer Commission Legal Code and in the institutional memory of non-graduating officers. In order for this program to be put on again after I graduate people will have to remember it and ultimately want to do it. This means that while a simple vote can get this project into the Queer Commission Legal Code, it still relies on the future officers to enforce the legal code and to actually set up and put on the program. I will be trying to encourage this by reiterating the importance as well as the theoretical background to other officers, while making the process of putting on the program available. As a member and officer of Queer Commission I have seen how hard it can be to start a program (where it is new or one we did in the past) without a layout, plan of actions, or at the least notes and memory of how the project was done. So in an effort to make “Ask a Queer” an approachable project for future officers or community members I have documented the process in Queer Commission’s retreat information booklets. Furthermore any writing I do for Fem 190 (including this) will be added to Queer Commissions documents to give anyone who wants to know about, learn about, or put on the program a resource for how to do so.