Thursday, December 11, 2014

ANONYMOUS' STORY

Name: Anonymous
Location: Europe


I have only been in the Girl Guide movement as an adult. I joined when my identity was clear to me and to most of the people I love deeply and dearly. That said, not being heterosexual requires "coming out" of the closet all the time...or choosing to stay in.  This pertains to life as well as Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting.

In both settings, either choices are good. People should be free to communicate as little or as much about their lives as they please. Non-heterosexual people should not have to feel the pressure of speaking with everybody about their gender identity or sexual preferences. Do heterosexuals? Is our gender identity all that matters? Are our sexual preferences all of the sudden the only reason why we do what we do? Is something as socially constructed as gender the filter we want to use to understand people?


I let you decide. I personally choose to embrace people and their diversity.
I started by using the words non-heterosexual rather than LGBTQI because I think this is how a lot of people see us: as the "non-heterosexuals" and therefore"others." Sexual preferences matter when they are not hetero-normative. No one wonders whether cisgender and straight people come out of the closet.  In contrast, people act surprised if they have known you for a while before you come out to them...or they "find out" you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, pansexual, asexual....

This applies to society and to the Girl Guide and Girl Scout movement, because our movement is just made of the same people who make society.

As a bisexual woman in the movement, I am invisible. While there are a few bi people who are out as lesbians and others who are only semi-out, bisexuality does not exist. If I happen to have a male partner, I am considered straight. If I happen to have a female partner, I am homosexual. For most of those who have witnessed my life with different partners, I am described as "confused." They often do not know what to say. They often laugh as if bisexuality was a joke.

The few people I have let in my closet are the few people I can feel safe with. They are those who do not judge my competences and passion for what I do on the basis of my sexual identity. They are a small number. I often wonder how many people would think differently of me should they learn I am fluid...should they know I am attracted to people and that I do not look for women who look like men or men who look like women; should they know that I actually reject the need to define people as male or female on the base of their genitalia or socially constructed identities.

In Girl Guiding, I mainly choose to stay in the closet. Occasionally, I do choose to let select people into my closet (which, by the way, is a beautiful and massive closet that can contain a large number of open-minded people). I do not chose to come out and do not feel compelled to. That said, I feel compelled to promote diversity and acceptance among Girl Guides, Girl Scouts, leaders, and volunteers.  Everyone deserves a chance to see how beautiful the world is and how many amazing people they could meet if they decided to wear "diversity lenses." I have also heard comments and opinions that have made me shiver and made me question whether I was in the right place, offering my talent to the right people...but hey, that also happens in the subway, in school, at work, at home.... I am not gonna let that stop me from achieving all I can achieve.  I'll just sometimes close the sound-proof door of my closet and stay there until those people are gone.

As Walt Whitman said, "I am large. I contain multitudes." Hopefully soon enough more people in the movement and in society will be prepared to see that and embrace it.

Till then I shall uphold my values, and come out or stay in the closet as I see fit.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

JELLY's STORY

Name: Lissa aka Jelly
Years in Girl Scouting: 14 years
Roles in Girl Scouting: Girl member, camp counselor, Daisy leader, Our Chalet Summer 2014 vollie
Location: Massachusetts

Girl Scouts is one of very few aspects of my life that I’ve remained very passionate about. I joined at the suggestion of my mother when I was 6 or 7 as a Brownie and I instantly fell in love.  As I got older and grew as a person, so did my relationship with Girl Scouting.  Girl Scouts initially was a place where I did cool things with my friends after school (and got snacks) and then became a safe space where I knew my voice would be heard, my feelings validated, and my ideas supported.

This became exceptionally important in my life when I realized I was gay.  At the ripe old age of 11, I came outI’m not from a particularly homophobic area or from a homophobic family, but that doesn’t mean coming out is easy...especially at age 11. I had plenty of adults tell me that I was "too young" to “make that decision,” so having a group of girls around my age who were experiencing a lot of the same questions was really helpful.  Having mutual trust with those girls was also significant. No matter how hard-headed I may be, I’m sure that I would’ve been pushed back into the closet without those friendships. 

Even beyond being an accepting place for my sexuality, Girl Scouts has always maintained my sanity. My home life as a kid wasn’t necessarily great: my parents fought a lot, my father is an alcoholic (in recovery now, but not until I was 15), and my brother and I are far enough apart in age that I felt isolated from him. My mother and I have a strained relationship on the best days, and I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety. I was bullied, and self-harm and suicidal thoughts were a large part of my life in middle school.

Girl Scouts provided me with new mother figures and girls who were like my sisters.  Even though I didn’t always have the love and support of my blood, I had the love and support of my family.

As I got older, the main relationship between my queer identity and my life as a Girl Scout was meeting like-minded people. Going to Girl Scouting events, working at a Girl Scout camp, and volunteering at Our Chalet in Switzerland all had a very important thing in common: No one cared that I was gay.  In fact, I have almost never been the only queer person in a Girl Scouting situation since I came out. And I’ve definitely always walked away from a Girl Scout experience having developed feelings for someone I met there. That tradition started at age 11 or 12 with my Girl Scout camp counselors (shout out to Frankie for being the love of my 11-year-old life). 

When I was 15, I met my first serious girlfriend through Girl Scouting. Over the course of a year and a half, we were on and off for a total of about 9 months. She was older, lived a bit away from me, and I just thought she was so cool. At first, she made me really happy. I remember staying up late and texting her with a huge grin on my face. She was my first for a lot of things.  I was told my whole life that my "first [fill in the blank]" would be special and that I’d always fondly remember that person. I wish I could say this was true, but it’s pretty much the exact opposite. Michele and I had an incredibly unhealthy relationship that turned into more fights than anything else.  She was unfaithful and manipulative and, at 15 or 16, I was not equipped to navigate that. I stayed for too long and when she ended things, it felt like my chains had finally been broken. I had been caught in this web where I believed I just wasn’t worthy of more. It took me a few years to unlearn all of that, but I got there eventually. 

All of the things I love about myself are things I developed through Girl Scouts: my compassion, my loyalty, my independence. Even if those attributes got lost in the midst of my relationship with Michele, those qualities are back and now stronger than ever.  I will forever be grateful for the journey and the space that Girl Scouts has always provided for me.  And I know it will always continue to provide that support.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

ITCHY's STORY

Name: Lauren aka Itchy
Years in Girl Scouting: 23 years
Roles in Girl Scouting: girl member, assistant troop leader, seasonal camp staff and camp director, current full-time council staff
Location: Ohio

I became a Girl Scout when I was 6 years old.  I joined as a Brownie and stayed in it all the way through high school.  Probably around 6th grade, my troop that once had fourteen girls became a troop of only 3 girls, which was a huge bummer.  We couldn’t do as much and I thought about quitting, but camp is what kept me in Girl Scouts.  I went to day camp starting in second grade and then I went to resident camp when I was in fourth grade.  I was really into camping.  I went every year.

As a gift, my mom (who was my troop leader) got all of us Lifetime memberships in Girl Scouts, so that was pretty cool.  After high school, I had two months off and then immediately joined the Marine Corps.  I was stationed in Georgia and I got involved volunteering as an assistant troop leader for a Cadette troop.  I was a seasonal camp employee for a really long time at a few different councils and was kind of haphazardly thrown into being a camp director while I was still in college.  I then worked full-time as an Outdoor Program Specialist for thirteen months in Ohio before taking my current job as a Program Specialist.  Girl Scouts has pretty much been my whole life.

I would say that I self-identify as queer.  A few months ago, I would have said lesbian, but queer just seems to fit right now, so that’s what I’m using.  In terms of gender expression, I’m definitely on the androgynous scale – gender non-conforming.

I feel like a “first love” is probably what everyone always talks about, so I’m going to go with that.  I had leave – vacation time – from the Marine Corps.  I went to visit the camp where I grew up in the summer and became smitten with one of the staff…which is kind of interesting, because I was only there for, like, a day, maybe two.  I would drive from Georgia to Ohio, about 12 hours, and we probably would talk for at least 7 hours of that 12-hour drive.  It was a standard crush: your heart pounds in your mouth when they send you a text message, you get all giddy and silly when they call.  I had come out probably four or five months before that and that’s what really cemented it for me.  It made me think, “Oh, I’m not broken, I can have feelings for people.”  It didn’t work out with the two of us, but it was an important relationship.

I was twenty when I came out.  I was very, very, very, very anxious.  I came out two years into my four-year contract with the Marine Corps.  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” still existed at that point and I was terrified.  I was so anxious that it got to the point where I couldn’t eat or sleep.  It was bad.  I was trying to hide it but random people in my unit were coming up to me and asking, “Are you all right?  Because you look awful.”  I just had to say, “I’m going through something tough right now and no, I can’t talk about it.”  The Platoon Sergeant asked if I wanted to talk to the Band Master, our boss, about it.  I said, “Sure.”  The Band Master pulled me into his office and we sat down.  I said, “I’m having an epiphanous moment about myself and I’m trying to come to terms with it.”  He knew exactly what I was talking about.  He asked, “Are you afraid that people are going to treat you differently?”  I lost my shit and started bawling in front of him, which is really embarrassing.   I said, “Yeah, I am, actually.” He responded, “You know, if you’re worried about me doing anything because you told me this, I’m not going to.  You are a good Marine and you do your job.  Whatever you do on your own time…the Marine Corps doesn’t need to know.  If anyone treats you any differently, fuck ‘em.  You don’t need people like that in your life.”  That was amazing, because he could have said, “You’re going to get discharged.  We’re kicking you out.”  

After I came out to my boss, I was like, “Well, you should probably come out to your family….”  Normally I called my mom once a week to check-in but I hadn’t talked to her in five or six weeks.  She had called me multiple times so I called her back and I freaked out at her.  I basically had a panic attack over the phone at her for two and a half hours before I told her that I was gay.  She said, “…Ok, and?  We still love you.”  She and my family have been really cool about it.

When I think of “the magic of camp,” I think of resident camp.  I kind of grew up in a little microcosm – the town I grew up in wasn’t very big.  It was a rural, farming community in southern Ohio.  It was a bubble.  It was wonderful to go to camp and meet all these people who didn’t grow up in that bubble.   At camp, I had counselors that were queer-identified, and that was awesome.  Well, looking back on it I’m guessing that they were.  At the time, obviously nobody said anything about it.  I felt like camp was the one place where I could be my fullest self and everyone was ok with that.  Camp was this place where I didn’t have to perform, unlike school.  It was a safe place, a nurturing environment where people were so confident in who they were.  It definitely had a strong impact on me.

My fiancée wasn’t a Girl Scout and has actually said on multiple occasions that she feels she missed out on a part of her childhood.  It makes me sad!

I’m out at work.  There are a few other people at the council who are also out.  It’s wonderful.  I was not out at my previous council.  I make no effort to hide that my fiancée is a woman this time around.  I didn’t like it – it was way too stressful.  Being a camp director is stressful enough that you don’t need that added stress on top of it.  When I started my current job, I decided, “I’m just going to be out, and whatever happens, happens.”  Nobody was shocked, nobody acted surprised.

In a weird way, the Girl Scout Law kind of prepped me for the Marine Corps.  The Marine Corps preaches honesty, integrity, courage – just like the Girl Scout Law, but with slightly different wording.  I try every day to live up to that standard.  Some days I do better than others, but it’s a good philosophy.  (…But I might be a little biased, having been a Girl Scout for the last 23 years.) 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

FIN's STORY

Name: Fin
Years in Girl Scouting: 17 years
Roles in Girl Scouting: Unit Leader, CIT Director, World Center volunteer
Current Location: San Francisco, CA

“Are you gay?” one of my coworkers asked me. I flushed red with embarrassment and mumbled back an answer. I was shocked - I have always passed as straight without any questions. Though I currently live in San Francisco, the gay capital of the world, the question caught me off guard. “So...are you gay?”

I grew up in a suburb in Massachusetts with my two parents, older brother and two spunky cats. Though I grew up in a “normal” nuclear household, two of my aunts are married in my extended family, which always seemed normal to me as a child. I joined Girl Scouting when I was 6 years old and am still a member currently. My journey in Girl Scouting had its ups and downs. I almost quit as a Junior Girl Scout and I did not have a good time at Girl Scout day camp. The few times that I went to day camp, I was teased by the other girls and the counselors did nothing. I found my home at a YMCA day camp where I grew up and became a counselor for several years. Despite my negative experiences, I am glad that I stuck it out to Cadette Girl Scout and beyond. I developed leadership skills and had the opportunity to volunteer at Our Chalet in Switzerland. I went to residential Girl Scout camp for the first time when I was 21 as a Unit Leader. I tried to foster a positive, accepting environment for young girls and loved it so much that I returned to residential camp as the Counselor-in-Training Director.

“Are you gay?” Well, in elementary school I had a steady stream of crushes on different boys. I pined after a boy with short spiky hair named Antonio throughout most of elementary school….too bad he moved to Wisconsin. My life took a turn in middle school. My brother was in college 6 hours away and my parents channeled their energy into bailing him out of negative situations. I fell into a deep depression; I felt invisible to my parents and friends. I had two sets of friends in middle school – my goth friends and my elementary school friends. I connected more with my goth friends even though they were a negative influence on my life. One night I was wishing that I had never been born when I spotted a pair of scissors on my desk. I started cutting myself on a regular basis after that night to let the pain out because I was always bottling it up inside.

I started to realize that boys were not the only ones that I was attracted to. I fell in love with two girls in my goth friend group: Steph and Cassie. Cassie and Steph were both funny, independent and fun to hang out with. I know that the feelings I had for them were beyond friendship and admiration. I made it point to hang out with Steph often. We dreamed of starting a band and made nicknames for ourselves. I confided in one of my friends and worked up the courage to tell my dad that I was bisexual. When I told my dad, there was a pause before he asked, “Are you sure you don’t just admire their beauty?” I responded with “No” and there was another pause. That conversation has prevented me from bringing up my sexuality with my parents since.

I wanted a fresh start in high school; I repaired my relationship with my parents and spent more time with friends who had a positive influence on my life. My love life was pretty boring until my junior year. I started talking to a boy with long dark hair, olive skin and hazel eyes on the bus on my way home every day. His name was Grant; we had met our freshman year but didn’t talk much until the bus two years later. I never had a boyfriend before but I knew there was a special connection between us. We always talked with our legs touching on the bus and he visited me at lunch. One day on the bus, he asked me if I liked someone. I was too scared to admit I liked him so I replied, “Somebody” and when I asked him he gave me the same answer. The next day, I ran to catch the bus because I got out of English class late. I had butterflies all day waiting to talk to him and I asked him who he liked on the way home. When we realized we liked each other, I felt on top of the world. Though we lived a few streets away, we talked on the phone for 6 hours that night.

I knew that I was in love after less than a month. I couldn’t stop thinking about him and I always looked forward to our time together. My relationship with Grant was a rollercoaster of emotions. I tried to help him with his drug addiction and deal with his difficult home life. I also navigated having a romantic physical relationship with someone for the first time and I felt scared to get advice from my mom. Grant and I were on and off five times during my junior year. When we ended, I cried and cried – my heart felt broken and unfixable. Grant was my true and only love so far. Despite our difficulties, there are positive memories that will always stay with me like our first kiss and our Valentine’s Day date. Part of my heart will always love him but I have slowly let go of that relationship.

After Grant, I wanted to find true love again and have a healthier relationship. I had a few relationships in college that were mostly based on convenience and lust with men. Each relationship got shorter and shorter but I was left feeling let down. No relationship I have had so far has been anything like Grant and I. I spent the last two years of my undergrad career trying to change the hook up culture that normalizes sexual assault and rape.

Fast forward to the present: I am currently living in San Francisco. On a whim, I joined the online dating site OkCupid. So far, I have been on three dates. With the first guy I met, it was pretty clear what his expectations were. Since that date, I have struggled with navigating the grey zone between consent and rape. If someone buys me a drink or food, that is not a ticket to my pants but it seems to be that way in this OkCupid hook up culture. Recently, I went on a date with a transgender woman. She was open with me about her experiences and we talked for hours and hours. I felt that my needs and wants were listened to more closely.  It is the first time I have felt listened to and respected in a very long time by a romantic partner.

Honestly, reader, I procrastinated writing this blog for over a month. Why? I am scared to have this on the Internet. I have not told many people my true sexuality out of fear and the need to explore my sexuality more. It is easier to be assumed straight than to face the stereotypes of being bisexual/pansexual. By coming out, I expose myself to being told that I am "going through a phase" or that I am a "whore."  Sorry, this isn’t a phase, stop slut shaming, and no, I am not attracted to you… are you attracted to every single man (or woman) you see walking by? 


I came out to my two married aunts last week. I had dinner at their house and my aunt P. drove me back home. I mentioned to her that I had an OkCupid date and she talked about how it takes time to find “Mr. Right” and asked me what his name was. I replied, “Beth” and I could tell she was shocked because she asked me to repeat the name.  The next day, my aunt M. mentioned that she heard about my date with Beth and I talked about my sexuality with her. Since that conversation in middle school with my dad, I am not ready to navigate that conversation with my parents until I am in a serious relationship with a woman or with someone who identifies outside of the gender binary. I felt like I needed support from someone and my aunts felt like the best people to talk to (and of course they are!). I am exploring my sexuality here in the diverse city of San Francisco; this story only keeps unfolding. For now, I have another date with Beth tomorrow and I haven’t felt this butterfly feeling in a long time.

“So….are you gay?” Yes and no. I am not as straight as I look.  


Sunday, September 21, 2014

CHIP's STORY

Name: Chip
Years in Girl Guiding: 18 years
Roles in Girl Guiding: Unit Leader
Location: Ireland  

When I was sixteen, my (male) best friend told me he was in love with me and tried to kiss me. I would have been ecstatic, apart from the glaringly obvious fact that he was gay and simply trying to convince the world – and himself – that he was straight. I felt sorry for him because I thought it must have been so difficult to be gay, especially growing up in a very old-fashioned, Catholic corner of Ireland. Being gay here is often viewed as an illness that can be treated or grown out of, or just a plea for attention.          
 
   
He later confided that being considered an outsider, feeling that he had to tone down every reaction and gesture, and the uncertainty of having a family were the toughest things for him. I was sympathetic, but silently thankful that I was on the straight train to marriage and babies. I was hit on once by a girl while on a "gay night out" with him, but that was really the height of my experience with non-heteronormative activity. Until Summer 2013.
I decided to work at a Girl Scout camp in New Hampshire because I had just finished university, was unsure about what I wanted to do with my degree, and I have been part of the Scouting Movement in Ireland since I was six years old. I really wanted to give something back to the organisation that had given me so many magical experiences and wonderful friends.   

I arrived in New Hampshire with a group of 10 other international girls: most from England, some from other parts of the UK and a few from further afield. Meeting and getting to know the American staff, I couldn't believe how diverse they were. They were very fluid in their sexuality and gender, and more surprising to me was how open they were. I met people who identified as agender, transgender, gay, bi and queer, amongst many other things. My eyes were open to how wide the spectrum is, and I realised how unversed and uneducated I was about LGBTQ issues.

At camp, I developed a close relationship with the American nurse. She was 21 and the first time I saw her, she was stomping across the lower field in a cut-off shirt and Ray Bans. W. was (and is still!) enigmatic and everyone at our camp fell in love with her instantly. She was so fun and unpredictable and such a breath of fresh air during stressful camp life. I liked her big white teeth and she liked my “cute little butt." Once after a night off (where I got sore feet and made her piggyback me around), we fell asleep together in the staff lounge and when I woke up, she was running her fingers along my thigh.

I nervously jumped off the couch and avoided her for a few days. I was scared of how much I liked it, I think. She invited me on adventures during our time off, we skimmed stones and tried to find hidden places around camp to hang out. She forced me into intense talks about my feelings, which was hard for me because I'm not emotionally expressive. At all. Somewhere between leaving cute notes for each other, napping in her office and getting jealous when either of us spent a little extra time with someone else, we fell in love. She asked me tentatively if I wanted to set boundaries. I said no.

A few days before my 23rd birthday, we were lying in her tent with our noses touching for what felt like an hour. I thought because she was a lesbian and was used to kissing girls, she'd pluck up the courage to kiss me. But she didn't, so I kissed her. She said she'd never date a straight girl again, but would make an exception for me.

It was difficult to understand what I was feeling because I had never had romantic feelings for a girl before, but I couldn't ignore them and starting a long-distance relationship was the only way forward for us. The thought of her with someone else causes me physical pain.

Coming out to my family and friends back home, I had a few mixed reactions. My mum looked at me with a cocked head and said, “Well, whatever boils your kettle...” and went back to playing Candy Crush. When she told my dad a few days later, he said he knew that I was gay “three years ago” but was just kidding. My parents are both laid back and place happiness way above fitting the norm. Some of my friends were less accepting. I guess that I have always been part of the "popular" crowd at school and the thought of one of us being gay really didn't fit in. I've distanced myself from them now, not simply because they aren't accepting of me and my girlfriend, but because I don't think I can be friends with people who are so closed-minded.

My hardest coming out experience was with my aunt. I have lived with her for ten years and she is deeply religious. When I told her about W. she said she loved me no matter what, but she would pray for me. When W. came to Ireland to spend Christmas, I noticed that my aunt was quite cold, and instead of addressing her with her name, she would call her "that American girl." In March, she asked me to move out. She said it was for a variety of reasons, but deep down I knew it was because she couldn't deal with the relationship I am choosing to be in. It's difficult because she was my mother figure for such a long time and helped me through a lot, but her beliefs just can't allow her to accept it right now.

I'm grateful to the Girl Scouts because they've helped bring me together with the greatest love of my life. Being at camp for the first few months of my ambiguous sexuality was perfect because it provided me with a safe and loving environment to work things out without fear of judgment or abusive behaviour. I don't think that it helped me realise my true sexuality, but it definitely made me see that whatever body parts you do or do not have are irrelevant if you connect with someone.

What I love about the relationship W. and I have is that we fell in love completely innocently. There were no games, we rarely texted, and we were just were so happy to be in each other's company. I loved her before I kissed her and I know I can't have a happy life without her.

For now, I have no idea what sexuality I am, and I'm surprisingly okay with that. I still squirm a little when someone asks if I have a boyfriend and I'm currently struggling with something called "femme invisibility" because I apparently don't look like a lesbian – whatever the F that is supposed to mean. As far as I'm concerned, that statement is as stupid as, “You don't look left-handed!" In Ireland, it's difficult to explain a fluid sexuality, so for me to contest that I'm a lesbian even though I have a girlfriend is such an arduous process. 

I'm going with the flow, and still obsessed with W. a year later. No one has ever annoyed me as much as she does, but no one has ever, or will ever, make me as happy as she does.