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.) 

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