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.