Deanna El Khoury, Year 13 Nottingham Girls’ High School student, has compiled an amazing number of contributions from staff, students and alumnae from across the Girls’ Day School Trust into a blog post addressing the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ students. In addition to this, there are tips and there is advice shared with us from Vix Jensen, disability rights activist, and DOM&INK, freelance illustrator and author.
For Pride month in June, I called on students, alumnae and staff members, both LGBTQ+ and allies, to send me one piece of advice or tip for my blog post that they think would help LGBTQ+ students right now. I am proud to say that all my contributors come from a diverse range of backgrounds, including their religion, ethnicity, culture, dis/ability, and neurodiversity. I had 24 contributions and I want to thank everybody who took the time to send these to me. This is testament to the huge amount of support we have at NGHS and across the GDST as a whole.
I also want to say “thank you” to two people from outside the GDST, both of whom whole-heartedly embraced the offer to contribute. Thank you to Vix Jensen, an activist, public speaker and writer born with cerebral palsy. Many of you will be familiar with her amazing speech at the Inspiring Change Makers GDST Summit in May. Throughout her work, she promotes the inclusion of disabled people in feminist conversations and spaces. And thank you to DOM&INK, wonderful freelance illustrator and author. He loves to create work that makes you feel empowered and confident with his main themes being LGBTQ+ rights, mental health awareness and body positivity. You will find them both sharing their advice, accompanied by some of DOM&INK’s uplifting illustrations, in the second half of this blog post.
But first of all, take a look at some of the advice and tips given by people across NGHS and the GDST. Unfortunately, I could not always include every word of each contribution as there were so many. But I hope that both LGBTQ+ readers and allies will benefit from this blog post. There are plenty of links to resources and helplines too. Each named contributor has given their permission to do so.
It has been a true privilege putting this together and I love all the advice and experiences everyone has shared. I have found it incredibly uplifting and I hope you will too. Be kind to each other, and most importantly, be kind to yourselves. Happy Pride everyone!
A Contribution from Vix Jensen
We are made of universes. We are galaxies – limitless, enormous, wonderful galaxies. We are multitudes who need and deserve exactly the love that we want. That is something that you can hold deep inside the centre of yourself – it is enough for YOU to know it, to hold tight to that truth, even if it takes other people longer to catch up. If you are out and proud, hold and support the universes contained within your friends who still can’t be. If you’re not yet, hold onto your truth. It matters. Your story matters. And one day, your someone will see your entire galaxy.
Vix Jensen did a speech at the Inspiring Change Makers GDST Summit 2020 called Feel, Focus and Fight: Lessons in Using Anger for Good. You can find out more about Vix Jensen on her website here. She is also a booktuber and you can follow her on Twitter too!
A Q&A with DOM&INK
It has been important to me that this blog post doesn’t consider LGBTQ+ people’s sexual orientation and gender identity in isolation. What would you like to say to LGBTQ+ students reading this who hold many other identities that are not often represented?
I can only speak for myself, but I am actively working on new art briefs and publishing projects that make sure we push for that visibility in publishing and illustration. I think it’s so important the WHOLE LGBTQ+ community is seen and heard. I’d also say, when I was younger, I drew the representation I wanted – I’d draw queer superheroes, write queer stories – I’d create the visibility I didn’t get back in the 90s and 00s. So keep drawing YOUR stories, writing them, singing them, making them into poetry, whatever you can to get your voice heard. Because even if you share one poem about your identity on the internet, the one person across the world that reads it feels seen. Then that person will share your work and then another. There is so much power in that!
Even in the LGBTQ+ community, there can still be pressure to label yourself quickly and to fit the stereotypes. What are your thoughts on this and what advice do you have for people coming out to themselves right now?
Coming out is always a big journey because you do it numerous times. Just know that YOU. ARE. ENOUGH. Don’t try to be anything else that you aren’t, or act like someone you think you should. Just be you. Because being that authentically visible is the most powerful way to show up for yourself.
You focus a lot of your work on body positivity. This can be hard for everyone, including LGBTQ+ people and especially those who experience gender dysphoria. What do you think helps young LGBTQ+ people to be confident in our bodies?
I think the greatest thing for body positivity is a place like Instagram. Whilst, there are pros and cons, with IG you can curate your own community of people on your feed. I think there are so many amazing queer influencers out there who talk about this. Also, remind yourself daily, YOUR BODY IS VALID. It’s got purpose, and is important. Would you speak to your friend the way you speak about yourself? Hell no! Make sure you treat your body with the respect and adoration it deserves.
Many young LGBTQ+ people struggle to accept their sexual orientation and gender identity and they might be dealing with a lot of negative feelings because of this. How can they make steps towards accepting themselves and asking for help?
I’d advise for them to talk to someone. If they’re having very negative feelings then, I’d recommend to reach out and use a helpline like the Albert Kennedy Trust, Mermaids, SHOUT text therapy service. I’ve used helplines before many a time, especially when I was 17-19. Other things you can do are to look at lgbtq+ social media, watch shows like Pose that celebrate the queer community and chosen family, read books that have amazing representation, listen to podcasts. Absorb as much stuff as you can to remind yourself to normalise the idea that YOU are YOU and there’s a whole community out there for you.
Some students might be living with parents or guardians who are not accepting of their identities. What self-care tips can you suggest that would really help in this situation?
Create your own safe space. Mine was my bed. This safe space is somewhere you can be you, read your books, listen to music etc. Then, create a safe space outdoors – this could be a walk near your house, or a park you can sit in for an hour or two. These spaces are important for you as they give you the breathing room to be yourself without judgement. Also, use the helplines I mentioned, let friends know about your family situation and also a teacher. It’s important people are aware you are in that environment. Choose your own fights as well, if things easily turn into an argument, don’t waste your energy and emotions on things when you can save that for your safe space time and loving yourself. Remind yourself daily how far you have come and how far you will GO. This is for now, but this is NOT forever.
While this blog post is aimed at LGBTQ+ students, many other students will be reading this along with staff and parents across the GDST. What would you like to say to all of these allies?
The best thing you can say to an ally, is that there is no one who can ever be the ‘best’ ally. Keep learning and un-learning and relearning, listening and speaking up to actively challenge prejudice. Using your voice to speak up for the queer community is the most powerful thing an ally can do.
And finally, we are in Pride month! What message would you like to give to readers about Pride this year?
I want all you awesome and beautiful and queertastic rainbow humans to know that you are important, and loved and have purpose. Reach out to people, raise each other up, speak up for others and celebrate each other. Take that energy and apply it all year round, because whilst Pride month is June, it’s also your life! Take time out to love yourself, self-care and rest, being queer in a pandemic can be exhausting and we need you, as the next generation of awesome rainbow legends to look after yourselves. Happy Pride!
DOM&INK is the illustrator and author of the interactive LGBTQ+ journal Free To Be Me. Get involved in his Colouring in Club on his website at https://www.domandink.co.uk/ . You can find him on Facebook and on Twitter but you can see his WHOLE PORTFOLIO on Instagram where he is most active.