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Emily Rence YoSt 3101 Youth Journey Paper October 7, 2008 Its All About the Journey: My Personal

Journey as a Youth How did I get here? If youre anything like me this is a question youve asked yourself more than youd like to admit. It seems as though I have a tendency of getting myself into situations and then, upon realizing Id rather not be in them, wondering how I got there in the first place. Youd think by now Id be able to just keep myself out of those situations that I find frustrating, but like a very smart person once said, hindsight is always 20/20. Its easy to look back and say why did I do that? or I should have done this instead but then what are we really taking away from our experiences? What new insight have we gained? What lesson have we learned? As youth workers we have to be able to look back upon our experiences (good, bad, or otherwise) and be able to recognize the points where we had an opportunity to learn something, to gain some life lesson that we could carry with us and eventually help another young person to do the same. My journey as a youth, all the good and bad things Ive been through, has helped me to become who I am now. I am a youth worker who wants to be able to give youth the opportunity to find themselves in safe environments that encourage self discovery. Had my youth journey been anything other than what it was fate may still have led me here, working to earn a degree in Youth Studies, but I certainly wouldnt be the same person I am. There are a few experiences that really stick out to me when I think back on my journey, experiences that challenged me or forced me to look at my world in a new way, and these are the ones that had lasting effects on who I have become. I feel that by being able to look back and reflect on them I am able to better

explain what my personal goals and values as a youth worker are. This is what Ive been through. This is how I got here. This is my personal journey as a youth. Every year Ive been in school, with the exception of 3rd and 4th grade and college, I have attended private, Catholic schools. After having a conversation with me about my personal feelings on religion you probably wouldnt believe this little fact, but it is true. My grandparents are devout Catholics and my mother, though I believe she has many valid reasons not to, identifies as a Catholic. This is one of the experiences that really forced me to have to think about what I truly believed. I had teachers, priests, nuns and family members telling me that there was this guy called God who had created the entire world, that he had created us all in His image, and that there were certain things we werent supposed to do because they were considered sins and, unless you confessed your sins to a Priest, which was an issue all its own for me, you would go to hell. I didnt get it. I can remember being very young, probably around second grade when I was being forced to make my First Holy Communion, and thinking that I didnt understand why I had to go into a little box and tell the priest, who happened to be a close family friend, all of the bad things I had done and beg him for forgiveness, just so he could tell me to go say some prayers and suddenly not be a sinner anymore. I made my communion and asked forgiveness for my sins of talking back to my mother and teasing my sister like a good, Catholic girl should do and that was it. It wasnt until high school, when my school introduced school-wide confession in the gymnasium, that my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) got me into trouble again. Our entire student body would file into the gym and sit in the bleachers according to homeroom, then the dean and assistant principle would point out individual homerooms and the students who wanted to participate would stand up and form a line. The students who didnt want to participate in

confession in the make-shift, gym-mat confessionals would have to sit out on the bleachers in front of the rest of the school. Now no one ever said anything to you about choosing not to go, but the looks you got and the feeling that your teachers thought you were just rebelling for the sake of rebelling were enough to make you feel pretty bad. After that embarrassment my sister and I would drive home and my mom and grandmother would ask how our day was. I said fine. My sister, who was three years behind me in school, told them about how she went to confession and saw our priest from grade school. Thats when my grandmother asked me if I had gone and I said that I hadnt. She was not happy. She made me promise that I would go next time because to her it was horrible to go against the Church, even though I gave her a very well thought out explanation about how I didnt feel like I needed to tell a priest my sins if I had already reconciled myself. So I promised her I would and my sister promised me she would cover for me when it came time to lie to my grandma about next time. This isnt to say that my sister agreed with my decision not to attend confession, on the contrary she did and still does get very upset with me about my views on religion, but she hated to see me and my grandmother fight, so she covered for me. There are many more examples of my religious experience that helped me to form my youth work values, but these are two from earlier on in my life. It wasnt just my questioning of religion that got me into trouble either. In fifth grade we were learning about Thanksgiving and Columbus discovering the Americas, we were being told what a wonderful person he was and how hed done all these great things. But I wasnt convinced. I honestly dont remember how I learned this next bit of info. It certainly wasnt anyone in my family or anyone else in my neighborhood who played at Columbus Park by my school, but somehow I had learned that Columbus had punished the Native Americans because he couldnt understand them and that he had brought diseases over from Europe that killed off

most of the Native people. And so, in a moment that my teacher probably didnt see coming, I raised my hand and asked how she could tell us Columbus was such a good guy when he had done all these horrible things and then proceeded to list what I had heard. Not knowing what to do and probably very caught off guard since I was one of the quietest, most reserved students in my class of twelve, she quickly brushed off my question and continued on with her lesson plan. I dont remember how exactly she responded, but I do remember feeling let down by her answer and later asking my mom and grandma the same thing. Again they were not happy with me and my grandma made a point of telling me never to do that again, in her mind it was rude and wrong to question what such an important historical figure had done for our country. Not to mention Columbus was Italian, and so in the mind of my very Italian grandmother, practically a saint. This was also around the same time that I got my first speech from my mother as to what I was allowed to talk about at family dinners. The list would later grow to include politics, religion, the fact that I was a liberal, and any other topic that would make my grandparents upset. I had somehow mastered the art of saying the wrong thing (my liberal rebellious opinion) at the wrong time (ever) to the wrong people (my conservative, Catholic grandparents). Flash forward to my junior and senior years of high school, its 2004 and an election year. I was too young to vote but I was in an American Govt class and had been defending my personal beliefs to many teachers and classmates who didnt agree with me. The last thing I wanted to do was go home and be reminded that my family held a lot of the same beliefs that my closed-minded teachers and classmates did. But home I went, and because it was an election year of course the television was on. And because my grandparents were over, Fox News was on (my favorite media outlet that has mastered the overt spinning of news in order to support their biased and clearly conservative fan-base). Being that I was frustrated from a debate in class earlier

about gay marriage and the fact that my mom was in the other room so I knew I could get away with it, I asked my grandpas views on gay marriage, knowing all too well what they were but thinking, much too optimistically mind you, that my new found debate skills and simple logic would convert my grandpa to my side of the issue. Needless to say, I failed in everything except managing to get myself more frustrated and confirming my grandpas belief that I was a liberal minded idealist whose views would change as soon as she had to live in the real world. Even now, knowing he has a lesbian granddaughter that he loves and supports, my grandfathers views have not changed. He still believes gay couples shouldnt be allowed to get married or have children or even adopt, except for me. His way of reconciling the fact that he was against all these things that he wanted for his own granddaughter was to say I was the exception to the rule. I was different. It seems this was a theme throughout my youthhood really. I was different and it took awhile, but Ive realized that Im okay with that. Now Im sure youve noticed that Ive neglected to talk about two very important aspects of my journey as a youth-my peers/friends and how my sexuality played a huge role in who I was and, in turn, have become. This wasnt an accident. I chose originally to focus on the impact my family had on me, how their constant challenging of my beliefs and views really structured my development. I did this because, no matter what, my family and I have always been extremely close. They were my friends. They were the people I turned to when I needed help. They were the only people who knew most everything about me. I was too embarrassed to open up to many of my friends about my parents being divorced and how much it affected me. Catholic parents dont get divorced and this was a fact that I was reminded of everyday when I went to school with my classmates who all had two parents. I mean I had two parents also, but in my mind none of my friends could have possibly understood that sometimes I didnt see my dad

for weeks because on days he was supposed to pick me up he had gotten too drunk or the Detroit Lions were playing and he just couldnt miss the game. I was pretty sure no one would understand how I could want to still visit, let alone love, a father who chose football or alcohol over his daughters and I was absolutely positive that it was not a discussion I wanted to have. And so my family, my mothers side of the family to be particular, was my safety. They were the ones who knew what my sister and I had been through and they were the ones who loved us anyways. It was for this reason, and probably many more, that my peers didnt really have too much of a lasting impact on me until my time at St. Josephs Interparish Jr. High & High School. During my time at St. Joes I met people who would change my life. I got involved in theatre and learned that I could do many more things than I ever considered possible. I opened up to a few close friends and felt the weightlessness that comes with letting go of a burden, a feeling I would become addicted to once I started to discover and come to terms with my own sexuality. I suddenly had friends who were like me, who had been through tough times but still managed to come to school every day with a smile and a willingness to move on. This isnt to say that I was completely open and honest with these new friends, it was more like I traded one secret burden for the awareness of another, but something Ive been an advocate of for as long as I can remember is taking baby-steps. So I was in no rush to let people in completely, not to mention, like most teenagers whod been through their fair share of issues, it took a lot for me to trust that the people in my life wouldnt walk away upon finding out who I trul y was. In 2005 I graduated high school. Of the sixty nine students in my graduating class, only two of us ended up at the University of Minnesota. I wouldnt realize it at first, but this was my big chance to finally do what all the events in my life had been setting me up for. This was my chance to be me, one hundred percent, unfiltered Emily. Freshman year of college I somehow managed to revert to

the girl I was pre-senior year of high school. All the self-discovery about what I was capable of seemed to go out the window. During the first two weeks of school I lost the infamous freshman 15 because I only left my dorm room to go to class, the showers, and the lounge-the only place I could get service to call home and beg my mother to come and get me. From the week before I moved in until three weeks after school was in session I manage to have two full blown panic attacks and thoroughly scare the pants off my mother- who had no idea how to react to the unraveling of her once composed, prematurely adult daughter. In time I would find my place at the University. I became a member of Bailey Halls Executive Committee and met a lot of new people in classes, student organizations, and in my dorm. Life was back to normal which meant I had a lot more time to think, and think I did. It was during this time that I finally got time to think about who I was and to think about how I could become that person. Id known I was a lesbian for years. If you want me to be completely honest, Ive never had any attraction to boys, for years Id faked crushes simply because my friends were convinced that I dont really like anyone was code for if you ask me enough, Ill tell you who Im obsessing over! I became a professional at the art of ambiguous pronouns and mastered the skill of the change of subject. This became second nature for me- I had convinced myself that secrets were just a part of my life that Id have to get used to. It wasnt until the end of my sophomore year that I had decided I needed to finally come out to someone. I needed someone in my life who could know everything about me because it was just too painful for me to hold everything in any longer. I was tired of having to hold back in all of my relationships with new friends, friends who I had begun to realize would become a significant part of my life from here on out. I knew that if I wanted to create true, lasting relationships with these people I was going to first be able to be completely honest with myself, and then, with them. So on May

3, 2007 I finally started to do just that. I pulled aside my best friend Masada, a girl who Id become very close with and who I knew was very open and supportive to the GLBT community. I may or may not have been dropping subtle hints to see where she stood on the issue, but thats beside the point. I remember sitting out in front of Bailey Hall with my friend, it was a beautiful day, a fact that I would only be able to appreciate, let alone take note of, upon looking back on that day. She kept asking me what was wrong and I kept stringing these bits of nonsensical sounds together in hopes that somehow they would form the sentence my mind had suddenly forgotten. Finally, after stumbling over my words for a good five minutes, Masada took my hand and told me to breath. Take a deep breath and then just say what you want to say. I wont think any different of you I could feel my heart racing in my throat, my hands were cold and clammy, and I was surprised that upon taking my hand Masada didnt get startled by how much they were shaking. But I took a deep breath and said it. Masada, I think I might be a lesbian. Well, no, I know I am. I dont know. The next thing I know I was crying, Im not sure whether they were out of relief or fear, but then I felt Masada hug me. It was all I needed. I had finally let someone in and they hadnt run away. It was at this point that I became addicted, so to speak, to this amazing feeling that comes with letting someone in on your secret. I no longer had to keep this burden to myself. I had someone to share it with. Masada supported me and kept my secret as long as I needed her to. Over the next couple months I came out to a few more close friends and by October (not far off from National Coming Out Week actually) I had told the people that I wanted to tell in person, one on one, and was just about ready to let the rest of my friends in on the secret. I told the rest of my good friends at a party we were all attending and my announcement was met with a barrage of questions, all in honest curiosity, and by the end of the night I felt like Id been out to them all along. Next on my

list was my family. I was returning home for the winter holidays and had decided I wanted to tell them, but I wasnt sure if I could do it verbally. I had loved this feeling of freedom up until now, now it was just driving me crazy having to go through the motions of being so scared. So I decided that in order to avoid the painful buildup that came with coming out I would change up my approach. Everyone who knows me, my family included, understands that my writing is my passion, its what I do. So I chose to make little cards for my mom and sister because they were the only two that I decided I needed to come out to one on one (the rest would find out via the Macarra-Family grapevine within hours anyways). The cards said simply, Dear mom/sister, I love you, Merry Christmas. Emily (PS. Im a lesbian.) Id planned to give them the cards on Christmas, but couldnt wait and ended up giving them the cards the night of my sisters birthday December 20th. They were completely supportive, both had actually had the suspicions earlier and asked me flat out but I changed the subject because I hadnt been ready to come out on their terms. And, like I predicted, within days the entire family knew and was surprisingly supportive. The final step I had to take in coming out, a new one in this technology driven generation, was to officially change my status on Myspace and Facebook from the ambiguous no response to lesbian or interested in women. It was official, I was out. And I promised myself Id never let someone push me back in. Youve learned a lot about me and my journey now and the only thing I feel I need to add is that I didnt tell you any of the negative stories about the interactions between my family and I to show you how different we are from each other or how frustrating many of our important interactions ended up being, but more so to show you that the fact that my family challenged me did not deter me from wanting to form my own opinion. In fact, their challenging me and putting me in situations that I didnt want to be in forced me to look at my world, to really have to figure

out what I personally believed. And although it contributed to a lot of my stress and anger as a youth, and honestly still frustrates me now, it has made me who I am. I am a youth worker who wants to remind youth that they have the power to speak up, that they can use their voice to question authority and work towards change. I am a person who knows what its like to have to defend her beliefs in every aspect of her life and so respects the differing opinions of others and their right to express them. I am a young adult who has learned many of lifes lessons by way of struggle or adversity, but wouldnt change it, even now looking back and seeing how I could have done things differently. Hindsight may be 20/20 but what lessons would we learn if we werent forced to look at our world through a different set of eyes every once in a while?