It's tough to grow up young and queer, but a poem in a book pulled from a bookstore shelf helped Simone Green navigate her journey of discovery.
"Queer youth are five times more likely to die by suicide."
Those were the first words I read when I flipped to a random page in a book I had pulled off the bookstore shelf, only because it had the word queer on the back. I was 13 and crouching in the corner, trying to learn more about the community I was part of without leaving traces in my search history or parent’s credit card.
Just reading the title, I thought the poem would repeat messages I kept hearing, predicting a future of loss for myself and my community that I desperately wanted to fight. But as I read through it, I realized: yes, it’s about loss, but it’s also about peace, and acknowledging both.
The author, Andrea Gibson, described the effects of internalized oppression in the poem, a topic I wish I didn’t know, but did. Rather than reminding me of it, the poem gave me space. Space to just be here, alive, and queer. It felt like it took my burdens and turned them into something special.
Since reading that poem the first time, and the other 30 times after that, I began to see myself more like the way it portrayed me–as valid. In a world trying to bring down queer kids, being acknowledged made me feel like my experience was art. Now, when I come across queer art, however scarce it is, it reminds me of how I felt that day in the bookstore, and how grateful I am that other kids have access to art that values their identities.
Mainstream conversations around queer people tend to leave out the hopeful, or only show the positive and minimize the pain. They reduce us to debate topics. Queer art and media completely changes the discussion, allowing us to express our identities through our creativity. It creates hope for young people that we have the power to control our narrative and be heard.
The poem ends with, “Queer youth are five times more likely to: see you how you see yourself... five times more likely to need us to do the same.” Representation isn’t about stealing the spotlight, it’s about opening up the conversation, creating space for more empathy and love. Give queer youth hope by respecting our experiences and consuming queer media.
With a Perspective, I’m Simone Green.
Simone Green is a high school sophomore in Redwood City.