I had camp with my Girl Guides this weekend. It was super fun and great bonding time, and I only lost my temper three times!
It really struck me this weekend what an incredible position I’m in. These girls are 9-12 years old, and they look up to me. It’s almost mindless adoration, in a way, but not really, because they’re at the age where they’re starting to think critically - that’s the important part.
On Saturday afternoon, after we’d all been abseiling and were chilling out before dinner, a few of the girls and I ended up playing a game that became known as “The Real Caroline.” It went like this:
A girl would say a “fact” about me, beginning with “The Real Caroline”. For instance, “The Real Caroline is wearing shoes.” Every time their “fact” was correct, I’d add another number to the tally I was keeping on my fingers. Their initial goal had been to prove that I wasn’t really me, one of the girls was (she’d been sitting in my chair pretending to be me while I went to get a drink, and when I came back she insisted that she was The Real Caroline and I was an imposter). What it ended up being was half an hour spent challenging every assumption they had about me.
At one point one of them said, “The Real Caroline has a boyfriend.” I pulled a face at her and didn’t add a marker to the tally. After a moment, the oldest girl in the unit quietly said, “The Real Caroline isn’t interested in boys.” I added a marker.
She didn’t even bat an eyelid. No-one did. They carried on asking questions (I believe the next one was “The Real Caroline has boobs”. They’re tweens. It shows.).
I was so proud of my girls right then. I don’t know if they really realised what they were asking, or what my response meant, but I’m pretty sure at least some of them had a fair idea. The oldest girl certainly had some concept of it - she’s 12 years old and has just started her first year of high school, so I’d be surprised if she didn’t.
It really spoke volumes that these girls, who are definitely old enough to start having their own (as opposed to their parents’) ideas of right and wrong, took what was essentially a statement about my sexuality and didn’t even question it. It didn’t affect their view of me at all, and that’s big, because I know that some things would. These are girls who can be catty and snobby, who have their own politics within the group and who are very quick to judge when something doesn’t line up with what they expect. But they respect me, and they look up to me as a role model, and it is literally only writing this last paragraph that I have realised - I have the opportunity to make a real difference here.
These girls accept me any way I am. When I tell them how something is, they believe me. When I said yesterday afternoon (in response to something one of them had said), “there’s nothing wrong with being fat,” she didn’t argue. She didn’t even frown. She just asked another question. But the girl next to her glanced down at her own puppy fat, just for a second, and I could have sworn she smiled.
So what happens if I am openly gay to my girls? I don’t mean in a shove-it-down-your-throat way (that’s annoying no matter what the subject matter is), I don’t mean standing up and making a big announcement about it in horseshoe next week, I just mean not hiding it. Not avoiding talking about it, and if they ask, being honest. What would the effect of that be?
Maybe, it might make them more accepting than they might otherwise be come their teen years. I was bullied horrifically when I was thirteen, just because other girls at my school thought I was gay (I wasn’t, at that point, I just had short hair, but that was enough for them). If my girls, at the age of ten, have someone they look up to who is openly gay, and if that sexuality is just another fact about her, like being lactose intolerant or having a blue streak in her hair, then in a few years, when they encounter a girl their age who is gay, maybe they might not think, “ew, she’s different”. Maybe they might think, “hey, she’s like my old Guide leader!”
And if that girl happens to be them, then maybe they might be a little kinder to themselves than I was to myself.
In that case, I would consider my job done.