Today my company hosted a couple hundred GLBTQ? + Friends teenagers from regional high schools for its annual Queer Youth Forum. Since I coincidentally am an alum of the nearest high school, they asked if I would serve as a "mentor" during lunch, which involved sitting at a table with some kids, talking to them, and doing my best to make Company X sound like a great place to work and to be an example of a well-adjusted gay adult functioning openly in the business world.
Of course, it is a great place to work, as exemplified by the fact that they even conduct such an event. For a global corporate behemoth, Company X ranks at the very top in terms of corporate responsibility, and we make an excellent product. That's the easy part; I would be on less-sure footing if we got around to the fact that I only work there because my life's dream fell apart and that I'm currently in the professional equivalent of water-treading while I figure out what to do next and how to get there. There was also a minor risk that someone might ask me a sports-related question, but fortunately all the lesbians at my table were of the chubby goth variety, not the LPGA types. Phew.
We got off to a depressing start. One of the boys is actually a current student at my old high school. "When did you graduate?" he asked. "Oh...1992," I said, dreading what was coming next:
"Ohmagawd, I was born in 1992!"
To my right was an awfully cute blond twink who reminded me a lot of myself at 16, not least because on his t-shirt -- which we had provided, printed with the statement "Proud to Be ______" -- he had written, in katakana, "homosekusharu." I turned to him and said, "Brian-san,* gakkoh de Nihongo o benkyoh shimasu ka?" Which is a totally easy question with an obvious answer, but with my Japanese lying dormant all these years, it was the best I could come up with. Still, it successfully disarmed him.
He spent most of his lunch groping and pecking at the adorable, reticent, chubby boy next to him, who was proud to be a "musician." I asked him what he played (bass) and told him I studied at Manhattan School of Music, which impressed him but was meaningless to the rest of the group. "What did you play?" he asked. "Oh, I used to be an opera singer," I confessed.
"No way," said Charles. Charles was my favorite. Charles came in full drag.
"Sing something!" commanded Charles, pointing a finger at me imperiously. I obliged with a couple of bars from Puccini's Edgar. "Oh my God, you should try for American Idol!" he squealed. "Yeah...I'm too old to qualify." "Oh," he said, not sounding particularly disappointed.
"So, do you do drag a lot?" I inquired of Charles.
"Yes! I do a weekly show at the queer youth center, and I rule," he said. And I believed him. I told him about my upcoming public debut in a dress and confessed to being nervous. "I'm not going to be nearly as glamorous or as pretty as you," I said.
"Oh, I don't know," he replied, looking me up and down. "I sense a lot of potential."
And there it was. Here I am, supposedly mentoring these impressionable young people, and yet my self-esteem got an enormous boost from a sixteen year-old boy in a dress who sensed potential.
Most of the kids at my table were from the GSA at an east-side high school. "How many kids are in your group?" "Oh, 20, or 25," said one rather serious young girl. "I'm the President," said Charles. "It's more like a benevolent dictatorship than a democracy," said Brian.
"And what about ___________?" I asked of the boy who goes to my old school. "Oh, well, we have about 40 altogether, but there was drama and our president quit and now there's only like five people who participate."
Wow. Forty. I remember when our Gay/Bi/Questioning support group used to meet every couple of weeks; I think we were about five altogether. It was kind of scary just showing up. I always worried that someone from the class I was supposed to be in would see me heading in the opposite direction. What would be my excuse if they asked? And now here we are, sixteen years later, and my school has forty self-identified GLBTQ? students; moreover, they get an official, school-sanctioned day to visit a local business with other area GLBTQ? youth. How times change!
But not only that; here I was, the supposed "role model for a day," and honestly, these kids were more comfortable in their own skin than I am now.
After we finished up our lunch and the kids prepared to go off to the afternoon activities while I went back to my desk, I silently said a little prayer for them and wished them all success, safety and happiness. Charles extended a hand in friendship and said, "It was nice to meet you."
"It was nice to meet you, too," I said. "Good luck with your show tomorrow."
"Thank you!" he smiled. "Um, are you on MySpace?" he asked.
"No, " I said.
"Okay then. Well, see ya!"
* Names have been altered to protect the fabulous.