On Serving As a Role Model

On Facebook today, I send a friend request to a young woman I believed was my almost-cousin. We had played together as children and I thought it would be nice to reconnect. As it turns out, I did not friend the girl I remembered, but instead, I friended her little sister. [I’ m using “friended” as a verb. Deal.]

Now, I have never met the little sister. I was only vaguely aware that there was a younger sibling out there somewhere. As it turns out, the little sister is a freshman in high school. She still has her braces. By the time she starts college, I may well be working on my dissertation.

As it also turns out, she knows a little about me. When I checked my Facebook inbox this evening, I had an unread message that said, “I don’t want to be too forward but I heard through the grapevine that you just came out of the closet. I just recently came out as well and I was wondering if you had any tips for relationships and whatnot.” [I took the liberty of correcting her grammar and spelling.]

Of course, I am wondering what she was told and by which member of the family. I did not just come out, as I have been out to some people for as long as eight years now, and to my parents for three and half years or so. Still, I have a little baby dyke turning to me for advice.

This isn’t new. During middle school, I attended a school that was kindergarten through eighth grade. When I entered highschool, some of my former schoolmates kept in touch with me and used me for guidance as they entered their teenage years. As part of my job, I work with young women every day. While I am not “out” at work for a variety of reasons, I do my fair share of mentoring- and occasionally, lecturing- in addition to my required coaching . I even co-facilitate a youth group for LGBTQ teenagers. Mostly the participants just want free food, but sometimes we have important conversations. Despite all this, when someone comes to me for advice and my experiences, I can’t help but wonder, “Why me?” Now don’t get me wrong, I’m honored that people look up to me. Still, it always forces me to step back and ask, “How did I get here?”  To be horribly cliche, it seems like just yesterday that I was that lost freshman in high school.

So what do I do? Mostly I listen. When asked, I share my experiences, while reinforcing that I’m just one person with one story.  I often suggest community resources, as well as website or films. I tend to loan out too many books. Then, I listen some more.

What about you? Do you see yourself as a role model? For who? What responsibilities do you feel with this position? Did you want to be a role model or was it thrust upon you? [Added 12/2: How do you reconcile being percieved as an expert, when you know that you are still figuring it all out?] While the above example focuses on being a role model in the queer community, the conversation need not be limited. I want to hear everybody’s thoughts.

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    • Elizabeth
    • December 2nd, 2009

    [I took the liberty of correcting her grammar and spelling.]

    I thought that was a tad arrogant of you. Perhaps you meant that as a joke?

    Well written. However, you sound like someone put a gun to your head and forced you to be a role model, when actually you assume the role because it feeds your self-importance. It’s okay to be self-important, but don’t sound like a martyr at the same time because that robs your words of validity. The undertone of your post is not of a role model, but of a victim who feels put upon.

    Feel free to correct my spelling and grammar. 😉 (meant as a joke)

    Take care.

    Elizabeth

  1. Elizabeth, a couple of things on this,

    I corrected her spelling and grammer because it was fairly illegible. Words were smushed together with no spaces and things were strangely abbreviated. To make it easier for people to read, I converted it to standard written English.

    I do not appreciate you being so judgmental of someone you’ve never met. Perhaps, you misunderstood my perspective. I fully value my role as a role model. However, I can’t help but wonder “How did I get here?” That was the central point I intended to make. I know that the very nature of my employment and community involvement sets me up to work with teenagers. I know that some of them may see me as a role model, while others will not. However, when someone, like this almost-cousin of mine, comes to me directly with questions, I can’t help but question my authority or experience. I don’t mind it. Instead, I was seeking others’ opinions on being a role model and how they juggle being perceived as an “expert” with still figuring it out themselves. As I said, I was just that lost freshman in high school. I know how I got to where I am today, but at the same time, I can’t believe it.

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