10/22/21

Then & Now

by Sarah Peterson

The Then & Now series shares reflections of HATCH leaders on their own high school experience, and how their path as a teenager has influenced their adult life.

The Hatch School’s first students are currently navigating the many challenges of early adolescence. 7th and 8th grade is a tough time for many of us, and I was no exception. Looking back with the wisdom of age (and perhaps the bonus knowledge gained from teaching many students at this stage of development), I’m much better equipped to interpret what was so hard back then in the context of what I’ve learned about myself - and the world -  since. Here’s one thing I’d tell 1989 Sarah:

“I know it seems like all of a sudden everyone you know is making out at dances or under the bleachers at football games, and this transition is making you feel confused, unwanted, and left behind. It turns out there are lots of reasons for that, but here’s one big one: you’re gay. I know that to you, queerness is something that is strictly theoretical, and without role models it won’t be easy to figure this out about yourself. You think you’ve never met a gay person (hot tip - that’s not true), and coming out isn’t so much scary as completely beyond comprehension. It turns out, though, there’s more than one reason you’ve always felt so at home at Girl Scout camp - that will be the first place you’ll find your queer family. Even better, as you move through the next phases of your life it will be easier and easier to find places in your world where you belong - both because you’ll be more confident in who you are, and because the world starts believing that queer folks don’t need hide who they are to participate in mainstream life. By 2021, things are going to be really different for LGBTQ+ folks in the U.S. - so much better that it’s beyond what you can even imagine right now. So sit tight, and try to remember: there is nothing broken about you. You’re loved now and will be loved by many more in the future. This is a particularly hard moment, but you’re strong and capable and you won’t let this break you. Be kind to yourself as you struggle through this.”

As I think about what it’s like to be in 8th grade today compared to how it was for me in 1989, some things couldn’t be more different and other things are exactly the same. I am constantly inspired by Gen Z absolutely refusing to simplify the complexities of gender and sexuality for the comfort of others. Even so, figuring out how to be in adult relationships is confusing, challenging, work - regardless of how you identify. Early adolescence will always be a tough time, because that’s when folks start coming to terms with the dissonance between who they are and who other people tell them they are supposed to be. For some folks, that dissonance is loudest with their sexuality or gender presentation, but for others it might be their neurotype, ethnicity, body size, religion, anxiety, family structure, disability, trauma response, financial insecurity, or almost anything else. Regardless of the source, though, my response is the same:

“Remember: there is nothing broken about you. You’re loved now and will be loved by many more in the future. This is a particularly hard moment, but you’re strong and capable and you won’t let this break you. Be kind to yourself as you struggle through this.”