How to Be a Mentor for Queer Youth

Hi, my friend thank you for your blog and opening my mind to subjects I wonder about. My question is I guess I have become an older mentor to a College Junior in my hometown. We met while he was working on a College assignment. Being 22 years older than him full disclosure I am in my early 40s. After he interviewed me for his assignment he turned off the recorder and the conversation went personal.

He admitted that earlier that same week he got “stealthed” by a local older man through a Grinder Hookup. The college guy admits freely that he hooks up because he is horny who isn’t. And that he has hooked up with over 150 people in the past four years. I am not saying this for judgment I am just laying out the context.

At New Year’s I had him over for dinner and we talked during that conversation we discovered that he had also hooked up with a mutual acquaintance who is HIV positive. My young friend who started Prep after his stealthing encounter and a rather long and embarrassing trip to our local rural Emergency Room has gone through a terrible time with parents who tried to get him into conversion camp and just mental abuse. And he was raped his first year on campus here. 

I feel as a community leader I need to do as much as I can and as a friend too. Besides being a kind ear, trying to arrange counseling, connecting him with the nearest major metro men’s health clinic what can I do I don’t want to let him down and I want him to feel safe here. Plus I feel like it’s a duty to be nonjudgmental and supportive. What ideas do you have?

 

It sounds to me like you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do. Being nonjudgmental and supportive is the best course. Remember that his experiences may be very different from yours. New tech and rapidly evolving culture make for drastic differences in experience between different generations of gay men.

I know you’re worried about him, but he’s doing all the right things. He’s talking to someone (you) about his sex life and seeking support. He’s going to the clinic. He’s taking PrEP. That’s a lot for someone who is still figuring all this out. He’s doing more to take care of himself than many men twice his age.

It’s good to listen and help where you can, but you also have to let him run a little bit. He may run into some pitfalls — and he needs to. We grow through trial and error, wonder and heartache.

The things you share — the seemingly universal gay experiences of family rejection and finding support among our own — is where you offer something vital. You are evidence of survival. Your life is proof that the world will seem less dangerous and more manageable someday. He needs you in the same way I needed (and still need) my guides.

Although rape and stealthing are, sadly, common experiences in queer communities, this doesn’t take away their pain. Again, you are evidence of how one can survive through trauma to have a better life. Those who do not experience rape and stealthing still experience trauma — we all do — and trauma can be crippling for a few years. Helping him find access to mental health services and support organizations is great.

You can’t take him away from his parents, but you can be their antithesis — a safe space. You can’t keep him from having sex with everyone in sight, but you can drive him to the clinic when he gets an STI. You can’t keep him from experiencing trauma, but you can point him in the direction of help.

Tell him not to put himself under so much pressure. Because he is. He’s been hard on himself since first grade. Nearly every adult in his life, from the ones grading his papers to the ones he calls parents, have reinforced this pressure — pressure to be “normal,” pressure to be straight, pressure to do well — and he’s undoubtedly struggling with the idea that he might not make all these people happy. His life is his now and he can make himself happy. He’s at the very beginning of chasing that elusive thing, happiness, and its pursuit will take him to scary and exciting places. Be a cheerleader and a friend, but remember that you can’t do the work for him or teach him lessons that only experience can impart.

When he needs help, be someone he can call. This is what we need from mentors and you seem well suited for the job.

Beastly

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