So why were those two spaces so different for me? I had life-long friends in both marching band and club soccer, but there was an underlying system of support in the fine arts that I did not see in the rest of my school. It was a running joke that there was an unusual number of queer kids in band and theatre, but there was also an unusual amount of openness about sexuality and gender that was not present anywhere else. Kids are more likely to come out if they feel they are in a safe space, which is vital to their mental health. Coming out can feel like a huge and scary process, but with the right mentors and an open and accepting environment, the “scary” part of the process isn’t as intense.
Living in a half-space of openness was jarring for me. As soon as I crossed into the band hallway, there was a bounce in my step, a grin on my face, and an increased security in my identity. However, after the bell rang for the next period, my reactions were visceral: my shoulders hunched inwards, I took shorter strides with my head held down, and physically let people impose on my space for fear of simply being too “much”. At church I would consciously wear more pastels, raise my voice tone to make it sound more Southern, sit with the girls instead of playing games, and more. I was like two different people. At band and in private, I was wholly myself, but in places I felt unsafe, I was only a facsimile of my best attributes. The negative mental ramifications of physical and psychological unsafe places in school, sports, church, or anywhere else can be catastrophic for LGBTQ+ kids; it makes the need for places of acceptance and self-expression that much more vital.