Olivia reflects on her time at We Are Family, and what she's learnt along the way
When I started my Social Media and Marketing internship at We Are Family, I expected to gain more experience in expanding the magazine’s reach and in planning promotional campaigns… Happily, for my future career prospects, (I think) this has happened – but I have also learned many things I didn’t expect to. It feels like I’m finishing up my time here as a more self-aware, conscious person. Growing up, I was always sure and comfortable in knowing I am a straight, cis-gender female. I feel lucky that I’ve never had to worry about whether people would accept me because of my sexuality. I’ve been particularly aware of this when I’ve needed to support some of my friends through their own confusion with their sexuality. I was also privileged to be raised in a household and educated at schools which were inclusive and positive with regards to sexuality. So when I started at We Are Family, I didn’t expect to learn much about being gay or trans at all – I prided myself in being an ally and gave it no more thought than that.
But over the months, I gradually realised that there was so much more to understand, and so many more ways to try and help – it is easy to forget, being from a liberal background, that many aren’t so fortunate to have that. I have really enjoyed that a large part of my job entails sourcing stories, personal accounts, current affairs and information to do with all aspects of the LGBT community. This has meant that I have spent a large portion of my day once a week being totally immersed in many different perspectives. I hadn’t fully appreciated what gender meant, and that it is a mentality rather than physicality. I feel that now I am a lot less prone to privately label people, or try to categorise them, which is something I believe I was inclined to do for my own sense of clarification rather than any particular need to.
Before I started here, I would have told you, had it come up, that I unquestioningly accepted people as they presented themselves to me. Though I still think I did try to do this, I am definitely much better at it, or more mindful of it. It can be a hard thing to do! Society as it is means we have all been cultured to expect certain genders and behaviours to mean certain things, and to be expected from certain kinds of people, unconsciously or not. Despite being aware that this is largely not the case in many situations, I definitely didn’t understand the extent to which this could impact people. I have always identified as a girl, although I didn’t realise the extent to which it defined me as a person, and how inherent it was. So I had never thought about how it was possible to identify with neither gender. I don’t think that will ever be something I truly, completely, comprehend, as I can’t fully imagine myself without that part of me. But once I realised gender is a mental state, it was much easier to actively realise that I can’t see anyone’s gender, ever, really. I had always considered myself an accepting person, but it has been nice to feel that I am improving myself in that respect, as I don’t think it is something someone can be enough of.
Reading so much content about being gay and transgender has meant I have spent a long time thinking about different kinds of struggles I have never had to go through. If I had been born gay or transgender, I would have been so much more likely to suffer being homeless or abused, and the statistics for suicide are disproportionately high. A shocking amount of transgender people are murdered each year. I didn’t know any of that before. Not only has this made me a more inquisitive person, it has made me want to help in a more proactive way, and I am a lot more clued up on where I can donate, give my time and how I can more effectively try to be a supportive person to everyone I meet.
Going through parenting blog posts, reading articles and watching documentaries has further shaped the way I want to present myself and respond to people, sexuality aside. In one article, a woman wrote about why she never compliments a young girl on her looks, as she disagrees with the message it sends, preferring to make a concerted effort to talk about the said girl’s opinions and so on. Likewise, I have thought about societal pressures on men and the high levels of male depression in the UK more than I can say I ever have at any other time of my life. This has all forced me to really think about my own stance, and the impact of even the most inconsequential of my actions on people, marginalised or not. It is a bit strange to feel that I will be ending my internship with a better idea of the parent I someday want to be… But nevertheless, I feel really grateful I have been able to do this whilst working with some wonderful people, and also practising what I would like to do in the future.