At the start of this summer I started the final internship for my Master of Social Work program. I’m placed at the youth detention center where I anticipated the opportunity to work with minority youth, however I wasn’t sure if I was going to need to or be able to advocate for queer youth in the system. Not long after I had begun it became clear that there was a prevalence of queer youth at this detention center. Soon, I managed to break the ice with my supervisor and found out she was queer-friendly and mindful so I had a conversation with her about issues regarding queer youth at the detention center.
Here I don’t want to talk so much about the issues of queer youth in the system (holla if you want me to direct to articles for background info), but more where to go with this knowledge considering I have the opportunity at my internship.
Being a queer desi at a detention center, not only am I a different race from the staff and youth, who are White, Black, and Hispanic, but I also “look straight.” There is a likelihood that staff and youth are subconsciously assuming I’m straight due to my currently outward femme-ish presentation (yeah I did have to be all that specific, don’t hate). Furthermore, they may be assuming I could be homophobic due to public perception of South Asians. Maybe it’s just my conditioning and/or insecurity, but I don’t think I’m pulling these stereotypes out my rear.
There are times when staff casually discuss the queer community, such as gay bars they’ve been to, pride parades, their gay family members and friends etc. I find it hard to participate in these conversations. If it weren’t an internship I wouldn’t necessarily be so shy or unintentionally closeted, but I am always worried about inappropriately over-sharing in a semi-professional environment where I am an intern trying to impress people. The reason why it bothers me that I have closeted and silenced myself is because my queer voice would give me a platform to talk about the queer youth at the detention center. So I suppose one question is should I need to out myself? And if you think it would help to out myself, my second question would be how?
It isn’t necessarily just my staff members that I feel I need to out myself to, but also my supervisor. While my supervisor is more aware of my pro-queer agenda, she hasn’t necessarily caught on to the fact that I am queer. And yeah I’ve heard that gaydars don’t exist, but most of the straight people I met are oblivious until clued in so I feel I’m being fair to suggest that my supervisor may have not figured it out yet. Anyway, if I tell her I am queer she may value my personal experiences and not just my women’s and gender studies degree that she saw on my resumé. However, I feel that I need to somehow prove my credibility on the topic to the staff and supervisor either by outing myself first, or not worrying about that and simply stepping up my queer advocacy game.
When it comes down to it, queer youth that come to the detention center may be dealing with queer related trauma, and/or they may be worried about queer-related issues regarding the treatment they might get from staff and/or youth in the detention center. I’m not the only person at this detention center that can be of comfort or support to them, but as a queer social work intern I feel I may have something to contribute. How do I build trust with the youth and make clear my intentions and heart? On the other hand, my “looking straight” may help these queer youth in the long run because I could be able to work with any potential queerphobia in the system in a less confrontational manner.
I can usually turn to my social work support system of professors and classmates for everything internship-related… but I do not feel comfortable sharing this particular dilemma with them. I feel that non-queer and non-desi social workers may not understand my dilemma in a personal, non-theoretical way. So this is why I have come to you.