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Spotlight on Scarleteen: Jacob

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Submitted by Lena on Mon, 2008-12-29 14:25

This Spotlight on Scarleteen interview features the one and only Jacob! Also known as PenguinBoy on the message boards, Jacob is an engineering student living in Leeds, UK. A big influence on his identity, both at the site as well as in person, is his rejection of labels. (You’ll hear more about this soon!) At Scarleteen, Jacob puts his diverse background to use by offering an introspective take on topics such as sexual orientation and relationships, while also being one of the few male volunteers at the site.

Currently taking a break from his studies, Jacob is a Jack(ob)-of-all-trades who manages to fit volunteering into his busy schedule, which includes recently having worked in the neonatal ICU and maternity area of a hospital, regularly creating art work and graphic design commissions, teaching English to asylum seekers and refugees, writing poetry­ and hanging out with his beloved friends. (Of course, this is to be expected from someone who is such an open, welcoming friend himself– in person and on the boards!)

While Jacob is frank and transparent about many things, it is his unique perspective on the non-importance of labels that is extra special. He offers a truly refreshing take on an age-old dilemma faced by so many young people questioning their sexual orientation. Jacob’s article Living without Labels could be seen as icing on the cake in that it wraps up all those resources while adding a sprinkle of his personal experience. Human sexuality is so diverse. People are as different and unique as snowflakes, if even more so; no one label appropriately describes anyone. Many websites and resources may sponsor that message but few hit the nail on the head as well as Jacob does in his piece.

To use his own words:

But for any of you who have trouble with trying to work it out, who actually undergo stress to fathom what box you belong in or have an inkling that maybe you're over-squeezed to fit in a badly shaped one, I suggest to just think for a moment, that maybe you don’t need a box after all. Like I don’t have to ‘come-out’ and confess that something of myself is different to that which never needed to have been assumed in the first place.

Not long ago, Jacob did come out–- from behind his computer screen–- so we could get to know him better. Indeed, even without the convenience of labels, Jacob peals back the layers to reveal a lot of interesting and new information about himself. Here it is, “straight”-up! Please feel free to comment or ask Jacob any questions directly by leaving a message on this page or in the Staff Stuff area of the message boards.

Without any further ado, let’s get started with the interview!

Hello! Could you please share some basic information about yourself?
I'm Jacob, 20 years old, and currently living in Leeds UK.

What do you do at Scarleteen?
I help moderate the GLBT Relationships and the Relationships forums and have written an article called Living without Labels.

How did you get your username?
For some reason when I used to run at sports in school, people decided to tell me that I looked like a waddling penguin, and "penguin boy" was was what I got called. Then when I started using the internet and everyone on online communities had nicknames and aliases, I thought I'd reclaim my old taunt and started calling myself PenguinBoy. I don't use it so much anymore, now that the internet is so much more public than it used to be.

How long have you been active at Scarleteen? When did you start volunteering?
I've been a user since April 2006. It was about a year later when I remember getting an email from Heather asking if I wanted to be a volunteer... I was not expecting it and had looked up to the volunteers so much that it didn't seem possible to me that I could be one... I told everyone I could, I had been chosen!

What initially brought you to Scarleteen, and what’s kept you around?
Humorously, I first found Scarleteen when the front page of an erotic fiction website said "If your under 18 click here" which redirected me here for the first time... I found the guiltless accessible yet detailed content amazing. Sex was something that was always restricted in terms of who you could talk to about it, and what those people actually knew. As something taboo, I wanted to know everything. I wanted to add my opinions to discussions. I sometimes based my thoughts entirely on private theorising, and was corrected and actually was hugely influenced in my life by example of the volunteers. I read people's problems and wanted to offer advice. Giving people advice that makes them happy is incredibly elevating.

Do you have a favorite ST article, thread or feature?
Very gritty for a "favourite", but in terms of something I appreciate more than enjoy I'd say Heather's Article on How Guys Can Prevent Rape is a hugely important article to me and to the conversations of gender as a whole; pointing to where prevention of rape and abuse really needs to come from. The Bi The Dozen Quiz mythbuster by Hanne Blank is fantastic. I've also read Malcolm Gin's article on sex, gender, intersex and Klinefelter's Syndrome a number of times, it's so brilliantly clear about topics around which I've struggled to summarize on my own.

What’s been the best part of volunteering? What have been some of your most memorable moments here?
Recently I saw that my article had been recommended to a user. Most of my help given here feels immediate but to see that I could potentially have a lasting influence makes me incredibly proud... I take a lot of joy from whenever I hear of anyone who's been helped by Scarleteen. Volunteering is great because Scarleteen is something I believe in, so to actually be a tiny part of why it's actually here is wonderful... I'm sure that many of the users that have contributed feel the same, or should, whether volunteers or not.

If you are willing to talk about it, could you please share the biggest challenge you’d faced while volunteering at Scarleteen?
I'd say a feeling of responsibility gets to me, that I don't necessarily feel I'm doing as much as I want to... I have learning difficulties generally, so time management is a challenge.

Now that we have gotten to know more about your involvement behind-the-scenes at Scarleteen, let’s move to getting to know the person beyond-the-computer-screen.

Could you please tell us more about your life outside of Scarleteen. What do you do?
Well, I've done a year of a civil engineering degree, but didn't do well enough in my exams to progress to year 2... this year for me was supposed to be about experimentation in terms of work and expression... I've worked two jobs in a hospital; one was as a house keeper in a neonatal intensive care unit, and the other was as part of risk management for maternity... I'm currently doing commissions of graphic design and art work, in a spurt of work I've managed to secure in an urge to pay my next big rent payment. In January, I'm back to studying in a hope that I can pass some extra exams in June to give me the option of returning to my course.

How do you typically use the computer and internet? Are there any other sites you like to frequent or recommend? Do you have a blog or something else you’d like to share?
Where do I begin... I do most of what I do through the internet, facebook is a major means of communication for me and I used it as part of my latest job seek campaign to great success! I listen to music on last.fm where I've found a lot of good stuff, I keep a blog type thing which is mainly poetry at livejournal though I won't share the address just yet! I'm really quite into open source. That means software like ubuntu (an alternative to windows) which is designed and developed for free by the communities who benefit from them, I can only hope that more things in the world start to run like that!

Where are you coming from? Could you please share some of your roots with us?
Well... my dad's Armenian, my mum's English I grew up in the south of England. I think I probably got a lot of my inspiration in terms of a tendency to want to volunteer from her, she's a midwife and was intent about making sure I was clear about sex knowledge. Being mixed race made me an outsider in a number of situations, which, though it was uncomfortable, attributed greatly to the way I think now and the understanding I've learnt. As a child I was one of the ones who had a lot of tantrums. Apparently at 6 my teachers told my parents I'd end up in jail; a bit premature of them I'd say! I'm not in jail... yet!

I have a lot of 1 on 1 relationships that make up a friendship group in my mind, I like spending an entire day, when I have time, with certain people and having fun and talking.

Whom do you turn to for advice and support?
I've got a good number of people around me from whom a hug can mean everything. When things go horribly and I can't find anyone to talk to, I sometimes vent here which is incredibly appreciated. Also, in my big talks with old friends I tend to open up, and we talk things through.

What are some of your hobbies, interests, and passions?
Well, volunteering, as you can see, is a biggee. I also volunteer as the trans officer of my uni's LGBT society and as an English teacher/helper in free lessons for asylum seekers and refugees. I write poetry and give confusing performances at open mic nights in my city... I've DJed a few times this year, and write music with my guitar, and I also do life drawing which I quite enjoy... I generally like exploring which encompasses a lot of things. I like reading poetry, watching interesting (possibly weird) films which are largely non-english or low budget, and listening to music which gives me something I've never heard before.

There used to be a popular bumper sticker that said, “I’d rather be dancing.” What would you rather be doing?
Sometimes I think I'd rather be dancing too, I love dancing, thankfully I do actually get some time for that... I'm quite happy with everything I'm doing, I'd just like to do it better, which I hope will come with time.

Would you mind sharing your plans for the future or long-term goals?
In the long term I'd simply like to spend as much time with the people I like as possible, do more of what I'm doing and develop my relationships. If I ever needed to take on a parental role I know I'd really enjoy it... I also might like to foster or adopt children... and as a fantasy I'd love to be published, make an influential album or be artistically reputable in some way, that'd be very cool.

Now that we’ve heard about your involvement at Scarleteen as well as your personal life, could you please share how how your tenure at ST has affected your life offline and vice versa?
Well it's certainly given me a much clearer confidence in my own preferences, the idea of guilt surrounding sex is gone from my life. Being prepared to truly listen to people and consider new views is something that is a major influence on my communication with anyone. It's aided me tremendously in terms of how to work in teams and made a great difference to group work at uni, my input into other volunteering schemes and work. Also, Scarleteen has quite simply made me happier.

Is there anything that you’d like to share?
I don't know what we haven't covered... it's been thorough... actually, my flatmates are a great support to me now, including Murphy who's a gorgeous (nutty) kitten. I've had some fantastic teachers too, which is something I thought about with an earlier question... the influence of teachers who thought I was great in some sort of way was an incredible motivation. If the damnation from my early teacher who predicted my imprisonment had been continued and enacted by the few teachers who really inspired me, I don't know how I would have coped. While we're at it, Heather too, has been a great inspiration in having started the site and continually progressing and growing.

Thank you very much for taking the time to share and giving us the opportunity to get to know you better, Jacob. Good luck in all your future endeavors, and see you around Scarleteen!

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