Scarleteen All Growed Up: Beppie
In 2000, when I was 19 and knew everything, I became one of the first batch of volunteers on the Scarleteen forums, which had been recently added to the sex ed site that had barely existed for two years… except that of course I didn't know everything! But I did read a lot, which created that illusion (at least to me!), and I knew enough to give the accurate and frank advice that has always been at the heart of Scarleteen's mission.
Here is some accurate footage of me when Heather first asked me to come on board as a volunteer:
What really stands out to me, when I look back at my time as a volunteer, is not how much knowledge I shared, but how much I learned. Scarleteen was the first online place that I encountered so many ideas that are now integral to how I approach the world. Scarleteen is where I learned I could be a feminist – and should be proud of that – even if I had certain ideas that disqualified me from feminism in the eyes of some louder folks in prominent feminist websites of the day.
Scarleteen is where I first learned about how white women had often marginalised women of colour within feminism – even after women of colour had led the way in so many instances. Scarleteen is the first place I found people who really understood gender in a non-binary way, and celebrated that.
But what I learned most of all is the power of open-minded, knowledgable compassion for young people.
I learned a lot of this from my fellow volunteers, but most of all, I learned this from the example of Heather. There were times that they went without food or heating, to pay for the Scarleteen servers. Heather spent countless hours counselling troubled young people via chat, in addition to all their work on the Scarleteen boards and creating content for the site.
Scarleteen was indeed the first online space that provided sex ed and support to queer and gender non-conforming young people, and I know how deeply Heather felt the importance of nurturing that space.
There's another group that I remember quite powerfully: conservative evangelical kids who turned up with the ostensible mission of saving our souls – just the pre-text they needed to access the advice and sex ed that they could not get at home or at school. I remember Heather and other volunteers spending countless hours helping kids like this, who would come in spouting the homophobia and transphobia they had been taught to believe as absolute truth. Most of these kids learned quickly that posting this stuff to the forums was not acceptable, but they stayed anyway. Many learned, from those among our volunteers who were people of faith, that religion did not compel them toward ignorance and bigotry.
Some didn't learn, but even after they were banned, Heather would answer their questions by email or chat. Driven by the knowledge that these kids needed help, Heather would talk kindly, firmly and patiently with kids who called them a sinner and a deviant. In truth, many of these kids probably were queer, and may have had gender identities that didn't fit into a neat false binary. But they were a long way from admitting that to themselves, let alone anyone else. And Scarleteen – Heather – was there for them.
I haven't been a volunteer at Scarleteen since around 2007, but I keep tabs on the site, and have seen how it has only grown better, its volunteers more knowledgeable, compassionate, and organised than ever. And Heather never ceases. Twenty years does not feel like a long time to this now-37 year old who doesn't know very much at all. But the internet has changed a lot – there are many more spaces where queer kids can find support. Yet Scarleteen is still one of the greatest and best. Given the current political situation, the attacks on reproductive choice, the rise of neo-fascism and all that that entails for folks who are queer and gender-non-conforming, and for sex positivity in general, Scarleteen is more important than ever.
Which brings me to my final point – another thing that has changed in the last 20 years?
How easy it is to donate, from anywhere in the world, to this wonderful, amazing – and absolutely crucial – resource for young people. For the ignorant 19yo who knew everything, for the teens of tomorrow, and for the millions of kids who have accessed #20YearsofScarleteen – please consider supporting Scarleteen’s ongoing mission for inclusive, positive, accurate, sex-ed. https://bit.ly/2ExpTUu