Below is a powerful activity I have used many times in lessons and assemblies. The LGBT+ young people I work with really like it as an exercise in helping people understand what their lived experience can be like. As always feedback welcome and this activity is a working document so often updated (Disco’s ain’t as cool as they used to be…).
Straight in a gay world.
This activity is an updated and adapted version from an original visualisation provided in Brian McNaught’s Growing Up Gay (1993) https://www.brian-mcnaught.com/resources.html. Shared with permission.
Summary: This is a visualisation activity in which participants are asked to imagine they are a straight person growing up in a world in which being gay is the expected social norm. By standing heteronormativity on its head the activity exposes the way in which heterosexual privilege works and encourages participants to empathise with the experience of feeling invisible, unrecognised and not ‘normal’. These are all feelings that many LGBT young people experience.
Time: 10- 15 minutes
Resources: Copy of visualisation for facilitator.
Explain to the group that you are going to guide them through a visualisation called Straight in a gay world. As part of the activity they will need to imagine that they are straight or heterosexual. Remind the group that we know not every in the group will identify as straight, but for the purposes of this activity we are asking everyone to imagine they are.
Encourage everyone taking part to get into a comfortable position, close their eyes and listen.
Straight in a gay world.
Imagine that you are 15 years old, growing up straight in a world where everyone is lesbian or gay. Your facilitator is lesbian, the participant wellbeing officer and school nurse are gay, your grandfather is gay, Your big sister is a lesbian and your twin brother is gay. Who could you turn to? Who could you confide in to tell your secret? You’ve been searching the internet for information about straights but you have to be so very careful that nobody checks your search history and many of the sites are blocked by parental filters.
During lunchtime at school, kids talk about ‘straights’ and how disgusting they are. When you are in year 11 someone of the same sex invites you to the school prom. What do you do? You go, because you don’t want people to think you’re strange or different. At the prom, girls are dancing with other girls, and boys are dancing with other boys, holding each other close. What will you do if your partner starts snuggling up to you and tries to kiss you? What if they find out about you? They might throw you out or even beat you up – just for a laugh. Lots of people say that it’s wrong to be straight. How do you feel when you hear people in your group talking like this?
On a noticeboard at the youth centre you see a notice about a local youth group on tuesday nights for straight young people. One night you decide to go along. As you walk down the street you’re sure that people can tell that you’re straight just by looking at you. You finally get to the youth group and for the first time you meet people like yourself. Girls and boys are sitting together; talking together. Over time you become more confident about attending spaces where only straight people hang out. You are often found wearing black and white stripes, the national identifier of straight people. You attend Straight Pride rallies and finally you gather the courage to tell your two mums you are straight. At first they are upset but eventually they come around so long as you agree not to flaunt your straightness to your grandfathers.
One day you meet someone at a Straight club who you really like. After hanging out together for a while you decide to form a relationship based on friendship, respect and love. However, you sometimes don’t feel safe holding hands at the park, kissing at the movies or snuggling up together at parties in case you become the target of abuse. This really hurts. The law only recently changed to allow you to get married to your partner of the opposite sex.
When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes and come back to this room, this time, and this group. Stretch, and think about the thoughts, feelings and emotions that you experienced as we did this exercise.
To debrief ask the participants:
- How did it feel to take part in this activity?
- What parts in the visualization were unexpected or really made you think?
- What kinds of support would have been helpful during some of the situations you experienced through the guided visualisation?
- How can you be a good ally to someone experiencing discrimination because of their gender or sexuality?