Guest Blogger

Stories from the Helpline: Helplines Work Both Ways

Filed By Guest Blogger | August 22, 2009 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: randy stone west coast call center, shelli boone, transgender, Trevor Project

Editor's Note:"Stories from the Helpline" is a recurring feature on The Bilerico Project, bringing in the personal accounts of Helpline counselors from The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is the leading national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Guest blogger Shelli Boone is a volunteer helpline counselor who volunteers at The Trevor Project's Randy Stone West Coast Call Center in Los Angeles.

Some people might call me an optimist. I am always looking for the silver lining and most of the time my glass is indeed half full. This outlook on life has definitely been tested working on the helpline. Our callers are at their most raw, revealing their deepest fears and secrets. It can be very emotional, and our training definitely comes in handy when dealing with difficult situations.

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Perhaps that is why one of the calls that stands out in my mind was not about someone in crisis at all. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It was a Saturday night and I took a call from a 16-year-old - we'll call him Cole.

At first, he was a little down, saying that he was home alone and that his parents had gone out for the night. Immediately, I was concerned about him being alone, but after chatting for a bit I asked him how his weekend had been so far. Cole brightened up immediately, his sunny Southern accent shining through, and asked me if he could tell me something personal. I reassured him, and he began to tell me about his desire to dress like a girl. He said that he had felt that way for a long time, and that he told his parents and a couple of friends and they were all very supportive.

Cole said that this particular weekend, his mom had called a local department store and made an appointment for him to get his makeup done on Saturday afternoon. That morning they spent time at the house picking from some girls' clothes she had bought for him as well as a wig, and then they went to the mall for his makeup lesson.

Cole said that his mom called him "Samantha" as he wished and that a lot of people at the mall actually thought he was a girl. He said it was the most excited he had been in months! He bubbled on about how the salesgirl was so friendly and showed him all the colors and how to apply the lipstick correctly. Cole said when he looked in the mirror he felt so beautiful and "at home." And then when they were in the food court, he saw some boys looking at him. He said it was just the best day and now it was over and everything was back to normal and he was just feeling a bit down.

I listened mostly. I've learned that with sensitive subjects, it is more effective to merely listen and affirm, rather than trying to offer advice or interject with comments. And I have to admit that transgender issues aren't my areas of expertise, especially with youth, although I am discovering more as time goes on.

I was so happy to hear about Cole's experience that by the end of the call I was smiling from ear to ear...and I could tell that he was too. He just wanted someone to gab with - to share his self-discovery and happiness with - the same as we ALL do in some way or another. I was elated to hear that everyone around him and in his community had been so supportive. It makes me think that society is truly advancing in thought and heart. Progression is amazing!

Cole thanked me for listening. He said that all he really wanted was to share how happy he was with someone. I was glad I could be there just to hear how wonderful his day had been.

It actually lifted my spirits. I guess the helpline works both ways (smile).

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Having another person that seems, at least, to understand your emotions when you share them, can put a yummy frosting on them.

Thanks for the share.

Wow, this post hit me in the core. I was that young person, but thirty years ago. I never told my parents. I never told anyone (until I came out in my thirties). I just thought I was a sick freak, as I sat literally in the closet and put on my mother's clothes and makeup. That opinion of myself created a lot of havoc in my psyche, and I still wrestle with that very strong and very cruel demon. It was so helpful of you, Shelli, to listen in that affirming way. I don't think it matters whether you think you know enough about trans issues -- you know that Cole is entitled to self-respect and the respect of family and society, and that's really all you (and she) need to know.

This is really inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing!