August 05, 2022
By Jonah Grinkewitz
As a transgender person growing up in the rural south, Benjamin Harris did not feel comfortable discussing his identity with friends or family.
“It wasn’t easy as a youngster,” Harris said. “Even teachers who seemed to accept, they wouldn’t offer any explicit support.”
Now, as a senior in Old Dominion University’s English program, he wants to give LGBTQ+ teens the space he never had.
For her undergraduate research project, Harris hosted a series of summer workshops designed to be a safe and nurturing place for students to explore self-expression, mental health, and identity through creative writing.
“Zines for Teens” is open to queer and LGBTQ+ teens and allies ages 13-18. The series runs August 15-19, and each workshop will be held from 5-7 p.m. at ODU’s Darden College of Education and Professional Studies (Room 3148).
On day one, Dr. Cory Gerwe, former clinical director of mental health at the LGBT Life Center in Norfolk, will share mental health tools and resources with students. It will also be available virtually for the rest of the series to any students who wish to speak.
“I wanted to provide a way to help kids and give them tools to survive…because things are really tough right now,” said Harris, who hopes to become a teacher. “I also wanted to show them that writing doesn’t have to be a painful experience.”
The objective of the research project is to see if the students’ relationship to writing changes when queer identities assert themselves. Students will be asked to complete a survey at the beginning and end of the series, but they are not obligated to participate.
Each student will contribute a page or two to the zine – a self-published work of original or appropriate text and images. At the end of the project, Eleanor’s Feminist Bookshop in Norfolk plans to publish their work.
Harris said he chose the zines because they had strong ties to the queer community. In the 1980s and 1990s they were a popular form of grassroots activism because they were easy to print and distribute.
Harris said he hopes students will use the zine as an opportunity to share their experiences as young queers, but the direction and style is up to them.
“When you’re 12, you might not yet know if you’re queer or not,” he said. “And if you’re someone who’s just an ally, learning and exploring queer history is good for you and the queer community.”
To register for the workshop, go to this link.