What’s a mentor to you?

Kim’s research for her dissertation has something to do with mentoring queer students.  I don’t know all the ins and outs of her research but I do know that she’s looking at relationships that LGBT young people make with mentors – perhaps other LGBT people.  The assumption is that since LGBT people aren’t necessarily born to LGBT parents that newly coming out queer folks try to find mentors to kind of “teach them the cultural ropes” so to speak.  Kim’s research is going to look at (she says “queer”) that assumption, those relationships, and mentorship dynamics.  At least that’s what my non PhD mind makes out of where she’s at right now.  But the interesting thing in all this is that neither Kim nor I had a mentor – certainly not an LGBT mentor.  Definitely not when we were coming out.  In graduate school I met the gay dean only she wasn’t a gay dean at the time.  I wanted her to be my mentor but she was dealing with a whole lot of personal stuff at the time and didn’t really become my mentor til later.  And for me it’s a whole lot more about having a professional mentor to me, not someone to show me the gay ropes.  I had already found my gay identity.  And before I ever think of her as a mentor, I think of her as a friend.  A very successful, very authentic friend.


I grew up in Roosevelt where homosexuality was completely invisible.  There were those 2 female teachers that lived together – and everybody talked – but they never presented themselves as possible gay people nor as possible mentors to me.  Hell.  Even now, I’m not even sure if they were gay.  A secretive life in the closet wasn’t what I was looking for.  Maybe I didn’t reach out.  They certainly didn’t reach out.  College was also gay-mentor free.  For both of us.


It begs the question – why spend years of your life researching mentorship when mentorship never made an impact on your life?


Does Kim feel a lack of mentorship?  A need that was never filled?  Do I?  Or is mentorship some made-up dynamic that exists more in theory than in reality? 



I’m sure Kim and I aren’t the only ones without gay mentors.  My friend Vee knew gay folks in high school and college but came out on her own, without ever seeking a mentor.  I pushed myself on her – determined to be friends.  Was I trying to fill some desire for mentorship?  Another friend had a gay mentor in high school – a coach – and the two ended up in a brief sexual relationship.  Was that a gross abuse of power?  It was certainly illegal.  Or was it some sort of valued and desired mentorship?


For the past 12 years, Kim and I have lived half-dozen different places.  And the one commonality is that in each of these places we have found other LGBT people, typically younger than ourselves who have reached out (or did we) and developed friendships.  And I look at these friendships now – some of them years later – and we’re still in touch.  We’re still close.  And even though we don’t see many of these people very often, I still feel very connected to these friends.  Were we their mentors?  Was I?


It sounds weird but some of these folks called Kim and I their moms.  Long before we had children of our own, we had children scattered across the country, calling us on the phone, “Mom.  Guess what?  I qualified for the Boston marathon.”  In all actuality, we got that call yesterday.  (Congratulations Mikey!  I’m seriously going to get a job, save my money, pack my bag and hand you water at the 19th mile!)  Two of our kids live in Boston.  Hi Kara and Kellie.  Can we stay with one of you during the marathon?  And Kell maybe you should schedule your wedding then so we can do it all in one trip?   I also got a call last night from another one of my “kids” who now lives here in Salt Lake City.  She was on the way to the emergency room with what turned out to be a kidney infection.  Of course I met her there, spent the next 4 hours there, and then brought her home to spend the night where Kim and I could take care of her.


A few years ago, Kim and I went back to Massachusetts for a visit.  We stayed with our friend Sheri (she’s not gay, but taught me more about social justice than any one person I can name.  Is she my mentor?)  We sort of made her house home base.  And at one point I remember her saying something to the effect of, “I’ve never seen so many young white lesbians come and go in my house.” 


Yes.  Some of these folks are my “kids”.  Are we friends?  Is there some sort of mentoring going on?  Was there in the past?  Are they my kids only because I’m (we’re) older than they are?  Or do they see me (us) as their mentor(s)?  Is this the way I’ve (we’ve) filled my (our) need for mentoring relationships?  Or have I constructed these friendships as being mentorship based to fill some personal “need” when in fact, I’m the only one constructing it as such?    


If you’re queer and read this blog, please comment on this, or if you’re shy to comment, e-mail me off-blog.  (qweirdutah@gmail.com) I’m really interested in your thoughts.    


Do you have mentors who passed on queer culture to you?  Did you through coming out but then not desire it anymore?  What did you look for in a mentor?  What need did he/she fill?  What about those queer folks who don’t have mentors?  Is there an ongoing need for it?  How did you construct your identity?  Was there a need through coming out and accepting yourself but not now? 


Next time Kim starts in asking me a bunch of questions, I’m going to start quoting all ya’all.


6 Responses to “What’s a mentor to you?”

  1. keri Says:

    I don’t have any great wisdom to offer. I just wanted to chime in and say that it speaks volumes that you have all these “kids” out there who still look to you for approval. You’re doing something right – for whatever reason.
    Can I be one of them? 🙂

  2. Scot Says:

    I remember dealing with coming out, and I was sure I was the only gay kid in Utah. The gay men I eventually saw (not counting Samantha’s ambiguously gay uncle on Bewitched) were on an episode of the Phil Donahue show about something like gay fetishists… I used that show for months as personal evidence that I wasn’t gay :-).

    I was, though, fortunate to be one of the gay kids who found I could count, after coming out, on my straight parents as continuing role models for how to get through adolescence and into a family of my own, gay or not. Still, I imagine it would have just been much easier to see what I wanted for my life as a gay man in a gay mentor. Almost two decades later, I bet/hope they are much more easy to find.

  3. Kelly Says:

    as one of your “kids” i have to mention that i love you two to pieces…

    as for the mentorshipness.. its complicated (as is everything with me, as you know).

    i knew that i was gay for awhile before i came out, or did the humpty dance with the “straight-engaged” economics teacher… but alas, i had no “mentor” per se.

    FPC was an interesting adventure, and it wasn’t until you and Kim were present in my life that i ever thought that i could be happy and loved by another woman, not just a humpy mchumper… so i guess that you two ladies were my mentors in that arena…

    You and Kim took me to my first pride in NoHo, when Riley was just a wee little sprout.

    so to make a long comment abruptly short… I think that you and Kim did have an impact on me way back in my younger days, as for showing me the “gay ropes” im not sure, you may have to elaborate, its early, and i just had a 4 day weeekend… but you showed me that it was possible for 2 people to love each other with everything they possibly could, and then some. you showed me that as scary as love and relationships (friends or otherwise) are, that to have someone in your life that cares about you is an amazing experience that you want to share with everyone around you. Through good times and times of hardship there is always that person, or people that are behind you 100%, even if they dont agree with you.

    and yes, you can stay with us for the marathon, CONGRATS MIKEY!!

    love you!

  4. Carrie Says:

    I’m not gay but a mentor to me is someone who shows you the good in yourself (and who posts daily).

  5. Mikey Says:

    So it’s interesting, I remember meeting you both at a time when I felt so completely and totally stable, and then my boat started rocking. I remember many nights with Euchre and lunch dates of Foot and Hand (sp?) and gooey cookies with caramel. I remember feeling love pouring out of every brick in your lovely abode on President’s Row. I remember feeling welcome, comfortable, safe and accepted.

    Throughout the year I began to confide in you, to bounce ideas off of both you, ideas that I thought I was disguising as meaningless questions, but in all actuality were somewhat my deepest desires. I began to question me, who I was, what I was and how I identified myself. Ultimately, coming to the realization that I was gay, and even more importantly that it was okay. That gay people weren’t crazy and could have a family because I had role models that showed me that healthy relationships can exist between same sex couples.

    I began to realize that as crazy as I thought my family was, as crazy as I thought my life was, it was all a perspective thing. I found my voice because of you and was able to begin to speak with it.

    So although you’re my mentors, Mom is a much better term because you showed me the unconditional love that mothers have for their children, even though I wasn’t really one of yours. 🙂

  6. Evan Says:

    You didn’t have to show me how to be gay, but you did show me how to be a more enlightened and compassionate person.. and I can’t thank you enough.

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