Snapshot: Jill Fredenburg (Estonia, 2017/18)
Each of our stories is difficult and complicated in their own unique ways, but my book, LGBTQ+ Revolution 2.0, helps provide examples for how to stay safe, build community, and reflect on the ways the LGBTQ+ community and its allies can do better in the future
My time serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Narva, Estonia hugely impacted my research interests. Particularly in hosting storytelling workshops, I found that many of my students found excitement in exploring their own futures. My students were all 14-18 years old and were in this critical stage of their development where they were figuring out who they wanted to be, performing various versions of themselves online and in real life to gauge how different ways of speaking, dressing, and engaging with others was received by their peers.
On a few of my many school visits (these were separate from my regular classes), students would approach me to shyly ask about LGBTQ+ culture in the United States. I think, even with Trump as president, that the United States' cultural message of freedom and prosperity is attractive to youth with gender and sexuality questions who cannot ask their own, sometimes very culturally conservative, parents. There is very little support for queer youngsters in most Russian households, and the majority of my students were in this complicated, in-between space of having ethnically Russian parents and grandparents but growing up in Estonian (a more open, European culture) schools and surrounded by conflicting messages about who they could be. I don't know what made them feel comfortable talking to me other than my very progressive social media presence and my somewhat familiar appearance as a cookie-cutter white American lady. I do remember really wanting someone to talk to when I was coming into my own sexual and romantic identities, and I gave those students all the resources I had that I believed were safe and appropriate for them. When I came back to the States, I started on my book.
LGBTQ+ Revolution 2.0 is a compilation of Queer narratives from people who do not get positively represented in media nearly enough. Over 60 percent of bisexual individuals, for example, have very high psychological distress in comparison with their gay and lesbian peers. But in the media I had growing up, the only queer representation that I saw were overly-sexualized characters with little backstory and who needed to be with someone of their same gender to be considered "gay enough." I gathered positive, actionable tips and vivid stories from people who are LGBTQ+ and layer this identity with others: race, religion, occupation, etc. Each of our stories is difficult and complicated in their own unique ways, but this book helps provide examples for how to stay safe, build community, and reflect on the ways the LGBTQ+ community and its allies can do better in the future.
I am interested in digital technologies and storytelling because, while there are benefits to having expensive equipment, there are a variety of ways to share important truths through digital video, animation, website design, social media, message boards, and more. The Internet, for those with access, has completely changed the way we can connect with people similar and dissimilar to ourselves. In addition to English, I also taught Media Literacy skills while in Estonia. I emphasized that, while media needs to be fact-checked and critical thought is important, finding storytellers who you trust and who matter to you is important. A few people I really admire and suggested to my older students to see more honest examples of the "American experience" are authors Celeste Ng and Maya Angelou, and body-positive activist, Megan Crabbe. Each of these women have such different modes of storytelling but their words touch on different problems and benefits within human interaction.
Jill Fredenburg is an author, digital content creator, and archival poet. She is a master’s candidate in Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture, and Technology program. She works in an interdisciplinary, socially-minded sphere, where she employs her skills in production and research to encourage collaboration and curiosity in others. Her first book, LGBTQ Revolution 2.0, is available for pre-order.