A summer away from MVHS

How one month changed my perspective on defining people

by Carol Lei

For 16 years, I have introduced myself as Carol Lei. It was not until last summer that I tasted the words “I go by she, her.” And it was not until this summer that those words began to roll off my tongue even when no one asked like I had been saying them for years.

Six hours from MVHS, at the California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, a collection of about 500 students gathered for the California State Summer School of the Arts, CSSSA. Amongst these colorful individuals of different backgrounds, there seemed to be an underlying similarity: a cultural awareness of the LGBTQ community.


Introductions were met with clarifications of pronouns, and sometimes proclamations of sexuality—gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian, queer, asexual, demisexual, pansexual. Unlike the reactions from unwelcoming or judgmental communities, there was no fear, no shock, no raise of the eyebrow when these students spoke their minds and expressed themselves; it was as it should be. As if the prejudices, if any, could not fit in the suitcases we brought with us, there was no judgment at all. Each individual stood for themselves. Their actions did not account for those in their community, their actions did not label their peer.

But I had never actually lived within a community of students like this. Though I came from a liberal suburban town and a liberal school, I was behind the curve. I had not marched in any Pride parades despite living near San Francisco, the gay capital of America. I had not watched “The Babadook,” a horror movie which recently became a symbol of gay pride. I did not know all the terms for the different sexualities and for this, I was ashamed.


Coming back to MVHS, I fear the posters that say “I think I just heard you say: ‘That’s so gay!’ Here are some other things you can say” because it serves as a constant reminder: MVHS students still use the word “gay” as an insult. Sometimes I still hear the term “faggot” being yelled across the rally court. And I sense the disbelief in the words of students when they do find a member of the LGBTQ community in our school. Being anything but straight can make you the subject of a long, whispered conversation: “What? Oh my god. She’s dating a girl?” or “Shut up. He’s gay?” I find that here, being anything other than heterosexual is still abnormal.

Beyond sexuality, the new introduction format, name and preferred pronoun, is also yet to be seen at MVHS, or at least from what I have experienced. Students here make comments like “are you assuming my gender?” but they’re not serious: they are just joking. There is no real action at MVHS to include those who might identify otherwise.


I can’t provide a simple solution to such a grand issue because I trust that exposure is what it takes, what it takes for MVHS students to value actions over definitions. I definitely hope it is soon a universal concept that life experience is what accounts for one’s true character. It maybe took my living in a suite with five lesbians to make me realize how ignorant I used to be in regards to understanding their struggles and their community and I may still be. But once I did immerse myself, sexuality, homo or hetero or whatever, didn’t matter. Like being 6’2 or 4’10, Indian or Ecuadorian, 13 years old or 77 years old, we have our own personalities and our own individual differences. But you and her, he and they—we are all human.