Proud2Bme | Pride Month on Proud: Aaryn Clerk is Fighting LGBTQ Stigma

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Pride Month on Proud: Aaryn Clerk is Fighting LGBTQ Stigma

In honor of Pride Month, Proud2Bme interviewed LGBTQ young people about their experiences with body image and eating disorders.

Aaryn Clerk is a queer and non-binary person studying English education and gender and sexuality studies at Boston University. They are currently a co-coordinator for LGBTQ.ed, a project designed to bring LGBTQ Safe Space and Advocacy workshops to Boston-area middle schools. They have been in recovery from EDNOS for over two years.

Proud2Bme: How does being LGBTQ affect your body image? 

Aaryn: In general, being LGBTQ actually affects my body image in a really positive way. I primarily surround myself with other LGBTQ folks who are really affirming and body positive, and being immersed in that environment makes me a lot happier and more comfortable with my body. There’s an attitude that your body is yours and you can do whatever you like with it as long as you’re not harming anyone else. I know that no matter what I do with my body, I will still be loved and valued. Having the autonomy and freedom to “present” however I please makes me feel a lot less shame and discomfort. 

In addition, being surrounded by lots of non-binary people in particular is very affirming. We’re all simultaneously exploring what gender is and what it means to us and what makes us feel most comfortable in our bodies, and that mutual experience creates more room for understanding and acceptance. There’s a wide spectrum of bodies with different gender expressions, and seeing that diversity and fluidity breaks down expectations of what a body is “supposed to” look like.         

         Related: Decentering the Narrative: Trans Folks, Body Image, and EDs​    

Proud2Bme: What do you think can be done to improve body image among young LGBTQ people? 

Aaryn: I think one thing that can improve body image among LGBTQ youth is ensuring that we have access to our community. Whether this is a Gay-Straight Alliance at school, a community drop-in center or even just a few friends who also are LGBTQ, I think that being able to engage with other people who have similar experiences is really beneficial for improving body image and also just general wellbeing. 

It’s also important that LGBTQ youth have positive role models in their life who they can go to for advice and mentorship. It’s vital that LGBTQ youth see happy, healthy, thriving LGBTQ adults, so that they know that that future is possible for them as well. Being connected to our communities and having positive role models helps to break down stigma and isolation, and allows us to live more openly and honestly. 

I also think that the LGBTQ community needs to be more intersectional, for a host of reasons, one of which being body image. We are a large and diverse community, and many folks in the LGBTQ community live at the intersection of more than one marginalized identity. We need to break down racism, sexism, ableism, classism, religious oppression and other forms of oppression within the LGBTQ community if we want to improve the body image, safety and wellbeing of our community members.       

Proud2Bme: Who are your LGBTQ role models? 

Aaryn: Most of my LGBTQ role models are friends and mentors who I’ve met through work, school and activism. I think a lot of the time, we look to celebrities and public figures to be our role models, which is great, but often times the people in our own lives are also doing really cool and inspiring work as well. My LGBTQ friends and mentors are constantly engaging in small and large acts to create safer, more inclusive communities. 

Whether that’s presenting at a conference, meeting with school administrators, creating programming for our community or just having conversations with people who may not normally engage in these sorts of conversations, all of their collective efforts make a huge and lasting impact. In addition to taking action, they are also brilliant examples of people who are boldly, honestly, and openly themselves. They inspire me to speak my truth, while also encouraging me to challenge preconceived notions and ideas. I’m very grateful to have all of them in my life.

         Related: Trans Identity, Dysphoria, and Medical Providers

Proud2Bme: Why are you Proud2BYOU? 

Aaryn: I am Proud2Bme because I’ve taken steps to become the kind of person I wanted to be five years ago, but wasn’t sure I could become. When I was a junior in high school, I didn’t think that I would be recovered from my eating disorder five years later, and I certainly didn’t believe that I would be out as queer and non-binary. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to lead workshops about LGBTQ identities, body image and safer sex, to have found like-minded people who are great friends and colleagues and to have been faced with challenging experiences and opportunities that allowed me to grow. I’m proud of the person I’ve become and I’m excited for the person I hope I’ll be.

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

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