Bursting Through: What if I Told Her?

By Steve Petersen

Bursting Through is the storytelling movement for Queer/Straight relationships. Stories are the most powerful change agent in the world—they have the power to change hearts, minds, attitudes and ultimately lives.

Storytelling comes in multiple forms and narratives. Stories can be written, told, read or viewed, told to another person or to ourselves. Bursting Through feels the stories we tell ourselves and self-reflection on the younger versions of ourselves has a lot of wisdom.

In the last issue of this magazine, I shared a story called “What if I Told Him?” The story explored the scenario of adult me telling the younger version of myself some hard truths about life as a gay man. Would young me have listened? How would I have reacted and processed that information? And armed with that information, would I, as a young man, have had the courage to use it?

As I was writing that story, my mind kept wandering to other conversations that could be had this way. I kept thinking about how important an honest and brave conversation with the smart, pretty female friend of yesteryear could be.

You knew or maybe you were that female friend. The one who could wrangle the attention of the popular crowd (especially the boys) but wasn’t so much a part of that popular crowd. Through my eyes she was too independent of thought and a little too smart to be in that crowd, but they all liked and respected her. Would they have listened if she said, “‘That’s so gay’ and ‘fag’ are not cool things to say and terrorizing the queer kids is even less cool”?

Would she believe me if I told her that her superpower was that other people listened to her? Would she understand that her smarts, natural beauty and ability to drink a beer with the guys gave her ENORMOUS influence? Would she buy into the notion that just her presence, quick wit and sharp tongue were a triple threat and if she had taken a stand for the gay kids that others likely would have fallen in line?

I am not putting any Queer Rights responsibility or blame for bad actors on that smart, pretty female friend. I’m simply asking these questions and wondering if she would have known the strength and power I saw in her, would it have made a difference? I realize she likely didn’t have any more self-confidence or courage than I, even though through my eyes she did.

I didn’t want to wonder so I asked the smart, pretty female friend of my coming-of-age, Brenda, to meet me to catch up and discuss. As we did our catching up over expensive iced drinks at the Caribou Coffee, we quickly turned to this conversation and the power I felt she possessed.

There were a lot of questions and factors to contemplate and they cannot be answered with real certainty without an actual time portal, however when Brenda is energized with an iced Caribou drink the impossible seems possible.

Did she ever see that power I saw in her?

No, but did anyone think in those terms in the late 80’s in a rural high school? If you have ever seen a John Hughes movie you know they didn’t. Self-confidence and awareness of power are not common traits for the wise, only the foolish and cruel in 1980’s teenland.

If I had found the words and courage to tell her about the power I saw in her, would she have listened or would she have just figured teenage Steve had one too many beers?

She would have listened but thought I was drunk. She likely would have pondered it later or revisited the conversation in her head, but it would not have immediately changed the self-perception. It’s likely it would have made an impact over time, mentally revisiting the conversation and perhaps brought her to be a stronger ally through college and beyond.

Did she think that the cool, but slightly dark, bad boys that she attracted attention from would have listened to her if she had spoken up and told them to stop terrorizing the gay kids?

They would have listened to a degree because the slightly dark bad boys of the 80’s usually understood basic respect and boundaries despite their images. Also, if they would think about it in terms of their own isolation from the mainstream it’s possible there could have been a small breakthrough or two.

What about the other slightly less pretty, less smart but maybe more popular girls she was also friends with? Would they have listened and become honorary “Brendas” (smart, pretty, influential and respected)?

It’s likely that a few would have. They might not have stayed Brendas but they would have worn the badge proud and strong for a while. They may have looked at it as a trend or fad but there would have been a couple that would have become permanent Brendas.

If you are reading this and you have your own Brenda (or you ARE a Brenda), please recognize how lucky you are and have a conversation about the Power of Brenda. The power of influence you have with your looks, charm and intelligence. Consider talking to each other over expensive iced drinks and try to reach the younger versions of yourself.

We don’t have a time portal but we have each other, technology and coffee shops. We have the ability to connect and talk about who we were then and who we are now and what both taught us. We have the words and wisdom to share those learnings with the younger versions of ourselves in the form of younger siblings, nieces and nephews.

And most importantly, when we sit down to learn about ourselves with someone we love and respect, we get to experience that connection and friendship as if not one day has passed since we were the less brave versions of ourselves.

Our stories and our connection are our power, they always have been. It’s always been there; we were just unable to see it in the past. Remember your stories are powerful. When we include each other in our journey, our lives and our stories, we all become better and more connected. I recommend you talk to a Brenda today.

Steve Petersen is the founder of Bursting Through, a speaker, host, storyteller and CAN-certified LGBTQ+ Volunteer Victims Advocate. Find out more at https://burstingthrough.gay/

Las Vegas PRIDE Magazine - Issue 39

This article was originally published in the 2022 Stonewall Issue of Las Vegas PRIDE Magazine, and can be read in its original format here.