Kelsey: No Homo

Teenagers, gay weddings, and dog custody

Monday through Thursday, from 7AM–4PM, I am the clinical director and social worker at a high school in Denver. My school has a strong focus on mental health, which is why I’m here. Every incoming student undergoes a mental health assessment and is assigned to a counselor. In addition to traditional “talk” therapy (although we often use that time to go for walks and play UNO), we offer art therapy, therapeutic groups like anger management and inequality club (our school’s version of a Gay Straight Alliance), and animal assisted therapy. And, a few times a year, we offer wilderness therapy.

Of all the unexpected things we do at my high school, from our belly dancing elective, to the yellow Labrador who assists with tours for incoming students, we get the most sideways glances because of wilderness therapy. From adults on the outside, we get questions about why anyone would voluntarily hang out with eight or nine teenage delinquents in the woods for a few days. From my 114 inner city students, the questions are much more practical. Most of them have never left the city, even to visit the Rocky Mountains, a thirty-minute drive from here. With few exceptions, my kids have never been camping, let alone been on an extended backpacking trip (although, full disclosure, I had never been backpacking before taking this job either). The kids wonder about how often we’ll be able to shower, and where the port-a-potties will be located. They find the answers to these questions difficult to believe, or at least, that’s what I choose to assume they mean by “Aw hellll no!”

On our first trip, in addition to helping the kids manage their fears, and the behaviors that accompany scared teenagers, I was trying to manage my own worries around a brand-new experience—as well as my huge backpack. I’m sort of… ungainly, and the way the backpack changed my center of gravity caused me to trip and fall repeatedly (I was the only member of the trip to return home with any injury, in fact.)  As we reached camp one afternoon, I tripped and fell into the arms of my female intern. We laughed as she pushed me back onto my feet, and I apologized, “Sorry for trying to make out with you, Miss Amy!” One of our students was ahead of us on the trail and she whirled around at us. “Wait!! Are you making out?” she demanded. I explained that it was a figure of speech. She decided to try again. “Wait… are you guys lesbians?”

“I am, but Miss Amy isn’t.” I replied. It’s not the answer my student was expecting. In fact, I don’t think she was prepared for me to really answer her at all, so she just stared at us for a minute and continued walking.

I had put some thought into considering this exact scenario before we had left for the trip. As part of the therapy that I practice, I don’t usually volunteer much personal information to my clients (who are of course, my students), unless they ask me a direct question. I’m out to all of my coworkers, and I wouldn’t lie if the kids asked me, but it’s not something I’ve shared with the student body at large. I figured that in spending a constant week together and sharing experiences alongside the kids, they might be bored enough to ask me some personal questions, and I settled on handling the topic when or if it came up.

The subject wasn’t mentioned again until dinner that night when we were talking about quinceañeras and weddings, and another intern asked something about my upcoming wedding. All of the students focused on that immediately—where was the wedding? What was I wearing? Would there be cake?  Were they invited? I laughed and answered all of them. Then the student I had come out to earlier chimed in, “Wait, are you marrying your girlfriend?”

“I sure am.” I said. The kids were all quiet for a minute, and then we moved on to other topics until bedtime. It wasn’t mentioned again for the rest of the trip. I figured the kids were processing, or, more likely, had moved on to thinking about more interesting things.

Since the trip, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss being a gay lady with more of my students, including a young woman who came into my office wearing a t-shirt over her leggings. “Miss,” she said, turning her back to me, and bending over slightly “No homo, but can you see the hole in my leggings like this?”

“Well, I’m going to need you to reword the question, since it’s physically impossible for my office to be ‘no homo.’” I said.

“Miss!! How do you want me to say it?” She asked.

“How about, ‘Ms. Kelsey, I would like for you to check the seat of my leggings for a visible tear, but I don’t mean to show you my behind disrespectfully?’”

She thought about it for a minute. “Okay, that’s my question,” she said. “Just like you said it.” “Then you and your leggings are good.” I smiled.

One of the reasons why I love working with teenagers is because they are so authentic. They don’t always have the correct response, but they’re not as afraid to say the wrong thing as they might grow up to be. I like to hear how they process others’ experiences. So far, my student from the original camping trip had the most practical response. During a break from state testing with another staff member, she and a male student were discussing with whom my therapy dog would live if I died. My male student suggested that I might be open to considering letting her live with our assistant principal, who Samantha is madly in love with.

“No way,” said my girl from the camping trip, “Sam’s going to stay with Ms. Kelsey’s wife if she dies.”

“Hold up!” said my male student.  He reflected for a moment, and then in the insightful fashion so common to sixteen-year-old boys, he reached a conclusion: “Ms. Kelsey’s too hot to be a lesbian.”

My camping girl didn’t miss a beat. “I bet her wife doesn’t think so.”

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  • Grace

    “Ms. Kelsey’s too hot to be a lesbian.”
    “I bet her wife doesn’t think so.”
    This is my favorite thing that’s happened to anyone ever.

    • Sara P

      Mine too! What a great response.

    • Meigh McPants

      Oh snap! I love this kid.

  • Laura

    This almost makes me miss working with teenagers. Almost.

    • CJ

      Girl, I know that feeling.

  • Lian

    Ha! That was wonderful. Thank you.

  • Fiona

    The last line is AWESOME.

  • Emma Klues

    Eeeee! The camp counselor in me is beyond thrilled at this post. I LOVE their responses and how you handled yourself. Congrats on having thought about the question before the trip, and congrats on a clearly-excellent rapport with a very difficult age group. And maybe another congrats on wilderness therapy. The woods do wonders.

    Because some readers of this post might enjoy it, I also really get a kick out of 8/9 year olds experiencing nature for the first time. Overheard while walking along the bottom of a sandstone bluff (ie 60 feet high):

    “These rocks are awesome! Where did you guys get them?”
    “It’s so cool that they found a path way out here!”

    • swarmofbees

      One of my favorite questions from the same age group: “Are trees alive?” In that moment I felt many things, but mostly I was so glad I was doing what I was doing so I could take the time to answer that question. Now there is one more person in the world who knows that even though they don’t move around much trees are, actually, alive.

  • KM

    I love everything about this!

  • Lindsey d.

    Someone catch me up on the lingo, please. Is “no homo, …” a commonly used phrase these days?

    • MC

      In hip-hop, and apparently amongst teenagers these days:

      (Not to call you an old person! That’s just the title of the video I go to Jay Smooth for all of my hip-hop related queries because he is the best.)

      • Lindsey d.

        Fascinating… And I am totally an old person, not in age, but definitely in terms of keeping up with current trends. If they don’t talk about it on NPR, I’m clueless.

        • Heather


        • Meg Keene

          HA. Well. If they start using the phrase “no homo” on NPR, someone PLEASE call me.

    • jashshea

      Yeah, Kanye said it in a song about 5 years ago, but it’s been around few years before that. Internet commenters and sports bloggers unfortunately love to use it.

      Amended: Apparently been a thing since the early 90s:

    • Alyssa M

      It was pretty common in my high school and church a decade ago. Almost always with guys, because apparently men have to qualify affection for each other. Yay patriarchy! :(

      • JDrives

        “…because apparently men have to qualify affection for each other.” <– Perfectly said! And sadly, still commonly used.
        Slight derail – anyone have a good script for a response when you hear that? I'm comfortable with shutting down "That's so gay" with a quickness, but when grown men say "No homo" around me I'm just kind of at a stutter-y loss.

        • lady brett

          i dunno, the queer teens i know started using “no hetero” when “no homo” was really popular – you’d hear things like gay boys saying “no hetero, but you look so hot in that dress today!”

  • Ella

    You sound like an absolutely wonderful teacher. I would have loved to have had you in my school. :)

  • BreastHealth&Healing

    haha that’s a great story! I love the ending.

  • mackenzie

    Kelsey, you just made my morning! I’m an inner-city teacher, too, and can a) totally relate to your kiddos and their questions and b) think that your school (and your job) sound just fantastic. So glad your students have so many great opportunities for growth and great people like you to love them as they do.

  • jashshea

    Best ending ever.

    A friend of mine worked at a camp for juvenile offenders for a few years after college and has some wonderful stories. Getting kids out into the vastness of nature is awesome!

  • Laura C

    Made my morning! The end, obviously, but the leggings bit also made me smile.

  • Michael

    Yes, this! Thank you for sharing.. great moments here.

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  • Jenna

    This made my heart feel happy. :) Also made me really, really miss working with teenagers!!!

  • Jenna S W

    This made my heart feel happy. :) Also made me really, really miss working with teenagers!!!

  • Wow, this post just made me smile a lot. I’m so glad that these kids have someone like you to be their guide through a tough part of their life. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Nicely done, love. Your student was right. You’re beautiful, regardless of how you identify.

  • “I bet her wife doesn’t think so.” FUCKING BRILLIANT

  • Anne

    Great story! This makes me smile!

  • Meigh McPants

    Kelsey, I wanna hug your face, totally homo. I love everything about this piece, including the obvious affection you have for your students. Way to handle a potentially difficult situation gracefully.

    • Kelsey

      I am officially adopting the phrase ‘totally homo’

  • Maria

    If you enjoy the reactions of city kids getting introduced to the wilderness, I have to recommend this (couple-year-old) tumbler: (reading through the archives is hilarious!)

  • lady brett

    i love everything about this. hot damn – and you’re so cool.

  • Lauren

    The last part is the best :D !!!
    I also do outdoor ed work and backpacking trips with teenagers semi-regularly (it’s becoming less, which is terribly unfortunate) and it’s such an amazing, fun experience. I’m glad that you get to experience the craziness that is kids in the woods for the first time too!

  • ypi

    Just chiming in to say (as someone who helps provide free mental health services to city youth) you and your school sound fantastic! Your love for your students, what you do, and how you do it is so awesome.

    And the line “I bet her wife doesn’t think so” slays me. Teenagers man, love it.

  • Michelle

    Loved this article! I’m a school psych at an alternative high school, although we don’t have awesome outdoor adventures like you do. I’m a bit jealous, I must say :) Rock on Ms. Kelsey!

  • lauren_yearsley

    I’m studying school counseling in grad school right now, and I’ve kind of always been set on middle school counseling, but this kinda makes me rethink that! Your school sounds awesome for keeping its students mentally healthy – I only hope I can find somewhere so great to work!

  • heatherbquinn

    As a middle school teacher who does NOT believe in ever lying to students, I love everything about this post.

  • cecc

    This is awesome. Thanks for writing this, Kelsey. And for being a badass teacher.
    And, yay for a fellow Denver teacher! I personally enjoy getting to answer my preschoolers’ questions about my armpit hair.

  • Sarah

    Gorgeous. Thank you for this.

  • Amy

    I just stumbled across this while taking a break from my academic work to plan my same-sex wedding. This brought tears to my eyes – happy, beautiful, wonderful tears. I love how you handle your students’ questions and navigate “teachable moments” which grace, honesty, and humor. I’m in the process of looking for an academic position, and the last time I taught I was still straight-identified, so I’ve done more than a little thinking about how I’ll handle this when it comes up. I won’t be half as cool as you, but you’ve set an amazing example! much love to you and your wife