I cried the other day when my grandfather said that I didn’t know enough about the world to make the right decision. He was referring to the UK’s looming EU referendum and didn’t think I’d heard him, but I did. His words made me furious, and then they made me sad. Sad enough to ask my mother, tears in my eyes, why my opinion was deemed as worth less because of my age.
I am eighteen years old and on June 23rd I will vote for the first time.
And I can’t wait.
The thought of being a part of something, of having my voice heard and taken into account, is something that thrills me. Regardless of arguments about how much say I will actually have, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I even have the opportunity to speak my mind, fully aware that so many others – today and before me – have not.
Teenagers are, more often than not, seen as apathetic and indifferent when it comes to politics and social issues, so I assumed that being vocal and passionate about my beliefs and values would’ve been seen as a good thing. I have always been told that I am opinionated, which I take mostly as a compliment because, really, what’s the point if you’re not? To believe in something – whatever that may be – is to have a purpose. A reason for existing. It doesn’t have to be political or a particular cause, and it doesn’t even requiring sharing. It just needs to make you feel something. Anything.
My passion is LGBTQ rights. As the daughter of same-sex parents, I have an obvious and deep interest in activism that aims to combat homophobia and the surrounding issues. I sign and share every petition, donating as much and as often as I can. I do this because it makes me feel like I’m making a difference. Because I am proud to stand up for what I believe in and believe is right.
However, something I’ve discovered when talking to adults – particularly about politics – is that often my opinions are seen as naïve or idealistic, not because of their actual content, but because they are spoken by the mouth of an eighteen year old.
But let’s be clear: this isn’t about wanting approval or validation of my opinions. This is a warning, from a girl with fire in her heart and too many thoughts in her head, to stop making me feel as if my opinions don’t matter.
Not more than yours. Neither is superior. But they do.
I will wholeheartedly admit that I am often wrong. There are many, many things that I don’t know about. Things I struggle to empathise with, not for lack of trying or want, but because I simply cannot picture myself in that situation. I have been brought up privileged. I don’t profess to know much about what it’s like to struggle and I count myself lucky that I haven’t ever had to.
And as much as I might just sound like another middle class white kid trying to feel like they’re making a difference, if so then that’s okay with me. I’ll take that over ignorance any day.
The world we live in is extremely complex, I understand that. The lines and boundaries are constantly blurred. There are no “good people” and “bad people”. I’m not saying that I’m one of the “good ones” for feeling the way I do. I won’t proceed to take the moral high ground because my views are more liberal than those of my family and friends.
The only thing I want is to be respected for my opinions. To be able to state my beliefs, not without criticism, but without ridicule.
If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. If you think I’m wrong, please debate with me. Educate me. I’m open to learning and deepening my understanding. But don’t, I implore you, tell me that I don’t deserve to have a voice. That somehow my opinion is less valid because I have spent less time than you on this earth.
I may not have lived through “your world”, but I have lived. I have seen. Felt. Contemplated.
I can see. I can feel. I feel a lot.
Maybe that’s not the best way to be. To lead often with heart over head. Perhaps my emotions weigh too much into my decisions.
That I could accept as reasoning. That I’m not objective enough. I’m too “involved”. That I’m “too young”, or “haven’t experienced things properly” or, worse still, “don’t know enough” is something that won’t ever sit right with me, though.
Yes, I might change my mind when I’ve “grown up” and accepted the full extent of my responsibilities. Maybe I’ll experience something in my life that will make me feel differently.
But right now, I believe strongly in the values of equality, tolerance and selflessness. I choose to both practice and to preach them.
I look at the world and I see things I want to change. My mother tells me that it is my job, as part of the new generation, to make a contribution that makes the world a better place.
And that is something I plan very much on doing, regardless of whether I’m told that I can’t.