The volunteer lines for the LGBT communities, in training here, this is something that’s, needed, with the increase of sexual and gender diversity, translated…
“Hi, this is the homosexual hotline, how may I be of service to you!”, this was the instinctive response that got etched into my mind the year I’d worked as a call receiver of the hotlines. Picked up the phones, was like getting the buttons turned on, immediately, I’d gotten into the various modes of answering, ready to catch the LGBT communities’ various troubles.
I’d signed on to be a volunteer, right after the public policies votes. That was when a lot of people felt upset, with the strong sense of, helplessness passing through the LGBT community. “What can I do, for them?”, it’s this thought that’s, got me, involved.
The Tiny “Secret Room”
In the times of convenience communications app, who still use the landlines? But, in the tiny room of the call center, there were, several landlines, with the volunteers, sitting in their seats, talking in whispers, looking a bit, mysterious.
Although it was called a “hotline”, but there are, a lot of the small cliques, for instance, “same-sex families”, “A.I.D.S. prevention”, “gender education”, etc., etc., etc., many of these groups needed to reach outward, the team members are all very active. Comparing, the volunteers of the call center were much, quieter, and the other groups’ volunteers would always joked, “the call center volunteers are all, autistic!”
like peeling the layers of an onion off! Illustration from UDN.com
Surely, the most active place for the volunteers is, inside that tiny room, the door into the room was like a threshold, only the call operators are allowed in. And, as we’d gone in to answer the calls, we’d, used the “false names”, and the privacies of every unique case does NOT leave the room, so, nobody knows exactly, what we’re, doing in there, and so, that made the other volunteers, feel, a bit, distant, to us.
It’s not easy to become an operator in that tiny room, we’d had to, go through the evaluations: signing up, getting evaluated, train for six months, and we had to pass an oral exam.
How Can Pressing an Elevator Button be an Obstacle?
But, I never imagined, that the very first obstacle I would come across, was pressing the elevator, button.
The location of the hotline office was at the busy Roosevelt Road, first time in, as I just stepped into the elevator, about to press the button for my floor, I’d, hesitated—there’s, a ton of different folks in and out of the building, there were, the employees of the offices, and also, the residential elderly people too.
The alarm started sounding inside my mind, like everybody was staring AT my, finger, I’d feel anxious: how would the perceive me, after I’d, pressed the “12” for the floors?
But, it’d not mattered which number I’d pressed, there are more than the hotline office on the twelfth. For a while, I’d felt uneasy over the reactions—but, WHAT was I, fearful, of?
This shame and secret got buried in my mind, and, for a very long, long time, as I got to talking with the volunteers of the hotlines, I’d found, that I wasn’t, alone in feeling like so.
Getting Involved with the LGBT Communities & Getting to Know Myself Again
After I got past the obstacle of the elevators, first what I’d needed to learn, is getting acclimated with the LGBT culture and the community: the gays, the lesbians, the trans, the bis, the gay and lesbian Christians, to the families of homosexuals, and we also needed to familiarize ourselves with the topics of safe sex, and the bad reputations for A.I.D.S.
“Gay” is too generalized a term, and we only know the tips of that huge, iceberg, so, going to classes was like opening up the minds, from the uses of the terms, the cultures (why are there more and more gay bars in business but the trans bars going out of businesses?), to the societal debates (how the H.I.V. patients would get turned down by the dentists?), and it’d made me wondered, was the world I used to know, for real?
And all of these, are what the callers faced, from their, day-to-day interactions. The male homosexuals’ are mostly concerned about their statures; the lesbians, dealing with the dual impacts of being females and lesbians, and, with the Gay bars more in numbers than the T-bars, which made well be related to how the females can’t feel safe enough to go out at night.
There are a ton of callers who worried over illnesses too, they’d gotten scanned multiple times, but still worried of contracting A.I.D.S. Reason why this is a primary fear is due to how the media press equated H.I.V. and A.I.D.S. with gays and lesbians, which is why those who’d contracted H.I.V. still keeps on hitting the walls in their lives, for instance, the dentists would use the excuses of “we don’t have the equipment to offer you your needed treatment” to turn them away, but, others who have illnesses by blood contact rarely got, stereotyped or, discriminated against.
Other than knowing those who aren’t the same as we are, we also need to get to know ourselves. That’s where the “groups” came in, the volunteer candidates would split into groups, led by those with most experiences to supervise, to take turns sharing the experiences, to dissect life, the process of accepting, hen, with the supervising individual, and the rest of the group, offering positive feedback. Before we can help anybody else, we need to know our own, selves, this was, what I’d learned, the most important lesson, of all.
The Rehearsals that Left My Heart Bumping
Surely, we also needed training in the, various, counseling, techniques too: identifying the emotions, empathy, and disclosures of our own, selves, and know the S.O.P. of taking the calls of the hotlines: greeting the individuals, understanding why they’re calling, in the conversations, collecting the data about the persons (i.e. age, students or in employment, gender orientation, gender identification, city the individuals live in, etc., etc., etc.). After we get to know some specifics about these individual callers, we’re, better able to, give them the fitting, responses.
The supervisors in class often told us, “don’t rush into giving advice”, if the advices are unfitting, to the point of not responding correctly to the callers’ problems, then, we would be misunderstood as we can’t understand them, instead, catching the callers’ emotions first, to establish that trust in conversation.
On paper, it all sounds, simple, but, putting these theories to practice, that was, something, else! We would split up into groups, the supervisors would play the caller, we’d taken turns, answering the calls, and, the members whose turns are still on the way, would sit close by and take notes—those exposed, the wrong words being used, the awkward silence, all get, captured down, and we would be evaluated on afterwards.
The supervisors used a multitude of means to interact with us. Some had, comforted us, “this is only for a few short minutes, you can, do it!”, while other supervisors get into characters right away, started in the roleplay, cried, ranted, cussed, everything, and it’d, made us, too flustered—while in reality, that, is how, multifaceted the callers can be in our line of, work!
Am I, Only, on the, Starting, Lines?
After the test trials, can we start, working on, the, hotlines? Not yet! There’s still, a final, and not everybody passes! On the day of the test, the supervisor I was assigned to played the role of an anxious mother of a gay/lesbian person, started grilling at me, “how do I know that my son/daughter is gay/lesbian?” “Can’t my child become, ‘normal’ again?” I’d used empathy, to get to the emotions being the caller, avoiding the “right answers” that might “kill”, fearing the caller would, hang, up. But, she’d not accepted my means, and continued on, and I was, stuck. As the session ended, the supervisor asked me, “why didn’t you just tell me that you didn’t know?”, then, it’d, dawned on me, how multivariate the callers can be, that there’s no one-answer-fit-all, and we can only, search for the right direction in the words of, our, exchanges.
I’d felt, very, defeated, and felt that I’d not, passed, as I got home, I was so upset, I’d finished a whole can of, chips.
And yet, a week later, I received the notice that I’d been, approved for the, hotlines, and I still can’t understand why I had, passed! After this “round”, I’d finally realized, that to work as a hotline operator, we need to have a very strong, heart, but, this was certainly, to make sure, that all the hotline operators are highly qualified to work the lines, not to miss any caller. While, as I’d started working in the hotlines……well, another story, for, another, time!
And so, this, is the training process of someone, becoming a hotline operator for the LGBT communities, because there’s this desperate need, for these individuals’ voices, troubles to get, heard, and yeah, we are now, more opened to the LGBT groups, but, there are still the issues that these individuals come across in their daily living, that they may need an outside perspective to help them see things more clearly, and that, is where this hotline comes in.
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