Young kids walk into high school more curious than ever and walk out wanting to explore more about their identity. During these years, an individual might question their gender and sexuality. These labels can help influence how a person turns out in their adult life. Jayna Sweet stars in Facebook’s TURNT, a show that addresses the modern-day realities of American high school culture and speaks to ATM on this issue with her role.
ATM: How does high school categorize people in a way that can later affect them in life?
JS: We know high school is full of labels, cliques, and categories. It affects people in different ways. It can affect people in a good way. Maybe the label you were called in high school helps you shred your skin and find out who you are. I was always called a drama nerd or geek. This made me feel bad, but it made me own who I wanted to be or who I am. It can affect someone negatively because people get weighed down by labels. They get concerned about what others think of them. This can damage your self-image.
ATM: What were you actually holding on to?
JS: I was holding onto these ideas that “yeah I am an artist.” This is what I wanted to do in my life. This was not an everyday thing. Any label would make a person feel bad. I thought people saw me in a way that I also saw myself. It was reaffirming to how I saw myself. In middle school, it was a different story. I felt cool being called a drama nerd. I went to an art school for high school. Everyone was an artist of some kind. It helped me to continue down the path I started.
ATM: Do you feel being misguided is a term that describes a person who decides to be different?
JS: This is an interesting point. It depends on who is saying the word misguided. My definition is less about someone being different and more about someone not knowing who they are. They are searching for their place in the world. They might not fit in the status quo. Some people did not fit inside the box you created for them.
ATM: Is the high school culture a description of how people are in society? Popular vs the losers? Better looking vs people not so better looking? More expensive clothes mean you are more like? Meaning does this sort of thinking just stop in high school or is it carried on to how we live?
JS: Unfortunately, I do not think it stops in high school. Sometimes you hear middle-aged parents getting into fights or drama and they are like “ It feels like high school.” It is disgusting that it carries on. It is hard in this social media culture. Everything is focused on an outlook and appearance that we create of ourselves. It does not stop when we grow up.
ATM: What do you feel America’s or society’s high school culture is like?
JS: I always think of Mean Girls when she walks through the cafeteria and compares it to the jungle of Africa. The girls are jumping and roaring like lions. This is a good example of what it feels like. Underneath the surface, it is a big group of people who are given more independence and are trying to figure out who they are. People are trying to figure where they fit in.
ATM: What was the process of sticking the topics of gender and sexuality into this show as we are going through these topics today?
JS: It just fits into the story about the coming of age years. People are coming out and struggling with the way society is seeing them. People are trying to figure it out. It is relevant to this age. They are questioning their gender identity. We have a character like Jess who is gender nonconforming. Gabe is a character just discovering he is gay. I like showing the spectrum of young people who already see and view the world around them. Also, a person who is not comfortable with it. My character is not struggling with gender identity, but she is struggling with not being comfortable in her skin.
ATM: Do you feel there should be gender and sexuality education put in elementary and middle schools?
JS: This is interesting. The more people understand what gender and sexual identity are about, the more people would have empathy for it. In a perfect world, I would love to have it. I hope my future children have it to learn about. Learning about what other people are whether they identify as anything other than they were born into is always good.